7 Decades of Innovation in Israel: Computers and Software Technologies

Today, Israel is known worldwide as a leader in science and the hi-tech industry. During its second decade (1958-1968), the still-young nation laid the groundwork that eventually would enable its advanced institutions and hi-tech companies to flourish, creating a global center for innovation.

No list of Israeli innovations would be complete without computer hardware and software technologies that have become ubiquitous, including cell phone chips and instant messaging apps. The corridor between Tel Aviv and Haifa has even earned the nickname “Silicon Wadi” – a mash-up of the name of California’s tech locus and the Arabic word for valley.

The Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa plays an outsized role in the growth of Israel’s tech industry. Founded more than a century ago, the university still was rapidly expanding and diversifying in the 1960s. This growth was especially true in the faculty of electrical engineering, one of the university’s most storied and currently its largest department.

Here’s why.

At the time, information theory, which provides much of the theoretical underpinning for how computers and the internet work, was a new discipline – just about as old as the State of Israel. Several Technion researchers, who previously had worked in Israel’s national defense research and development program, had learned about and taken an interest in the field. As a result, the electrical engineering department grew to include a top-tier computing research program that produced graduates who would go on to revolutionize communications and digital technologies.

One partnership within the electrical engineering faculty in the 1970s proved particularly historic. Yaakov Ziv, one of the Technion researchers, and Abraham Lempel, who had received a doctorate from the Technion in 1967 and later joined the faculty, developed a set of data compression algorithms known to computer scientists as Lempel-Ziv. The algorithms are the building blocks of the ubiquitous .PNG image format and .ZIP compressed file archives so widely used today.

During the 1960s, Israeli researchers also were making historic contributions in other realms of science, including fundamental physics. One researcher, Asher Peres – who received a Ph.D. in physics from the Technion in 1959 and was appointed to a professorship shortly thereafter – has a list of research achievements that reads like a “who’s who” of influential physics principles and theories. (Among them is the cool-sounding “quantum teleportation.”)

Israeli involvement in fundamental scientific research has continued to grow in the decades since. In 2012, for example, the science community’s excitement about the search for the Higgs boson particle was so infectious it spilled over into everyday media. The largest experiment conducted in human history, it involved 6,000 scientists worldwide, including numerous Israelis. Among them was Dr. Eilam Gross of the Weizmann Institute of Science, who was profiled in the fourth installment of this six-part report in The New York Times.

Israel’s early investment in science and technology resulted in tremendous innovation during its earliest decades and incubated a culture that lasts to this day. Across an enormous range of projects – from computing technology and physics to environmental science and cutting- edge medicine – Israel’s research and technological advances will remain at the forefront of solving the world’s most challenging issues.

This post is the second of seven designed to inform and inspire readers about scientific and technological advances in modern Israel in each of the decades since its founding in 1948. Visit the 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy website to read the other posts as they become available.

Sci-Tech Israel, the newest program in the Union for Reform Judaism’s suite of Israel experiences, offers opportunities for Jewish teens to explore Israel through a lens of science, technology, and innovation. Visit nftyisrael.org to learn more about teen travel to Israel.

Dan Garwood is the Union for Reform Judaism’s North American Coordinator for NFTY in Israel. A member of the NFTY in Israel team since 2009, Dan has been involved bringing more than 4,000 teens to Israel on URJ Teen Travel Programs. He holds a degree in Jewish studies and philosophy from McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Amy, and their cat, Archer.


Poignant Words from Dr. Stephen Godin, Fellow Congregant

About a heartfelt song written by Dr. Godin:

“There was an explanation that went along with this post to explain the origin of this song. I have retyped it below:
After every mass shooting, our country immediately engages in the same political debate as to why these tragedies happen. Is it guns? Spiritual emptiness? Mental health? To be honest, I don’t even pretend to know the answer. However, by continuing the arguments, we lose sight of what can be, after all, the most basic lesson of human nature.

After the Virginia Tech shooting, I was deeply moved by the story of Doctor Liviu Librescu, a Holocaust survivor who died protecting his students. The late Terry Wetton and I wrote a song that was recorded by the Lonesome Road Band. We intended it to be not just a tribute to his heroism but also as a reminder that no darkness, no matter how intense, can ever extinguish the light of our better selves. In this latest tragedy, two men—Aaron Feis and Chris Hixon—selflessly sacrificed their lives to protect others. It is to them and their families that I would also like to dedicate this song. Truly, they show us the way.”

Click here to listen to Dr. Godin’s timeless words.

Message from Hadassah

All too often tragedy strikes a little too close to home for many of us. I know I speak for all of you — Hadassah’s members and supporters — when I say that our hearts go out to all those directly and indirectly affected by the tragic loss of life at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. We pray for those injured, physically and emotionally, and for Hadassah VP Merna Shapiro and her family who live in Parkland, FL and are thankfully safe. Merna’s grandchildren, who were in lockdown at the school next door, came out shaken but ok.

It will be a very long time before this small town awakens from this nightmare. We long for the day when the slaughter of innocent lives is only a lesson in a history book, but we cannot just sit back and remain quiet over the 18 school shootings, that have occurred since January. We must speak out.

Last week, Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc. observed the yahrzeit of our founder, Henrietta Szold z”l. She was always deeply committed to advocacy as are we, which is why we frequent the halls of Congress and meet with legislators regularly to protect the values this organization was founded upon.

The value of all human lives is central to our mission as a women’s Zionist organization. Keep our children safe and support Hadassah’s efforts to legislate for stronger gun control legislation. Get involved in contacting congressional legislators both by writing and in person—join your local chapter for a Day in the District because every voice counts. To get involved, CLICK HERE!

For more information about Hadassah’s advocacy opportunities, please email advocacy@hadassah.org. We are the power of women who advocate and together we will strengthen one another and build a better world for all.

With sadness and hope for the future,

Ellen Hershkin (signature)

Ellen Hershkin
National President