After a topsy-turvy week of a spiritual high on Rosh Hashana followed by a crashing low as we read the news, both local and foreign, it’s a relief to post another installment of Good News Friday.
Following last week’s all-engulfing sandstorm it is great to learn that Israel has developed an air pollution “BreezoMeter” app:
The worst dust storm in Israel’s history struck last week, causing widespread health problems and pollution, and leaving behind it a beige layer of dirt covering the entire country. While most found the storm unbearable, there are some exceptions, notably the team behind the already popular Israeli app BreezoMeter, which tracks pollutants and can determine air quality in nearly every corner of the world.
The massive sandstorm, which broke air pollution records, led many to seek pollution data through BreezoMeter, which CNBC recently called one of the “world’s hottest apps.”
Last week, the Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection issued a pollution warning urging the public to remain indoors. Some areas, including the capital Jerusalem, saw pollution skyrocket to up to 140 times the usual levels.
This happened during the same week that Tel Aviv hosted Israel’s largest technological conference, DLD, which forced its 10,000 attendees to face extreme conditions of heat and humidity. But Breezometer reaped the rewards, as its booth at the conference was one of the most sought-after.
BreezoMeter‘s big-data analytics platform uses local air-monitoring sensors to gather real-time pollution data. The information is collected by the startup from monitoring stations around the world and is then compiled and packaged to provide up-to-date information about air quality. The startup claims its localized pollution reading is 99 percent accurate.
The company, founded just last year by Emil Fisher, Ran Korber and Ziv Lautman, has so far raised $1.8 million in private financing rounds. Its app is available for Android and iPhone users.
Still, pollutants are a fact of life in our modern world – and that’s something BreezoMeter can’t change. However, the app does give consumers better knowledge of their surroundings, in hopes that they can then act on that knowledge. “We empower citizens to better plan their daily activities and to minimize their personal exposure to pollution,” Lautman said in a statement. “Imagine how useful it would be if on your next visit to the doctor, they’d be able to check the quality of the air you have breathed over the past two weeks – maybe that could be the cause of your cough?”
Indeed, immediately following the sandstorm I developed an upper respiratory tract infection with an awful cough (still lingering today, a week later) and both the doctor and I are convinced the sandstorm was at least partially responsible.
The app unfortunately won’t be able to clear the air for us (another job for Israeli developers!) but at least it will be able to give us advance warning of which areas to avoid. I shall be downloading it forthwith! Kol hakavod to the developers Emil Fisher, Ran Korber and Ziv Lautman, and may they go on to ever greater success!
Talking of high-tech (as I usually do!) it is gratifying to note that two Israeli universities were placed on Reuter’s 100 top innovations list:
Reuters published its ranking of the top 100 most innovative academic institutions in the world – which included two Israeli representatives. Tel Aviv University placed 75 and the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology placed 76.
I’m sure none of us are surprised at the success of these two great Israeli universities. Let’s aim for more Israeli universities to place on the list, and higher up too. Kol hakavod to Tel Aviv University and the Technion!
Here is one young man who is sure to go far in any one of those two universities, or any other that he will pick. Amit Saban, an Israeli teenager, has invented a GPS-enabled tag to prevent kidnappings:
JNS.org – An Israeli teenager from Ramat Hasharon recently launched a start-up that makes “smart” ID tags with built-in GPS technology that can help soldiers and civilians in distress, and even prevent abductions.
“The tag I invented contains a chip with GPS, so if a soldier is in trouble he presses [the tag] and his information and location are sent via a computer program to the IDF and his parents,” Amit Saban, 16, tells Israel Hayom.
“I currently have a prototype of the smart ID tag that I can show to the public,” says Saban, who found an investor he hopes will commit $129,000 to the ID tag project.
Saban’s goal “was to save Israeli lives, because that’s ‘an entire universe.’ I saw the three yeshiva students [abducted and murdered by Hamas in the summer of 2014, Gilad Shaer, Naftali Frenkel and Eyal Yifrach], and my heart ached. After that I felt that I had to take action and think of an initiative that would save lives, both civilians and soldiers.”
What a brilliant idea, and ingenious in its simplicity. The only question is why it hasn’t been thought of up till now. Kol hakavod to Amit Saban! I hope his device ends up fully financed, developed and marketed. I’m sure it will be an enormous success. And if it saves even one life it will have been worthwhile.
