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Innovation thrives on Israel’s southern border

The Negev is not only blooming, but incubating some of Israel’s most cutting-edge social, educational and technical developments.

By JUDY LASH BALINT (JNS) The word “Negev” conjures up visions of miles of desert, sand dunes, barren landscapes, camels, and yes, the meme that “Israel made the desert bloom.”

But traveling through the northwestern portion of that 4,650-square-mile desert today presents quite a different picture. A recent trip to the “Gaza envelope” and Eshkol region of the Negev proved that the area is not only blooming but thriving as an incubator for some of Israel’s most cutting-edge social, educational and technical developments.

And—not a huge surprise—a hefty amount of financial support for these efforts comes from the venerable Jewish National Fund USA (JNF-USA). The organization pitches in to partner with Israeli nonprofits and regional councils to support and create a multitude of projects that are not government initiatives.

Since the Eshkol region shares borders with both Egypt and the Gaza Strip, many of the projects are designed to support the residents of communities that have been on the frontline of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad attacks for decades.

One of the most striking and innovative initiatives is the GrooveTech Center, located just two miles from the Gaza border on a campus together with schools that educate 2,500 students. The reinforced two-story building is the largest technology center in Israel.

Inside the bright, spacious structure dedicated to space, technology and gaming are multiple spaces for kids to immerse themselves in after-school STEM learning and recreational activities. A cybertech lab, space center, planetarium, broadcast studio, robotics workshop, virtual reality arena, professional teaching kitchen and hydroponics growing area are available to children that live under constant threat of rocket and mortar attacks from the Gaza Strip.

A big source of diversion and pride came last December when the launch of NASA’s James Webb Telescope was broadcast from GrooveTech. The NASA collaboration came about through an high-ranking Israeli-born NASA scientist who was a consultant in the creation of GrooveTech’s space center.

According to GrooveTech Center Director Maydan Peleg, the community had originally asked JNF-USA for funds to help build a jungle gym. “They said, ‘Nope, you need to dream bigger,’ and this is the result,” she adds with a smile.

“Kids who come here can forget the outside; they can feel pride and accomplishment and get absorbed in cutting-edge, exciting activities that help keep them strong,” she continued. “They can be exposed to the highest levels of tech, and they can dream to be whatever they want.”

The place is a game changer,” Carey-Lee Tal, a South Africa-born Eshkol community activist, tells visitors. Tal explains that GrooveTech not only helps keep kids in the area but also acts as an economic catalyst, providing jobs for local residents.

GrooveTech means that high school kids interested in any field of technology or engineering don’t need to travel to Tel Aviv or Beersheva for enrichment. “They can get what they need right here,” she said.

A few miles away, less than half a mile from the border with Egypt, Yedidia Harush welcomes visitors to the fully sustainable dairy farm that belongs to the community of Halutza.

Harush, whose white shirt, black kippah and visible tzitzit ritual fringes would look more at home in a Jerusalem yeshiva than in the middle of a cowshed, is proud to show off what he calls “the Halutza happy cows.”

He relates how he and his family arrived in Halutza after they were evicted from their homes in Gush Katif in 2005, when Israel unilaterally left the Gaza Strip.

Despite the pain and anger over the destruction of their communities, Harush says his family and others who went to Halutza decided to “take the positive side and contribute to the development of the Negev.”

Over the last 17 years, in cooperation with JNF-USA, Harush said roads had been paved and hundreds of greenhouses erected, and that more than 85 species of fruits and vegetables are now grown in the area. Fields of solar energy panels have also been established, he said.

But his pride and joy is the cowshed, which opened 10 months ago and is fully robotic, enabling the operation to be fully Shabbat observant.

Grazing space for dairy cows is very limited all over the country and the Negev’s sandy landscape and hot climate are not conducive to the practice, but there is plenty of land available in the Halutza area, so Harush’s cows each enjoy 22 square meters (about 236 square feet) of living space.

Unlike in most dairy farms, the 450 Halutza cows eat on demand and deliver up 41 liters per day of milk—far above the 28-liter average of other Israeli cowsheds.

“It’s an economic anchor for the communities,” Harush explained. “JNF-USA’s contribution is not purely philanthropic. Twenty-eight percent of the income from the milk is reinvested in Negev projects,” he noted.

Before letting visitors leave the area, Harush insists on showing us another pioneering agritech initiative not far from the dairy farm.

