Innovation, suggests author Avi Jorisch, is the sacred calling of modern Israel. But while many have written about Israel’s grand success in developing problem-solving technologies, this is the first study to focus primarily on Israeli innovations that extend, improve, and save lives. Presenting uplifting profiles of fifteen innovations, all framed as contributing to Israel’s success at being “a light unto the nations,” Jorisch argues that the Israeli commitment to tikkun olam, repairing the world, is a characteristic written in Judaism’s spiritual DNA.
The innovations Jorisch describes are modern miracles — miracles resulting from the genius and dogged determination of exceptional, and frequently colorful individuals. The biographical profiles of these individuals are half the fun of the book. The creation of their inventions, often in the face of enormous obstacles, is the other half.
Many of the innovators, Jorisch recounts, received nothing but scorn for their unconventional ideas. Others endured multiple failures before their world-changing concepts were transformed into successful businesses that solved monumental problems — not just for Israel, but for all who would learn how to take advantage of their breakthroughs.
Jorisch details the story of the Hatzalah ambucycle organization that sharply reduced the time between accidents and the arrival of first responders. This is a wonderful story of the interaction between informed, trained volunteerism and established professional expertise. It is also a story of cooperation between Arabs, Jews, and Christians. The influence of United Hatzalah on other nations has been enormous.
Less known is the story of the “grain cocoon,” a technology that hermetically seals harvested agricultural material and kills the bugs that would otherwise destroy those potential foodstuffs. This invention, adopted worldwide, has reduced starvation by protecting vulnerable food resources. The story of the inventor, Shlomo Navarro — his background, struggles, and eventual success — is intriguing and uplifting. So, too, is the story of Imad and Reem Younis, two Technion graduates from Nazareth, who built Alpha Omega, a company that develops devices that drastically improve the accuracy and success rate of brain surgery.
These examples are characteristic of Jorisch’s approach throughout the book. He explains the scientific or engineering issues behind a technology while stressing the human element — the character and experiences of the innovators, and the invention’s impact on the well-being of individuals and communities across the globe.
Lucid, vivid, and elevating, this inspired and inspiring book is a thoughtful antidote to despair about Israel’s place in today’s world and, literally, the world to come.
Philip K. Jason is professor emeritus of English at the United States Naval Academy. A former editor of Poet Lore, he is the author or editor of twenty books, including Acts and Shadows: The Vietnam War in American Literary Culture and Don’t Wave Goodbye: The Children’s Flight from Nazi Persecution to American Freedom.