GRAPEVINE: An obvious rift in 20/20 vision

Movers and shakers in Israeli society

July 27, 2019 22:53
GRAPEVINE: An obvious rift in 20/20 vision

PRESIDENT REUVEN Rivlin meets with haredi start-up innovators. (photo credit: MARC NEYMAN/GPO)

Anyone who tries to downplay the rift between American Jewry and Israel should take a look at the list of Conservative and Reform spiritual and lay leaders, along with prominent academics, who are among the 100-plus speakers at “20/20 Judaism” collaborative convention scheduled to take place in Boston, Massachusetts, from December 6-10. The only listed speaker from Israel is Beth Steinberg, co-founder of Shutaf, an inclusive Jerusalem-based program that offers informal education to children with disabilities.

Steinberg is originally from New York and may have been included because of the nature of her work and not because of where she is living. But there will be people from other places among the participants. Organizers say they received more than 160 applications from people around the world who want to attend the convention workshops dealing with a wide range of subjects relating in one way or another to Jewish life. There’s no shortage of English-speaking Conservative and Reform rabbis in Israel, and it seems a shame when promoting 20/20 Judaism to deny participants the Israeli perspective.

■ THE FACT that start-ups conceived by members of ultra-Orthodox communities exist and keep growing should no longer be a nine-day wonder. A foul myth has been created in Israel that falsely indicates that ultra-Orthodox men, or haredim, as they are called in Hebrew, are leeches on society who don’t work, and that they depend on the goodwill of others for their survival. This is a totally unjust picture. As in every society, there are some exceptions to the rule, but in general they do work, and just as decades ago, the intensity of their Talmudic studies helped them to succeed in getting Law degrees and doing well in the legal profession. Nowadays they adapt remarkably well to hi-tech, a factor than can likewise be attributed to the manner of religious study in which not only interpretations of whole sentences are discussed and dissected, but also syllables in words.

This is excellent preparation for the intricacies of hi-tech.

Putting more haredim into the work force is also part of the Israel Hope project that was introduced by President Reuven Rivlin soon after he took office. The project includes an advanced entrepreneurial program for haredi start-ups that goes by the name of “BizLab.” The first group of BizLab graduates was hosted by Rivlin last week with seven haredi entrepreneurs presenting their respective start-ups.

BizLab is an extension of the Bizmax start-up program, at the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center, which was established in early 2017 by the Kemach Foundation, the Achim Foundation, Matrix Global and the Jerusalem Development Authority. BizLab is Bizmax’s most comprehensive program to date, offering significant support to haredi entrepreneurs in collaboration with Google, KPMG, Amazon, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and other partners. BizLab was launched in response to the difficulties experienced by haredi start-up founders in raising investments. BizLab provides wide-ranging support that includes professional training, acquisition of relevant knowledge and tools, cooperation with international bodies, professional mentors and an active and broad-based forum of investors.

In addition to the founders and CEO of the seven start-ups, the event was attended by Kemach Foundation CEO Motti Feldstein, Achim Fund CEO Motti Eichler and Matrix Global COO Libby Affen.

The seven start-ups were: Healables, a digital health company with an integrated healing platform co-founded by Rabbi Moshe Lebowitz and Melech Wosk; Quze, an artificial intelligence company that provides an AI-based queue optimization solution for medical systems; Vectored Photonics, cofounded by Even Spero and Dr. Royi Itzhaka, a digital health company that develops the new generation of smart homes, using a dedicated docking station powered by sensors; No-Stack, under CEO Yisroel Yakovson, a service that allows application development in a simple and easy way, making every front-end programmer into a full-stack programmer; Autonomeye, founded by Moshe Levinson, an artificial intelligence and computer vision company that develops smart glasses for the blind to serve as eyes for guidance and navigation; BotanoHealth, founded by Rachel Nye, an agrotech company that develops and manufactures effective and green solutions for fungi and diseases that harm crops; and EasySec, co-founded by David Bellaiche and Avraham Darmon, a cybercompany that focuses on cyberprotection, control and IOT access management which provides an easy-to-deploy, easy-to-maintain and easy-to-sell system.

