Good News Friday

It’s the first Shabbat of the Jewish year, Shabbat Bereishit – lit: The Shabbat of Genesis, which is the Torah portion that we read in the synagogue, starting the annual cycle all over again; but it also translates as the Shabbat of Beginning. This is also perfectly suitable for me personally as I aim to restart my Good News Friday posts which I have been neglecting for a long while now.

Since Bereishit talks about G-d’s creation of the Garden of Eden, I feel it fitting to start this week’s Good News Friday post with the story of a kibbutz that is bringing back once-extinct Biblical plants:

Guy Ehrlich is not what you’d picture when you imagine an expert in growing plants used for the Ketoret (incense) in the Holy Temple.

His journey began as an activist for secular rights in Jerusalem, and continued in activism for the rights of Jerusalem Arabs and the right to kosher certification for establishments open on Shabbat.

A searcher for truth, Guy does not judge others by their religious or political views, and on his journey often found himself surprised by the integrity and sensitivity of people who presented themselves as religious and right-winged. He realized the commonalities overshadowed the differences.

In 2008, while searching for a place to move his family and a career change, Guy stumbled upon information about a plant called the Legendary (or Biblical) Persimmon (not to be confused with the common fruit of today with the same name). After moving to Kibbutz Almog near Jericho in the northern Dead Sea region, Guy put years of research and all his family’s savings into developing the Balm of Gilead Farm, where he now cultivates the rare plant, in addition to many other biblical plants and rare desert flora once thought extinct. His farm specializes in plants used to create the Ketoret, or incense, used in the Holy Temple.

Guy’s journey is fascinating, his attitude refreshing, his passion endearing and his farm a rare treasure.

You can listen to his story here:

What a fascinating and inspiring story, and what an amazing man. Kol hakavod to Guy Erlich on his very unusual journey.

One of the commandments in Parshat Bereishit is G-d’s instruction to Adam to look after the Garden of Eden. How apt then that Israel has just unveiled a massive solar plant in the Negev which will provide emissions-free and pollution-free power to Israel’s citizens:

Israel has taken another step in moving from fossil fuels to environmentally friendly renewable energy, approving its biggest plant of unique solar panels to date. The plant, which is for commercial use, operates without generating pollution or any greenhouse gas emissions.

The Electricity Authority (TEA) and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz have recently approved the commercial activation of the Ashalim photovoltaic power station – located in the Negev Desert, south of the city of Be’er Sheva – for a period of twenty years.

Ashalim photovoltaic mirrors

The power station consists of 360 solar power panels with an output of 121 Megawatt, double the energy output of Israel’s current, much-smaller photovoltaic power station, Mash’abey Sade.

The power station aims to provide clear solar energy to the electric grid of the Israel Electric Corporation (IEC), supplying power to roughly 60 thousand households throughout Israel.

The project started as a thermal energy power plant aimed to provide renewable energy using a technology that converts the sun’s thermal energy into heat, which is then used to create electricity using steam.

This technology is now considered expensive and needlessly complicated when compared to photovoltaic technology, which converts light into electricity using solar cells.

As a result of advancement in the field of photovoltaic technology, and in order to cut costs for the Israeli consumer, the TEA decided to convert the Ashalim power station to photovoltaic-based power plant, saving the population roughly NIS 120 million a year.

“I’m proud to lead the Ministry of Energy, which – together with the TEA – helped advance the use of solar energy in order to create the highest output of electricity seen in the field in the last decade,” said Steinitz.

In this day and age when global warming and climate change are one of the chief concerns of countries worldwide, we can be proud that our tiny little country is a world leader in developing this clean energy. Kol Hakavod too to the forward-thinking Ministry of Energy.

Another supremely important commandment in the Torah (not in this week’s portion) is to guard our lives carefully. It is well known that Israel is a world leader in medical and technological advances. Now another Israeli invention aims to prevent drownings at the beach by providing real time data to lifeguards:

While the risk of drowning can be reduced when lifeguards are in the vicinity, those lifeguards can only cover a certain expanse of beach at a time. Also, they need breaks. And they can rely heavily on binoculars and their own vision only for so long — eyesight (and stamina) can certainly falter after hours in the full sun.

An Israeli startup leveraging computer vision technology wants to help. Founded in 2018,Sightbit says it can prevent drowning by alerting lifeguards when swimmers are in danger.

Through the use of a system of beach cameras that utilize the tech, lifeguards get a panoramic view of the water, the beach, and the swimmers, which allows the guards to make rapid rescues or prevent dangerous situations from escalating. The camera footage is displayed on a screen, which is monitored by lifeguards and beach staff.

Behind the scenes, Sightbit algorithms analyze the footage in real-time. When the system detects a threat —such as a rip current or a child alone in the water — it displays warnings on the screen or sounds alarms.

The software allows lifeguard to track more swimmers – and keep them safer, the company says. Sightbit also offers risk analytics which provides data about locations where guards are most needed.

The camera footage is sent to a processing unit, which may be on-site, or on the cloud, where the company’s software analyzes visuals on an individual feed. The camera projects real-time images on a screen, which can be monitored by beach staff, or lifeguards.

The system also provides real-time data on rip currents and other hazards.

“We have developed a tool that beaches can use as they see fit,” Minna Jacobson, the company’s co-founder and marketing director, tells NoCamels, “It will change the way beaches operate today.”

No lifeguard can monitor all swimmers and hazards simultaneously, she explains. The Sightbit system can be customized so that the user gets to decide how much of the beach can be tracked at once.

In order to understand what the system needed to be at the top of its game, the four-person team that founded Sightbit, which includes Jacobson, CEO Netanel Eliav, CTO Jenia Golbstein, and Operations Director Adam Bismut, interviewed dozens of lifeguards across North Carolina, California, Maryland and New York.

The team is also entering its first pilot program with the coastal Israeli city of Ashkelon, by implementing its system on several beaches in the area including the central Bar Kochba beach.

The idea seems so simple that it’s amazing that no one has thought of it before. Kol hakavod to the founders of Sightbit, may their new invention save thousands of lives and make life easier for our dedicated lifeguards.

It doesn’t appear to be beach weather this weekend in Israel, with rains and even storms forecasted (though I will beleive it when I see it!).  Nevertheless take care and look after yourselves, your loved ones and our country.

Wishing everyone Shabbat shalom and chodesh tov.

A special shout-out to my dear sister, brother in law and of course my niece – this Shabbat is the Shabbat Kallah for my niece who is (be’ezrat Hashem) getting married this Wednesday, Rosh Chodesh, the 1st of the month of Heshvan. Heartiest mazal tov and looking forward to dancing at the wedding!

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6 Responses to Good News Friday

  1. Reality says:

    What a fascinating post!My nephew used to work at one of the solar fields,putting in the solar panels.Its wonderful,to see it up and working.
    I love the story about Guy and his persimmon!
    As for sightbit-what a clever idea.So desperately needed.They should make it compulsory equipment for every beach and pool too.
    Shabbat Shalom!

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  3. Jeff Polaski says:

    I remember when I first saw sunlight turning a little 5 cm wheel on a pivot. That was amazing.
    The fact that I can remember that much from so long ago is also amazing.

    • anneinpt says:

      That’s fascinating Jeff! Isn’t it great to see new technology develop in front of your eyes?

      • Jeff Polaski says:

        The first working laser was demonstrated to 150 high school students at the (Ben) Franklin Institute in Philadelphia in 1964. The whole thing was the size of my mother’s studio piano! Not pocket size.

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