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Israel: An Epicenter of Exploration and Innovation

Israel: An Epicenter of Exploration and Innovation

Campers and staff at URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy, a Reform Jewish summer camp near Boston, connect with Israel in a unique way: through science and technology, of course! Israel is an epicenter of exploration and innovation, from the massive solar fields in the Negev Desert to the high-tech processes used to start up companies such as the Waze navigation app. Israel is a part of many aspects of our camp programming, from our Israeli staff members to the featured "Israeli Invention of the Day."

As the canp's director, I recently returned from a week in Israel, four days of which were spent with our summer shlichim, the Israeli staff that will be joining us at camp this summer. These young adults, who just finished their army service, will join us at camp to share their personal journeys, teach our campers in their fields of expertise, and to take great care of our kids. I also spent some time with friends and family, who showed me that technology is everywhere in Israel, often in places you least expect it. I want to share with you the Israel I experienced that week, a reflection on and celebration of Israel's many contributions to society.

The Best Peppers and Dates I’ve Ever Tasted

Every time I visit Israel, one of my main stops is Moshav Faran, a small village about one hour north of Eilat. Here, my friend Elazar and his wife Aya, grow peppers and dates and raise cows in their dairy (he's pictured above, operating the computer in the pepper farm). I have been visiting their home in the desert almost every year since we were co-counselors at camp 14 years ago, and this year, Elazar gave me a peek into the technology behind his farming. The farm employs drip irrigation, commonplace in Israel, in which tiny tubes are used to carefully drip the same amount of water on each plant in the farm. The entire field of peppers is controlled by a complex computer system, much of which can be controlled from a smartphone app. The app monitors the exact amount of water going through each tube, and the frequency at which plants are receiving water. To ensure that the plant at the beginning of the hose gets the same amount of water as those at the end of the hose, there are microscopic mazes that properly filter the water to the correct plants. If there is a leak in a tube or one is clogged, Elazar gets an alert on his phone so he can quickly fix it. In the end, each plant receives exactly the amount of water it needs and makes some of the best peppers I can eat right off of the vine.

Pilots, Animators, Gamers, Oh My! 

This summer, URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy will welcome four Israeli staff members to camp as part of our mishlachat (delegation). These talented individuals have just finished their army service come to camp as part of the Jewish Agency for Israel’s summer shlichim program, which sends more than 1,000 Israeli counselors to camps across North America. They undergo a rigorous application process to ensure camp finds the right staff for 6 Points Sci-Tech, and this summer, our four shlichim come with unique talents that will become a part of many aspects of camp. Rom is a pilot who will build model airplanes with our campers and teach them the essentials of flight through simulators and his real-life experience. Roni is an expert in video game design, having used C#, Java, and many other languages to create cool apps and games in Unity. Oren is heading to school this fall to study graphic design and is also a talented animator, a skill he will share with our campers. Asaf, our returning shaliach, is an Israeli national champion in robotics competitions and is excited to return after working at a Reform synagogue in Chicago this year. As part of their experience, they will also educate our campers about Israel’s contribution to science and technology.

There’s an (Israeli) App for That!

I had the pleasure of meeting with Asaf Kindler, the Founder of Snapp, an app for iPhone and Android that allows you to design an app right from your phone (it's currently still in beta testing). Asaf believes that Snapp will have global impact. In fact, recently a group of Health Workers in Western Africa used Snapp to quickly build an app to educate local communities about the symptoms of Ebola and how to protect themselves from it. In many of the affected villages only a few people have smart phones, usually the wealthier or more respected individuals, who used the app to learn and then share information with others in the village. Asaf recently worked with children in a religious school here in the U.S. to design tikkun olam ("repair of the world") apps about social justice issues.

The Technion Up Close

It turns out that the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa is a lot bigger that our very own Technion-building at camp. During my visit, I toured the Technion medical school and Rambam hospital with Avra Laarakker, a medical student who hopes to one day become a neurosurgeon. I met Avra when she was a participant on a Kesher Birthright Israel trip I led; she later made aliyah and began her studies at Technion to become a doctor. I was able to see some of the institution’s state-of-the-art facilities, the beautiful children’s hospital, and the soon-to-be world-class oncology center. Avra is part of an elite group of medical students that were accepted into an American medical program, allowing her to practice in the U.S. if she one day desires.

Among all of this innovation, it is important to remember that we are one Jewish people with a shared history and memory. As our Israeli and American staffers planned for summer and learned about one another, there was a realization that being together meant we were creating new shared memories and creating a bright and hopeful Jewish future for hundreds of campers this summer.

Greg Kellner is director of URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy, a Reform Jewish summer camp for kids entering grades 5-9, specializing in science and technology. Prior to this role, he served as the senior assistant director of the URJ Crane Lake Camp and as the assistant director of the URJ Eisner Camp. Greg spent the summer of 2007 at Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camps in Malibu, CA, overseeing the music program and five years as the youth advisor for Temple Sinai in Washington, D.C.

Greg Kellner
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