7 Decades of Innovation in Israel: Science and Technology Partnerships

Scientist wearing gloves, a mask, and protective glasses examining a computer chip

On my most recent visit to Israel – in preparation for this summer’s URJ Sci-Tech Israel program – I noticed the presence of U.S. companies. Throughout Israel’s “Silicon Wadi,” the counterpart to our Silicon Valley, are research and development facilities for Google, Microsoft, Apple, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and others, intermixed with a vast array of Israeli start-ups, including Mobile-Eye, Orcam, StoreDot, and others.

The foundations for many of these research collaborations were establish during Israel’s third decade from the late 1960s to the late 1970s. Motorola, the first U.S. corporation to set up a research and development unit in Israel, was followed others. In 1972, IBM opened its doors to three researchers in Israel, soon followed by Intel in 1974. At the time, IBM’s investment was less in Israel than in Professor Josef Raviv, one of its top scientists, who wanted to return to his home country. Little could the company have imagined that Raviv’s three-person team would grow to be the largest IBM research lab outside the U.S., with more 500 employees throughout Israel who are conducting some of IBM’s most cutting edge research. Similarly, Intel, now the largest tech employer in Israel with 10,000 employees, began with a R&D facility of just five employees.

Before Israel became the “start-up nation” it is today, IBM and Intel were motivated to expand to this tiny Middle East country because of talented Israeli researchers working in the U.S. As part of their relationship with Israel, these companies demonstrate their commitment to community relations and corporate responsibility by collaborating with schools and local organizations to promote STEM education and fund local projects. Similarly, executives from Facebook, Google, and Microsoft devote resources in Israel because, according to Google developer partner advocate Don Dodge, “there’s an amazing source of talent here.” Israelis have the chutzpah (audacity) to believe their ideas are the best and act on them, they move fast, break things, and try new things.

Also during Israel’s third decade, in 1972, the United States and Israel established the Binational Science Foundation (BSF). Run by an independent board of directors comprising both Israelis and Americans, BSF promotes scientific collaboration between the two countries, and has awarded nearly $600 million to more than 5,000 research projects in areas of applied sciences. Such collaboration provides opportunities for the brightest minds in each country, including 46 Nobel Prize laureates, to work together on groundbreaking discoveries that have led to the synthesis of drugs to treat disease, protections against insecticide and chemical warfare poisoning, and efforts to find habitable planets and life beyond our solar system.

Science, technology, and innovation in Israel also serve as tools for diplomacy, often without much of the politics that can interfere with success. For example, the Arava Institute in Israel’s Negev Desert, brings together Jordanians, Palestinians, Israelis, and students from around the world to learn about and discover solutions to pressing environmental challenges.

The high-tech facets of Israeli society have much to teach our URJ Sci-Tech Israel participants. Students regularly learn from Reform Jewish entrepreneurs about how they include Jewish values in their ventures from research to corporate management and product development. And, just as the science and tech community extends beyond labs and institutions, beyond oceans and borders to unite people throughout the world, our students can learn from this community about how we can expand our own kehillah (community) beyond the physical buildings and walls to embrace others.

This post is one in a series 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.

April Events Update!

Please RSVP to all events!

Falafel Friday: This Friday at 6:00 pm-Israel Independence Day

Spartanburg Earth Day: Celebration at Unitarian Universalist Church, Saturday, April 21

Sunday Speaker Series: Sunday, April 22 with David Alvis:

“Michelangelo’s David and the Politics of the Chosen People”

Sisterhood Board Meeting: Sunday, April 22 at 12:00

Hadassah Meeting: Wednesday, April 25 at 11:00

Rabbi’s Brown Bag Lunch: Wednesday, April 25 at 12:00

Kabbalat Shabbat: Friday, April 27 beginning at 5:30 with refreshments.

Saturday Service: April 28 at 9:30 am

Sunday School: Sunday, April 29 beginning at 9:20 with Hebrew


Three Ways to Celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut


Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, begins April 18. This year, we’re celebrating the 70th anniversary of statehood and the vision of Zionist women like Henrietta Szold and Rose Halprin, who played powerful roles in building support for Israel and the creation of the Jewish state.

