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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.

The appointment of the new top lay leader at the Jewish National Fund (JNF), the nonprofit known for its initiatives to develop the land of Israel and enhance quality of life for Israelis, marks a historic event for the organized Jewish community. JNF says Dr. Sol Lizerbram of San Diego is not only the group’s first national president from the West Coast, but also one of the first national presidents from that part of the country for any major Jewish organization. “I think it’ll help in some respects to build some new opportunities for leadership on the West Coast,” Lizerbram tells JNS.org. “I think other organizations might follow [this] lead in the future.”

The 3rd Jerusalem Biennale for Contemporary Jewish Art runs from Oct. 1-Nov. 16, featuring work from more than 200 Israeli and international artists who have creatively addressed a diverse array of Jewish content. For its debut in 2013, the festival “had around 60 participating artists, and only 10 of them were from outside Israel,” but this year’s group of artists contains roughly equal percentages of Israeli and foreign-born participants, said biennale founder Rami Ozeri. “This [international representation] will give us more interpretations of what contemporary Jewish art can be,” Ozeri told JNS.org.

As bitcoin and other digital currencies make historic gains, the “start-up nation” of Israel is uniquely positioned to become a global leader in financial technology. In August, digital currencies exceeded a global market cap of $172 billion, meaning the combined value of all publicly traded digital currencies surpassed that amount. Alignment, Israel’s first blockchain incubator, was launched in late August. Blockchain is a distributed database for transactions made in digital currencies.

Visitors to the Otto Weidt Workshop for the Blind Museum in Berlin would need to be blind not to notice Haim Hoffmann—or rather, his weird beard—as he asks them to leave their backpacks at the reception desk. “It’s called the ‘Three-day Freestyle,’” joked Hoffman, the museum’s shift manager. Hoffman should know. He’s the German champion for the “Imperial Beard,” in which a sizable mustache-beard arches upward. He’ll be defending the bronze medal at the 2017 World Beard and Mustache Championships (WBMC) in Austin, Texas, from Sept. 1-3. Bryan Nelson, the organizer of this year’s WBMC, counts at least a handful of “Members of the Tribe” among the record-high 700 contestants.

Israel stands to generate large profits from its burgeoning medical cannabis industry after a joint committee of the country’s Health and Finance ministries Aug. 13 approved a measure allowing for international exports of the plant. The state could reportedly earn up to $4 billion annually in revenue from medical cannabis exportation. Saul Kaye, CEO of the iCAN: Israel-Cannabis organization, told JNS.org the Israeli government’s move “will significantly increase investment as well as entrepreneurship” in the cannabis technology sector and that “numerous jobs will be created throughout the country.”

Seventy future IDF soldiers—more than half of them women—immigrated to Israel from North America this week, arriving on an El Al Airlines flight chartered by the Nefesh B’Nefesh aliyah agency. “I realized that if [IDF soldiers] felt [Israel] was my home, and I felt it was my home, then shouldn’t it be my duty to protect it too?” said Sophie Stillman of Hopkins, Minn., one of the future soldiers arriving on the aliyah flight Aug. 15.

One of the strongest sources of support for Israel has been found among evangelical Christians in the U.S. Yet today, evangelical Christian millennials, like the rest of their generation, are becoming less religiously observant, which Christian leaders fear may eventually erode support in their community for the Jewish state. In order to counter this trend, Christian leaders are taking a page from the Jewish playbook by launching 10-day trips to Israel for college-age adults. 

A rapidly aging population and increased environmental risks have led cancer to overtake heart disease as the leading cause of death in parts of the Western world. Researchers remain a long way from eradicating cancer, but several new treatments may offer hope. On the cutting edge of cancer research in Israel is the Weizmann Institute’s Prof. Yosef Yarden, whose findings have laid the foundation for the creation of new cancer treatments such as immunotherapy, which uses the body’s immune system to help fight cancer. “The new generation of immunotherapy antibodies are in fact biological molecules and the body naturally uses them, so they come with very mild side effects. The future is very much in immunotherapy,” Yarden told JNS.org.

“Becoming Israeli,” an anthology edited by Akiva Gersh, narrates the inspiring and challenging sides of immigrating to Israel. The book unites the writing of 40 bloggers “whose words take readers on an adventure that evokes a wide range of emotions, from frustration to inspiration, from confusion to deep pride,” Gersh said. At the book’s recent launch event, Gersh sat on a panel with contributing authors who reflected on their unique reasons for making aliyah, the paradoxes of life in Israel and the vision of bringing Jews back to their ancestral homeland.

Bex Zank, who was recently part of an LGBTQ Birthright Israel trip, recounted what many participants called the first time they could be exactly who they are. The group sat around a campfire, sharing their coming-out stories. As Zank began to cry, describing coming out on Instagram while riding a camel, a group of new friends linked arms in support. Since 2000, Birthright has provided free 10-day trips to Israel for nearly 600,000 Jews ages 18-26. Niche Birthright trips like the LGBTQ trip ensure that all eligible participants feel they have a place in the often transformative experience of discovering Israel.

Mayim Bialik, a star on the CBS hit sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” launched a witty new video campaign this week for SodaStream, succeeding actress Scarlett Johansson as the official pitchwoman for the Israeli beverage carbonation company. In an interview with JNS.org, Bialik praised SodaStream—which employs both Israeli and Palestinian workers—for embodying “diversity, coexistence and peace.” The company’s former headquarters were situated beyond Israel’s pre-1967 lines, making SodaStream a target of the BDS movement. “As so many people in Israel know, people from different religions, ethnicities and nationalities can work together in peace and harmony despite what the media wants us to believe,” Bialik said.

The latest innovator from Israel’s “start-up nation” to score an international breakthrough is seeking to make the exchange and creation of digital currencies accessible to the masses. The Tel Aviv-based Bancor Foundation start-up recently raised $153 million on the Ethereum digital currency network, in a record-setting initial coin offering. “As the world moves into its next era of geopolitical organization, and cryptocurrencies improve in adoption, security and stability, we can imagine a new financial world order which is based on algorithmically ensured balance rather than politics,” Galia Benartzi, Bancor’s co-founder, told JNS.org.