Shalom Life Article: A Jaunt To Israel

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Shalom Life - A Jaunt to Israel

Through the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, I had the opportunity to visit Israel for the first time. A much desired destination on my bucket list, I have longed to understand the dynamics of this small and young country.
 
My mind has always been preoccupied with thoughts of 'how does his little speck on the map accomplish and contribute so much to the world? What's in the water?' Interestingly, I had just finished reading Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle. This book by Dan Senor and Saul Singer gave me some insight into their drive and success in the world of technology, medicine, agriculture and so forth. The authors call it the "Israel effect." Perhaps when a country is in a constant state of threat from its neighbours (their enemies), a survivalist mentality is in high gear. Imagine if you lived in comfort with no sense of threat, where things are given to you without much struggle. Would you be 'hungry' to fight for what you want? Flip sides and picture what it is like to be in a constant struggle. One has to fight for their rights, needs and desires. Out of struggle comes great feats.
 
HU logoIt is intuitively understandable that "a nation of immigrants is a nation of entrepreneurs," as prime ministerial adviser Gidi Grinstein, founder of the Reut Institute, is quoted as saying. It is also intuitively obvious that people who overcame and still face tremendous odds will develop the kind of grit needed to succeed -- witness the tale of Intel Israel's Dov Frohman, orphaned in Europe by World War II, who plugs the "counter-narrative" about war-torn Israel: “When the missiles are falling, it keeps on truckin', even if the kids have to come to the workplace because schools are closed, resulting in shared ‘kindergarten duty.’”
 
Upon my arrival in Jerusalem, I was immediately overcome by the breathtaking historical landmarks juxtaposed against a modern landscape developed in less than sixty-two years.
There is something significantly unique about Israel that consumes visitors -- a buzz and a vibe giving off a lively dynamic feeling wherever you go. It's electric.
 
This vibe carried over into the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where I was to invited to explore and learn about the great strides they have contributed in the areas of medicine and agriculture.
 
Professor David LichsteinAt the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada (IMRIC), an overview of their accomplishments was shared by IMRIC Chairman and Professor David Lichtstein. “Innovations Touching Lives” is their mantra and through collaboration, the staff of IMRIC are partnering in research with scientists from Canada.
 
IMRIC’s Professor Ofer Mandelboim and Winnipeg based researcher Dr. Frank Plummer (one of the world’s leading specialists in the study of HIV/AIDS) received $8.3 million from the Gates Foundation to investigate a group of women in Kenya who are apparently immune to HIV/AIDS. From this study, they hope to develop a vaccine for the disease.

University of Alberta’s Dr. James Shapiro is a world-renowned researcher in islet transplantation for diabetes. Dr. Shapiro’s partnership with IMRIC’s Dr. Yuval Dor and team lead to a groundbreaking discovery that beta cells can in fact regenerate, which translates to leading the way for radical new treatments for diabetes.
 
And McGill’s Dr. Moshe Szyf and IMRIC’s own Professor Howard Cedar are paving the way towards customized cancer treatment. This partnership will shed light on the genetic defects that can lead to cancer.
 
At the Faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences, Dean and Professor Aharon Friedman discussed the impact the Universities research has had in Israel and abroad. Through their External Studies programs, they engage students from developing countries worldwide, as well as neighbouring Arab countries and the Palestinian Authority. Their vision is to assist countries wishing to develop their agricultural technology – a critical tool in the battle to alleviate poverty and to reduce hunger.
 
Berta Levavi-SivanHebrew University researcher Professor Berta Levavi-Sivan (of the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment) created fish farms for Ugandans to help combat the depleted fish count in Lake Victoria. In her presentation, she shared how the partnership with Makerere University in Kampala established these ‘boutique’ fish farms to increase the local population’s main source of protein, the Nile Perch. Through investigation and research, they established large ponds in small villages around the shores of Lake Victoria. They found a way to spawn several species of the African carp, then cultivated them in fish farms nearby. The nutrients in the soil are rich enough for the fish to feed off of. Some five years later, 14 villages are benefitting from this remarkable initiative.
 
During my visit, I also learned that some of the faculties’ research achievements and innovations include methods of drip irrigation and fertigation (also used in other countries); tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables bred with long shelf life; intensive arid-zone agriculture; use of natural biofertilizers and biocontrol by biofungicides and parasitic insects, to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers, fungicides and pesticides; recycling technologies for waste-water reclamation and composting of solid municipal and agricultural wastes; using plants to purify water polluted by heavy metals.
 
The research at the Faculty has improved and increased yields of fruits, vegetables, grain crops, flowers and cotton. They have helped develop Israel's annual flower export from basically nothing (in the 1960s), to its current status as one of the largest exporters of flowers in the world, and much more.
 
Stay tuned for my one-on-one interviews with the people behind this cutting-edge research.

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CFHU is dedicated to supporting IMRIC through direct funding and by developing key collaborative medical research partnerships between Canada
and Israel.
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