Jewish Independent Spotlight on July 16 Vancouver Event: Jerusalem A High-Tech Hub

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Hebrew University is probably the only university that ‘founded’ a state rather than vice versa, as the cornerstone for the university was laid on July 24, 1918, and, on April 1, 1925, the Mount Scopus campus was opened,” Dina Wachtel, Western region executive director, Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University, told the Independent. “The contemporary history of the city of Jerusalem and the story of the Six Day War is intertwined with the story of the university – what better way to celebrate that than by bringing in four of Jerusalem’s change-makers?”

Lior Schillat and Maya Halevy

The July 16 TED Talk-style event at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver – hosted by CFHU, the Jerusalem Foundation and JCCGV – “is a celebration of the start-up nation and the role the city is playing in becoming a centre for innovation and technology,” said Wachtel. “Thus, it is also the story of how innovation improves the lives of humanity in this world regardless of boundaries of any kind: geographical, political, ethnic, religious.”

At the event called Jerusalem of Gold: Capital of Innovation & Tech, the speakers will be Lior Schillat, director general of Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research; Maya Halevy, executive director of Bloomfield Science Museum Jerusalem; Yonatan Avraham, student ambassador of HUstart, the university’s entrepreneurship centre; and Tamir Huberman, vice-president of business development and information-technology director of Yissum, the technology transfer company of Hebrew U. The Jewish Independent interviewed each of the presenters in anticipation of their Vancouver visit, and will feature Schillat and Halevy this week, and Avraham and Huberman on July 7.

Schillat will talk about Jerusalem’s Population: What Does the Future Hold? But first, what about the Jerusalem of the past – what would have inspired a Canadian Jew to make aliyah 50 years ago?

Actually, said Schillat, in the 20th century, the biggest wave of immigrants from countries such as Canada came right after the Six Day War.

“If you’re Canadian and you’re making aliyah in ’67 and you’re choosing Jerusalem for your home, I guess the main reason you would do that would be because of the spiritual effect the glorious victory of 1967 would have on you,” said Schillat.

“If you are a bit more practical, you also understand that, with this victory, Jerusalem, for the first time since 1948, became again the centre of the country ... centre in the geographical meaning and also the centre of attention as to what was going on in the country.”

Fifty years later, he said, while “we still haven’t reached some kind of stability in the situation in Jerusalem,” the city “is one of the most interesting … cities in Israel, and why is that? First of all, it’s Jerusalem, meaning it’s beautiful, it has stories that are in the heart of billions of people all over the world…. I would say the Jerusalem brand is stronger than any other brand in Israel, including the Israeli brand itself…. So, if you would come to Jerusalem, it would be because you want to spend your life in a way that is a bit more meaningful than … in any other city in Israel, in any other Western country.”

In Jerusalem, he said, “from the moment you wake up until the moment you go to sleep, you live for something, for an idea. It’s true for everyone – of course it’s true for religious people, but it’s also … true for secular people. Life here just has much more meaning. You know, it’s not for nothing that Jerusalem is 10% of the Israeli population but 25% of civic society organizations are based here. And if you look at Israel’s biggest struggles or debates, many of them were generated from the Jerusalem society.”

Jerusalem is a completely different city than it was 50 years ago, said Schillat. “Jerusalem is one of the most advanced high-tech ecosystems in the world today…. When you look at the numbers, you see that, today, Jerusalem is considered among the 30 biggest ecosystems in the world. And some of the researchers even say that they would consider it for next year among the 20.”

It’s not the tech hub that Tel Aviv is, he acknowledged, but, in proportion to its population, Jerusalem rates high on the tech scene. And this shouldn’t be surprising, he said.

“People here are using their minds all the time, and high-tech is exactly that – it’s how you use your mind in order to create gain, in order to create technology that could help better the world…. The number of technological companies in this city has more than doubled in the last four years. The number of employees in high-tech is growing 15% every year for the last three years.”

