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When film director Roger Sherman called Israel one of the “hottest food scenes in the world,” his colleagues laughed. It was at that moment that Sherman knew he had discovered a subject for a successful film. Sherman’s “In Search of Israeli Cuisine,” featuring renowned chef Michael Solomonov, shows a side of Israel that very few knew existed—including Israelis themselves.

The Israel trips organized by the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP) are nicknamed “Birthright for moms.” But a Nov. 27-Dec. 4 trip carried some extra gravitas, convening visitors described by JWRP as “Media Magnets.” Participants connected to Israel’s media professionals and showcased their experiences for combined audiences of more than 10 million followers on their social media pages and blogs. The trip underscored Israel’s diversity, revealing a picture that goes far beyond what mainstream media often depict the Jewish state to be—ridden with conflict, religion extremism and camels.

With 4,700 emissaries in 100 countries—most recently setting up shop in Uganda—the Chabad-Lubavitch movement has grown exponentially thanks to the dissemination of its late leader’s teachings, the emissaries’ dedication, and the transference of the passion to spread Jewish life to the next generation. At the same time, the movement’s ascent “defies logic,” says Brandeis University’s Prof. Mark Rosen, who recently completed a study of Chabad’s campus programs. 

When the online retail giant Amazon recently entered Israel’s high-tech ecosystem, it was far from business as usual in the “start-up nation.”As the conglomerate began attracting top Israeli programmers with aggressive hiring tactics and unusually high salary offerings, industry experts initiated calls for the Jewish state to expand its pool of highly skilled technology talent—which is becoming an increasingly scarce resource despite the country’s well-known penchant for innovation.

What can unite Jerusalem, which is often the site of high-profile religious and political conflicts? Food might be a good start. Israel’s “culinary DNA” is a mix of contrasting voices and forces that create a balanced, multicultural food scene, said Michael Weiss, co-founder of Bitemojo, a provider of smartphone-guided food tours that offered a journey dubbed “Between East and West” during the Nov. 14-18 Open Restaurants culinary festival in Jerusalem.

Tal Hagin, 18, is one of the first Zionist and Israeli speakers to present his message on university campuses in Ireland. With mentorship and funding from the watchdog group CAMERA, Hagin used Israel as a case study on overcoming media bias during a recent speaking tour. “I went with the hope of changing opinions, helping the students to question the media in what they see of coverage of Israel, and I was able to do that,” Hagin said. But how did it all come together? JNS.org tells the story of Israel education efforts on campuses in Ireland, a country where many believe there is a hostile environment for Israel supporters.

Elie Wiesel, who before his death in 2016 was arguably the world’s most well-known Holocaust survivor, reached millions of people through his writing and human rights activism. Wiesel’s audience ran the gamut from the everyman to the luminary, and one of his highest-profile relationships took center stage last week. “You knew you were in the presence of someone who had endured the unimaginable worst of times and could still give and teach the best that love has to offer,” said famed talk show host and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey upon receiving The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity’s first-ever Legacy Award.

In Ethiopia, Yityish “Titi” Aynaw and her fellow villagers always dreamed of living in Israel. Now, the woman who was crowned Miss Israel in 2013 is advocating for the Jewish state. She spoke with JNS.org in the midst of her third speaking tour on U.S. college campuses. “I have a really great opportunity with this [Israel advocacy tour]…It gives me the chance to give back to the country that gave me another life, and I’m proud to do that,” Aynaw said.

Among the 200-plus diseases that JScreen tests for, the most common among Jews is Gaucher disease. During Gaucher Disease Awareness Month in October, JScreen ramped up efforts to raise awareness about the disease, which is fairly rare in the general population (one in 40,000) but far more common for Ashkenazi Jews (one in 450). “Knowledge is power,” says JScreen Executive Director Karen Grinzaid. “Whether you’re single, engaged, newlyweds or already parents, having the knowledge [about genetic diseases] allows everyone to take steps and make informed decisions to have healthy children and live healthy lives.” 

The new Innovation Lab at Jerusalem’s iconic Tower of David Museum will offer workspace, equipment and a real-time beta site for a constellation of Israeli virtual reality and augmented reality start-ups. “Combining the past with the present allows users to experience the centuries-old site like never before,” says Benny Arbel, CEO of Inception VR, one of the start-ups involved with the Tower of David project.

In a development that could spark Israel’s latest achievement within the medical cannabis sector, the Israeli-British cannabis start-up CIITECH announced that it will fund a research project exploring methods for treating asthma with medical cannabis. “CBD (a non-psychoactive cannabis compound) is proven to have anti-inflammatory properties. Since asthma and other respiratory conditions present themselves as inflammation of the airway, it’s long been believed that cannabis might be a good therapeutic candidate,” said CIITECH founder Clifton Flack.