■ MOUNT SCOPUS Memorial College of Melbourne, the largest or perhaps second largest co-educational Jewish day school in the Southern Hemisphere, is celebrating its 70th anniversary. The school first opened its doors on February 8, 1949, with 116 students and nine staff members. Today, it boasts 1,500 students across four campuses, with classes running the full gamut from kindergarten to 12th grade. There are thousands of alumni or “old collegians” as they call themselves, living in Australia, Israel and other parts of the world.

Many have made distinguished careers for themselves in academia, medicine, science, law, media, diplomacy, entertainment, sport, business and more. Several have been named in Australia Day and Queen’s Birthday honors lists. A significant number engage in philanthropic activities in both Australia and Israel. In some families from among the pioneer students of the school, the fourth generation is in kindergarten or will enter next year.

Despite the distance and lack of direct flights, there is constant air traffic between Australia and Israel, because Australian Jews are among the most staunchly Zionist in the world, more so those who went to other Jewish day schools. In total, there are 19 Jewish day schools in Australia ranging from independent community schools through Ultra-orthodox, Modern Orthodox, Reform and secular.

The travelers include old collegians who when in Israel often participate in reunions with former classmates or people with whom they travelled in school buses twice a day for years. Conversely, old collegians living in Israel who go back to Melbourne for family celebrations or on business matters also have reunions with former classmates.

The really big 70th anniversary celebration will take place the week of October 20, and is scheduled to take place in Melbourne. Old collegians living in Israel who might care to join can get in touch with Judy Prager at

Other reunions taking place between now and November 24 include the five-year reunion of the class of 2014, the 10-year reunion of the class of 2009, the 20-year reunion of the class of 1999, the 30-year reunion of the class of 1989, the 40-year reunion of the class of 1979 and the 50-year reunion of the class of 1969. Full details of these events can also be supplied by Judy Prager.

Among the many old collegians living in Israel are some who were among the earliest students in the school. They include Peter Medding, Sonia (Batagol) and Daniel Lew, Amiel Gurt, Louise (Goulburn) Israeli, Susan (Freedman) Yellin, Judith (Kaploun) Klarberg and Ruth (Goldenberg) Ainie. Among some of the other old collegians are Pnina (Belfer) Rochwarger, Mark Regev (originally Freiberg) who is currently Israel’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, brothers George and Tommy Lamm, Denise (Goulburn) Cass, Sam Beris, Zvi Ehrenberg, Gerta (Eckstein) Teitelbaum, Carmella (Kantor) Burke, Chaim Freedman, Esther (Rich) Katzir, Gary Stock, Tamara (Leibler) Grynberg, Philip Brooks, Jocelyn (Cohen) Goldberg, Michael Fagenblat, Paul Israel and many more. They can be found in urban centers around the country, in kibbutzim, moshavim and even in development towns.

Some of the above are related to Zehut chairman Moshe Feiglin, who hopes to become a member of the next Knesset. The founding principal of the school, the late Abe Feiglin was also related to him. Most of the above were also members of Habonim or Bnei Akiva, yet another proof of the strength of Australian Zionism.

The 60th anniversary of the founding of the school was celebrated in Jerusalem with the current principal Rabbi James Kennard, who is the seventh principal in the school’s history.

Mount Scopus College is constantly developing. Many of the facilities and activities which have enriched students of recent years were not available to those who paved the way in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Jewish education in the Diaspora has always been a luxury. In the early years of Scopus, Holocaust survivors who could not afford to pay the fees for the education of their children were given huge discounts.

Today, with the realization that Jewish children will assimilate if their Jewish identities are not developed from the earliest possible age, the school is offering financial assistance where appropriate, with bursaries of up to $10,000 a year.

Every now and again, the school opens its archives to the public so that people born into Melbourne’s vibrant, multi-faceted Jewish community will not take the school, its achievements and what it has inspired for granted. The archive contains newspaper clippings, minutes of meetings, letters and photographs dating back to the 12 years that led up to the opening of the school from when its establishment was first proposed. There were many heated arguments and discussions.

People such as the late Benzion Patkin were passionate about opening a Jewish day school, but there were other prominent members of the community who were vehemently opposed. Eventually those in favor won the day. Had they not, Melbourne Jewry, and Australian Jewry for that matter, so geographically distant from the rest of the Jewish world, would be in a very sorry state.

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