Opening the canvas door to a space that contains row upon row of thriving, seven-foot-tall greenery, Harush explained why his community is growing modified tobacco.

The leaves are picked and sent to a processing facility in Yesud HaMa’ala in the Hula Valley in northern Israel, where they’re crushed and liquidated. Thirty-five tons of leaves make seven liters of highly purified recombinant collagen, he explained. This material is then turned into a hydrogel for 3D bioprinting of tissues and organs, including lungs and kidneys. There’s far less chance of rejection or infection from this form of collagen than from that extracted from animals or human cadavers, said Harush.

With a scarcity of organ donors around the world, the process that’s started from plants grown in the sands of a startup community in the Negev has the potential to save many lives.

It’s the 2022 version of “making the desert bloom.”

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Israel

Hamas murdered their friend. Now, they help Israeli soldiers to keep his memory alive

David Newman (right): David died helping to save the lives of others who were at the music festival on October 7 when Hamas massacred hundreds of attendees

By VIRGINIA ALLEN (The Daily Signal) David Newman sent a text to a friend the morning of Saturday, Oct. 7. Something terrible had happened. Word quickly spread among Newman’s group of friends, who had known each other since high school.
Newman, 25, had traveled the night before to the music festival in southern Israel, close to the border with the Gaza Strip. It was supposed to be a fun weekend with his girlfriend “celebrating life,” something Newman, who served with the Israel Defense Forces, was good at and loved to do, friend Gidon Hazony recalls.
When Hazony learned that Newman, his longtime friend, was in danger, he and another friend decided they were “going to go down and try and save him.” Trained as a medic and armed with a handgun and bulletproof vest, Hazony started driving south from Jerusalem.
Hazony and his friend ended up joining with other medical personnel and “treated probably around 50 soldiers and civilians in total that day,” Hazony recalls, but they kept trying to make it south to rescue Newman.

But the two “never made it down to the party, and that’s probably for the best,” Hazony says, “because that area was completely taken over by terrorists. And if we had gone down there, I think we would’ve been killed.”
Hazony later learned that Hamas terrorists had murdered Newman on Oct. 7, but not before Newman had saved nearly 300 lives, including the life of his girlfriend.
When the terrorists began their attack on the music festival, many attendees began running to their cars. But Newman and his girlfriend encountered a police officer who warned them to run the opposite direction because the terrorists were near the vehicles, says David Gani, another friend of Newman’s.
Newman “ran in the opposite direction with his girlfriend and whoever else he could kind of corral with him,” Gani explains during an interview on “The Daily Signal Podcast.”
“They saw two industrial garbage cans, big containers, and so David told everyone, ‘Hide, hide in those containers,’” Gani says. “And so what he did over the course of the next few hours is, he would take people and … he was this big guy, and he would just chuck them in that container. And then he would go in, wait, wait till the coast is clear, and then he’d go back out, find more people, put them in there.”
Newman’s actions that day, and the atrocities Hazony and so many others in Israel witnessed Oct. 7, led Hazony, Gani, and several friends to quit their jobs and set up a nonprofit called Soldiers Save Lives. The organization is working to collect tactical and humanitarian aid for the Israel Defense Forces, or IDF.
According to the group’s website, Soldiers Save Lives has supplied over 20 IDF units and civilian response teams “with protective and self-defense gear.”
Gani, board chairman, chief financial officer, and chief technology officer of Soldiers Save Lives, and Hazony, president of the organization, recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to raise support and awareness for their mission to provide IDF troops with needed supplies.
If you would like to find out more about Soldiers Save Lives or donate to them, go to https://www.soldierssavelives.org/
Reprinted with permission.