Israeli archaeologists this week unveiled the results of excavations that lend unprecedented insight into the transformation of Jerusalem around the time of its destruction during the Second Temple period. The discoveries include massive portions of the Western Wall unseen for 1,700 years and an ancient Roman theater. One of the most significant aspects of the findings is that they exhibit “the cultural change that Jerusalem underwent around the Second Temple period, when Jerusalem was a Jewish city with Jewish culture, which after the destruction turned into a Roman city with Roman culture,” IAA archaeologist Tehillah Lieberman told JNS.org.

As a part of the new Big Idea gap year program in Israel’s de facto cyber capital of Be’er Sheva, tech-savvy young adults can learn from the Jewish state’s “start-up nation” culture. Yael Sahar, director of the program, says she hopes participants will return home with a stronger Jewish identity and “become ambassadors for Israel on their college campuses and in their communities.” The program’s participants hail from the U.S., Colombia and South Africa.

“Today no one talks about Israel in synagogue, because the Jewish leadership doesn’t want to approach a point of conflict,” Shoham Nicolet, CEO of the Israeli-American Council (IAC), says with regret. The IAC, which Nicolet founded with other Israelis a decade ago, describes itself as the fastest-growing Jewish organization in the U.S. It is active in 27 states and serves more than 250,000 Israeli Americans. Nicolet argues he and his team are in a unique position to make Israel a natural part of Jewish life in the U.S. because they are an integral part of the community, but at the same time they represent Israeliness outside Israel in the fullest meaning of the term.

Dan Senor and Saul Singer’s 2009 book, “Start-Up Nation,” first captured Israel’s chutzpah-driven culture of innovation. More recently, stunning multi-billion dollar acquisitions—such as Intel’s $15.3 billion purchase of Mobileye—have prompted Israelis to rethink what’s possible. “Sometimes I’m uncomfortable with the term ‘start-up nation,’” says Raphael Gross, co-founder of the Israel Aliyah Fund online platform. “People don’t realize that Mobileye was started nearly 20 years ago at Hebrew University. At what point is a venture no longer a start-up but, rather, a full-fledged company?”

Adding to Israel’s existing reputation as a major hub of innovation, the Jewish state is a rising star in space and satellite technology. Several key developments in recent years highlight Israel’s growing contributions in the field, including the Aug. 2 launch of Venus, a micro-satellite that monitors climate change. “Israel is one of the few countries that has the entire chain of satellite capabilities, which means launch, design, construction and operation,” Avi Blasberger, director general of the Israel Space Agency, told JNS.org. “It’s an entirely self-sustained program.”

While international interest in Israel’s groundbreaking medical cannabis sector grows, a leading Israeli player in that space will take its flagship annual event overseas. After holding its third innovation conference in Tel Aviv in March, iCAN: Israel-Cannabis is hosting the inaugural CannaTech UK convention Oct. 26 in London. Israel can offer European countries expertise on “how to grow [medical cannabis], how to build a sustainable industry that crosses into pharmaceuticals and regular distribution, how to get medical access to patients before the science is in,” said Saul Kaye, CEO of iCAN.

For Leora and the other kindergartners at the Hillel Community School in Rochester, N.Y., a new relationship began when they read Suzanne Berry’s “Under the Same Moon” on one side of the ocean while Yemima and her classmates in Modi’in, Israel, read it on the other side. Bringing Jewish kids from around the world close to their Israeli peers is the raison d’être of The Jewish Agency for Israel’s School Twinning Program, which shrinks the miles for preschoolers to high schoolers in 700 schools on six continents with shared learning activities.

Jews around the world view Sukkot as a time for gratitude. Yet for several at-risk Israeli teenagers, there hadn’t been much to be thankful for—until this year, when they’ll take their first steps toward a productive career, and a life off the streets and away from crime, by working at Liliyot. The upscale Tel Aviv bistro was founded as Israel’s first social business, training young people ages 16-19 as chefs while giving them a new start in life—a mitzvah perfectly suited to this festival, writes Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod.

Ahead of former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters’s Canadian tour in October, B’nai Brith Canada and award-winning filmmaker Ian Halperin will premiere a film exposing the anti-Israel rocker’s history of promoting anti-Semitism. “What motivated B’nai Brith to get involved [with screening the film] is the chance to promote awareness that the BDS movement is inherently anti-Semitic, and that its supporters, like Roger Waters, strengthen the campaign that seeks Israel’s destruction,” B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn told JNS.org.