Thou Shalt Inno­vate: How Israeli Inge­nu­ity Repairs the World

Avi Jorisch
  • Review
By – April 18, 2018

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.

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