Schillat gave as the best example of Jerusalem’s growing prominence in this area the recent acquisition by Intel of Jerusalembased company Mobileye for $15.3 billion. Not only that, he said, but Intel also has decided to base in Jerusalem its international research and development centre for autonomous cars.

“I don’t see the Jerusalem of the future as being another New York or another Frankfurt or another Tel Aviv; it won’t be a financial centre. I see it as a city of knowledge; of creating fruits from thinking, from knowledge, from discussion. And I also think that Jerusalem is facing now the amazing challenge, and very hard challenge, of integrating into this group of thinkers and builders the more weak populations…. The real test for Jerusalem for the next 50 years would be, ‘Did you integrate the Charedi groups, did you integrate the Arab groups into this economic development model of a city of thinkers, or did you just go with this idea by yourself, meaning just a small elite group of thinkers went with it by themselves and left the majority of the city behind?”

One facility that is trying to integrate various population groups is Bloomfield Science Museum. Founded and operated by the Jerusalem Foundation and HU, the museum is supported by the national and municipal governments. Its website describes science “as a common language that disregards physical borders, cultural and religious differences and enables dialogue among participants with a common interest and diverse backgrounds.” Halevy will talk on the topic Raising a Start-up Nation.

“There is much research that shows that young kids love science and science classes,” she said, “but they don’t see themselves in a STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] career, mainly because they believe that having a STEM career is being a scientist, which they think it is to work alone in a lab, and can be relevant only to the best scholars. Our role is to show the variety of opportunities that STEM learning can open for them in a future career.”

Bloomfield serves as a lab and hub for education programs, she said. “As a lab, we develop new approaches, new pedagogy, new tools, and we test those with a variety of people, as we are also a hub for all the communities in Jerusalem.”

The museum collaborates with institutions around the world, as well. A current exhibit that will travel to Ottawa, among other places, is the Bicycle Exhibition 2 x 200. The new Canada Science and Technology Museum is set to open in November after extensive renovations and the exhibit is scheduled to arrive there after a few other stops.

The idea for the exhibit came when Halevy was on a visit to Ottawa in October 2015, at the request of then-Israeli ambassador to Canada Raphael Barak, “who wished to develop cooperation among cultural institutions from Canada and Israel.”

Visiting the museum while it was under renovation, Halevy saw the collection of bicycles it had in storage and learned that 2017 would mark 200 years since this invention.

“So we decided to focus our cooperation on a bicycle exhibition,” she said, “to use their collection and to add interactive exhibits – we are very experienced in this field – and the idea was that we will develop and build the whole exhibition in Jerusalem and later on it will travel to Ottawa.

“We were lucky to find two more partners, from Germany and Italy, that loved the concept of the exhibition and that wished to join us, so the tour will start in Jerusalem, will move to Bremen (July 2018) and then to Naples (July 2019) and will end in Ottawa (2020). We were also approached by other museums that wish to present the exhibition after the partners’ tour ends.”

Bloomfield signed a letter of intent with Ontario Science Centre last year. “The main idea is to develop our cooperation around the culture of innovation and to start developing this culture from an early age, as the future of both our economies is based today on innovation and entrepreneurship,” explained Halevy. “We plan to develop together an interactive exhibition and special programs for young children and youth and to connect them to each other. We wish to open the exhibition and launch the programs in 2018 – 70 years to the establishment of Israel. During my time in Toronto, I will have a meeting with the CEO and president of the Ontario Science Centre, Dr. Maurice Bitran, to discuss it more in-depth.”

As for other collaborations with Canadian institutions, Halevy said, “We might develop new collaborations on my tour, as I plan to visit my colleagues from Calgary and Vancouver.”

Jerusalem of Gold: Capital of Innovation & Tech is open to the public. Tickets are $45, though Wachtel said, “Students who are interested in coming to the event are welcome to register at our office and receive a free ticket.”

For tickets, the speakers’ bios and other information, visit www.cfhu.org, email vanc@cfhu.org or call 604-257-5133.

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