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Israel

Our New Jewish Reality

Indigo bookstore in Toronto defaced

By HENRY SREBRNIK Since Oct. 7, we Jews have been witnessing an ongoing political and psychological pogrom. True, there have been no deaths (so far), but we’ve seen the very real threat of mobs advocating violence and extensive property damage of Jewish-owned businesses, and all this with little forceful reaction from the authorities.
The very day after the carnage, Canadians awoke to the news that the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust had inspired sustained celebrations in its major cities. And they have continued ever since. I’d go so far as to say the Trudeau government has, objectively, been more interested in preventing harm to Gazans than caring about the atrocities against Israelis and their state.
For diaspora Jews, the attacks of Oct. 7 were not distant overseas events and in this country since then they have inspired anti-Semitism, pure and simple, which any Jew can recognize. Even though it happened in Israel, it brought back the centuries-old memories of defenseless Jews being slaughtered in a vicious pogrom by wild anti-Semites.
I think this has shocked, deeply, most Jews, even those completely “secular” and not all that interested in Judaism, Israel or “Zionism.” Jewish parents, especially, now fear for their children in schools and universities. The statements universities are making to Jewish students across the country could not be clearer: We will not protect you, they all but scream. You’re on your own.
But all this has happened before, as we know from Jewish history. Long before Alfred Dreyfus and Theodor Herzl, the 1881 pogroms in tsarist Russia led to an awakening of proto-Zionist activity there, with an emphasis on the land of Israel. There were soon new Jewish settlements in Palestine.
The average Jew in Canada now knows that his or her friend at a university, his co-worker in an office, and the people he or she socializes with, may in fact approve, or at least not disapprove, of what happened that day in Israel. Acquaintances or even close friends may care far more about Israel killing Palestinians in Gaza. Such people may even believe what we may call “Hamas pogrom denial,” already being spread. Many people have now gone so far in accepting the demonization of Israel and Jews that they see no penalty attached to public expressions of Jew-hatred. Indeed, many academics scream their hatred of Israel and Jews as loud as possible.
One example: On Nov. 10, Toronto officers responded to a call at an Indigo bookstore located in the downtown. It had been defaced with red paint splashed on its windows and the sidewalk, and posters plastered to its windows.
The eleven suspects later arrested claimed that Indigo founder Heather Reisman (who is Jewish) was “funding genocide” because of her financial support of the HESEG Foundation for Lone Soldiers, which provides scholarships to foreign nationals who study in Israel after serving in the Israeli armed forces. By this logic, then, most Jewish properties and organizations could be targeted, since the vast majority of Jews are solidly on Israel’s side.
Were these vandals right-wing thugs or people recently arrived from the Middle East? No, those charged were mostly white middle-class professionals. Among them are figures from academia, the legal community, and the public education sector. Four are academics connected to York University (one of them a former chair of the Sociology Department) and a fifth at the University of Toronto; two are elementary school teachers; another a paralegal at a law firm.
Were their students and colleagues dismayed by this behaviour? On the contrary. Some faculty members, staff and students at the university staged a rally in their support. These revelations have triggered discussions about the role and responsibilities of educators, given their influential positions in society.
You’ve heard the term “quiet quitting.” I think many Jews will withdraw from various clubs and organizations and we will begin to see, in a sense like in the 1930s, a reversal of assimilation, at least in the social sphere. (Of course none of this applies to Orthodox Jews, who already live this way.)
Women in various feminist organizations may form their own groups or join already existing Jewish women’s groups. There may be an increase in attendance in K-12 Jewish schools. In universities, “progressive” Jewish students will have to opt out of organizations whose members, including people they considered friends, have been marching to the slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and similar eliminationist rhetoric, while waving Palestinian flags.
This will mostly affect Jews on the left, who may be supporters of organizations which have become carriers of anti-Semitism, though ostensibly dealing with “human rights,” “social justice,” and even “climate change.”
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg took part in a demonstration outside the Israeli Embassy in Stockholm on Oct. 22 in which she chanted “crush Zionism” along with hundreds of other anti-Israel protesters. Israel is now unthinkingly condemned as a genocidal apartheid settler-colonialist state, indeed, the single most malevolent country in the world and the root of all evil.
New York Times Columnist Bret Stephens expressed it well in his Nov. 7 article. “Knowing who our friends aren’t isn’t pleasant, particularly after so many Jews have sought to be personal friends and political allies to people and movements that, as we grieved, turned their backs on us. But it’s also clarifying.”
Henry Srebrnik is a professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown.

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Israel

Former Winnipegger Vivian Silver, at first thought to have been taken hostage, has now been confirmed dead

Jewish Post & News file photo

Former Winnipegger and well-known Israeli peace activist Vivian Silver has now been confirmed as having been killed during the massacre of Israelis and foreign nationals perpetrated by Hamas terrorists on October 7. Vivian, a resident of Kibbutz Be’eri was originally thought to be among the more than 1200 individuals who were taken hostage by Hamas.

To read the full story on the CBC website, go to https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/israel-gaza-vivian-silver-1.7027333

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