Three Ways to Celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut

  • As part of our celebration, Hadassah will host a special Yom Ha’Atzmaut Seder led by Dr. Etti Serok of the World Zionist Organization. Join us online on Facebook Live at 11:00 am (ET) — and learn about the Zionist Seder plate, Hadassah’s contributions to building and helping the State of Israel flourish, and more.
  • To commemorate this major milestone, Hadassah is asking you to share with us a word (or two) that embodies what you love most about Israel. Email us your words, and you might just see yourself on our social media. Happy Yom Ha’Atzmaut!
  • In honor of Israel’s 70th birthday, consider hosting a Zionist salon. Bring together friends, decorate with blue-and-white flags, eat some hummus, shakshuka or other Israeli foods and use author-historian Gil Troy’s The Zionist Ideas: Visions for the Jewish Homeland—Then, Now, Tomorrow — featuring excerpts from Hadassah Zionists past and present. Our customized Hadassah study guide (coming soon!) gives you everything you need to host a lively conversation and make your celebration meaningful. These salons are a great way to introduce potential members to Hadassah’s special kind of Zionism.

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.


How Golda Meir Helped Make the State of Israel Possible

Golda Meir


Last month at Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, our guide off-handedly mentioned that if we wanted to read a great speech, we should read the speech Golda Meir gave in Chicago. Immediately, I Googled the speech.

It was January of 1948 and the Jews in Palestine already were fighting neighboring Arabs on a regular basis. Convoys of cars going up to Jerusalem were being ambushed; skirmishes were breaking out all through the country. To help finance the fighting, David Ben-Gurion sent Golda Meir to the United States to raise funds from the American Jewish community, the strongest and wealthiest such community in the world.

Although Ben-Gurion himself wanted to go, the executive council of the provisional government voted that Meir should go instead, leaving him to do the groundwork necessary to establish the Jewish State since the British would be leaving the country in a few months. Eliezer Kaplan, the treasurer of the Jewish Agency, had made an earlier trip to raise $7 million, but had failed in his mission.

Meir was relatively unknown within the American Jewish community, but upon her arrival in New York – back in the U.S. for the first time since she had left Milwaukee years earlier to live in Israel – her sister, Clara, suggested she try to speak at the annual conference of the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds. The body would be meeting that weekend at the Sheraton Blackstone Hotel in Chicago.

Francis Klagsbrun, in her new book, Lioness: Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel, quotes Meir: “‘I was terribly afraid of going to these people who didn’t know me from Adam,’ she recalled. ‘I admit I was shaking. I had no idea what was going to happen.’”

Nonetheless, she addressed the gathering:

Friends… These young boys and girls, many in their teens, are bearing the burden of what is happening in the country with a spirit that no words can describe…. All we ask of Jews the world over, and mainly of the Jews in the United States, is to give us the possibility of going on with the struggle…. We are not a better breed; we are not the best Jews of the Jewish people. It so happened that we are there, and you are here. I am certain that if you were in Palestine and we were in the United States, you would be doing what we are doing there…. You cannot decide whether we should fight or not. We will.… That decision is taken. Nobody can change it.

After speaking, cigarette – but no notes – in hand, for 35 minutes, Meir unapologetically asked for between $25 and $30 million. She closed her speech with these words: “I beg of you – don’t be too late. Don’t be bitterly sorry three months from now for what you failed to do today. The time is now.”

The next day, according to Steve Nasatir, president of the Chicago Federation, with whom I spoke recently, JUF Chicago leaders took out a loan for $5 million and handed it directly to Meir.

Upon leaving Chicago, she visited 19 other cities across the country, returning to Israel on March 19 with $50 million, enabling Ben-Gurion to buy Jeeps, guns, planes, and ammunition in Czechoslovakia for the soldiers fighting desperately to create the Jewish state. Ben-Gurion later wrote in his diary: “Someday when history will be written it will be said that there was a Jewish woman who got the money which made the Jewish state possible.”

Indeed, less than two months after Meir returned from the U.S., several hundred people gathered in Independence Hall in Tel Aviv to hear Ben-Gurion declare the establishment of the Jewish State on Friday, May 14, 1948. Among the 37 signers of Israel’s Declaration of Independence were only two women, one of whom, of course, was Golda Meir.

Thank you, Golda, and thank you, too, to the American leaders who listened to a little-known woman speak in Chicago and heeded her words. Indeed, Golda was right; I’m glad we were not too