In the summer of 2014, Avi Jorisch heard what he called “the most horrible noise” of his entire life. It was the sound of a Code Red siren, “basically instructing all of Israel’s citizens to go to the bomb shelters,” he said.
Jorisch described grabbing his son and flying down the stairs, huddling together for over 10 minutes. Then the building violently shook.
“Friends, does anyone know what that sound was?” Jorisch asked his audience at Howard Community College Dec. 8. “That was the sound of history being made. That was the sound of the Iron Dome.”
This was the opening anecdote that Jorisch — author of “Thou Shalt Innovate: How Israeli Ingenuity Repairs the World” — shared with the approximately 90 people gathered to learn about the advancements made by Israel’s technology sector. The event was organized by the Jewish Federation of Howard County “to bring Avi to Howard County to share his expertise with our community about how Israeli innovation is fueling the future,” said Hanni Werner, the Federation’s marketing and communications director. “The technological advancements that Israeli companies have been developing are not only affecting Jews but saving and improving the lives of people from all backgrounds, religions, and races.”
Listed as the fifth most innovative nation on the Bloomberg index, Israel “has more startups combined than Canada, India, Japan, Korea, and the United Kingdom combined,” Jorisch noted. “Outside of the United States and China, Israel has more companies listed on the NASDAQ than any other country …”
Particularly exciting was a system of “ambucycle”-riding emergency responders. In both the U.S. and Israel, Jorisch said, it takes a traditional ambulance 20 minutes to arrive. His friend and colleague Eli Beer, founder and president United Hatzalah of Israel, “banded together an army of emergency responders … Muslims, Christians, and Jews,” connecting them all to an Uber-like smartphone app. Describing their vehicles as “Pizza Hut looking mopeds … but instead of delivering pizzas it delivers emergency responders with medical supplies,” Beer’s system deploys an EMT to a medical emergency anywhere in Israel within three minutes. In a major Israeli city, that figure is cut to 90 seconds. “Israel has now taken this model and scaled it to 10 countries around the world,” including the United States’ Jersey City, Jorisch said.
Jorisch talked about mechanical exoskeletons that allow paraplegics to walk, “the world’s first GPS for the brain,” and the development of a treatment for multiple sclerosis derived from … newborn male foreskin?
Jorisch told the story of Professor Michel Revel of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. He became “obsessed with something called Interferon protein,” which is “found in a newborn male foreskin.”
According to Jorisch, “Revel thought: ‘I live in Israel, I can have as many newborn male foreskins as I want.’” However, the mohels were not on board, because foreskins are traditionally buried after the bris.
“So Michel Revel used another amazing Israeli piece of technology called chutzpah,” Jorisch continued. “One of the women on his staff was related to the Lubavithcher Rebbe.” She solicited an okay, in writing, from him, and within three weeks, “Revel had more newborn male foreskins than he knew what to do with.”
“When you add 20 newborn male foreskins, 10 years, and $2 billion, you produce a drug called Rebif. Rebif treats today 600,000 of the 2.5 million individuals that have multiple sclerosis.”
Jorisch said all this innovation rested on three pillars.
“The first is this idea of diversity,” he said, which “powers the Israeli innovation ecosystem. The second is the idea of secular values and secular institutions, primarily the military and the universities.”
The last pillar “is the prophetic tradition,” he said. “For the last 1,500 years, the Jewish people have been praying a prayer called the Aleinu prayer … [which] three times a day, instructs the adherents of the Jewish religion to … repair the world in the image of God.”
“Now you cannot repeat the ideas of curing the sick, feeding the hungry … day in and day out for thousands of years and for that not to have a deep impact on the cultural DNA of your people, and now the modern day state of Israel,” Jorisch said.