Moving now to a #BDSFail, do you remember the scandal when Orange withdrew from its Israeli contract? Well, now that little snafu was settled in mutually agreeable terms, Orange is back in Israel, in a partnership with an Israeli company:
TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Israel-based Hola, a video distribution network for publishers, said on Wednesday it raised $17 million in a funding round led by Iris Capital, a strategic partnership between France’s Orange and Publicis Groupe.
Hola’s distribution network aims to increase reliability and speed for video viewing while lowering costs. Hola plans to use the latest funds to expand its engineering and product teams over the next 12 months to 200 employees from 75 as it enters the market after several years of development.
This is Orange’s first investment in Israel since the French telecoms group and Israeli mobile phone operator Partner Communications agreed terms to end their licensing deal following a public row in Israel. Orange said at the time it was still committed to Israel.
Kol hakavod to Hola for its innovation and to Orange for recognizing, after all, Israeli quality. May this new partnership prove stable and profitable for all sides.
Bringing us into the Shabbat Shuva mood, the following story is an amazing story of courage, as a Muslim Zionist relates how he changed from hating Israel to becoming an officer in the IDF!
“I am the operations officer at the IDF ground forces training base at Tze’elim,” Ala Wahib says at the start of our conversation, his eyes twinkling with excitement. “I am like the mother and father of that place,” he adds. “The only thing is that I don’t really have anyone to share it with, so I make sure to pat myself on the back every now and again, and say ‘dude, you’re awesome. Look how far you’ve come.’”
The truth is that he deserves these accolades. It is not every day that a Muslim Arab, hailing from a village whose residents largely do not recognize Israel’s right to exist, comes to serve in the Israel Defense Forces. And he doesn’t only serve: Major Wahib, 32, is currently the highest ranking Muslim officer in the IDF. He is enormously patriotic, a true Zionist. Precisely the kind of person we like to see lighting the torches during the national Independence Day ceremony every year.
But still, Wahib came to this interview with immense trepidation. Even today, after 12 years in the Israeli military, he still doesn’t feel comfortable openly discussing his views. For years he struggled on all fronts: he fought against the residents of his village, who to this day refer to him as a traitor, and he fought the military institution that never fully understood his motives.
So why did he decide to give this interview, with his face exposed and his full name in print? “Because it is important to me to show the Arab public what they are missing. There are quite a lot of people [in the Arab community] who want to enlist, but they are afraid and they don’t know if they will be accepted by their environment. It is important to me to show them the road I’ve traveled, and to make them understand that it is possible.” Regardless, he doesn’t take his hand off his gun for a second during the entire interview. “It is my security. It is my only means of protecting myself,” he says.
He describes himself as a “Zionist Israeli Arab.” Four years ago he went on a tour of Nazi extermination camps in Poland, together with his fellow officers, as part of the IDF’s Witnesses in Uniform program. “As a child,” he says, “I grew up in a society that denies the Holocaust. When I arrived in Poland I was shocked. I cried a lot. It was difficult to contain this thing called genocide. There was something very powerful in the fact that I was standing on Polish soil, holding an Israeli flag and donning the uniform of the Israeli army, but this time from a position of power. It was proof that we can’t be broken.”
When Wahib says “we” he means the Jewish people. “I believe in the Muslim faith, and I will never abandon it, but I think that Zionism is more than a religion. It is something that fully represents my sense of belonging to the State of Israel and to Israeli society, and the immense commitment I have to protecting and guarding the country of which I am part.”
Hold on a second. Doesn’t protecting Israel’s security mean fighting your own people?
“Look, I served in Lebanon, in Gaza and Judea and Samaria and I took part in plenty of clashes where my life was in danger. I never, not for a second, ever thought of leaving. I never asked myself ‘what am I doing here?’ As far as I am concerned, there is no other way.
Read the whole heart-warming story. Kol hakavod to Maj. Ala Wahib for his courage, his contribution to our country and our defence, and for his bravery in overcoming prejudice on both sides of the national divide. We wish him continued success and may he stay safe as he continues his vitally important work.
Since it’s erev Shabbat Shuva, the eve of the Shabbat of Repentance (a bit of a mistranslation, but that’s another story), i.e. the Shabbat between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, it is given over to more introspection and self-examination than the usual Shabbat.
This then is the perfect music video to conclude this week’s post, : Avinu Malkenu, sung not by Barbara Streisand as we usually hear, but by the Hassidic Shira Choir. In my opinion it’s even more beautiful than Streisand’s version, perhaps because the singers so obviously understand and appreciate the heartfelt prayer.
And on these thoughtful and thought-provoking notes, I wish Shabbat Shalom everyone.