A small black hole gains mass. Dense cold gas (green) flows toward the centre of a stellar cluster (red cross in blue circle) with stars (yellow); the erratic path of the black hole through the gas (black line) is randomized by the surrounding stars. (photo from wis-wander.weizmann.ac.il)
At the ends of the universe, there are black holes with masses equaling billions of our sun. These giant bodies – quasars – feed on interstellar gas, swallowing large quantities of it non-stop. Thus, they reveal their existence: the light that is emitted by the gas as it is sucked in and crushed by the black hole’s gravity travels for eons across the universe until it reaches our telescopes. Looking at the edges of the universe is, therefore, looking into the past. These far-off, ancient quasars appear to us in their “baby photos” taken less than a billion years after the Big Bang: monstrous infants in a young universe.
Normally, a black hole forms when a massive star, weighing tens of solar masses, explodes after its nuclear fuel is spent. Without the nuclear furnace at its core pushing against gravity, the star collapses. Much of the material is flung outwards in a great supernova blast, while the rest falls inward, forming a black hole of only about 10 solar masses.
Since these ancient quasars were first discovered, scientists have wondered what process could lead a small black hole to gorge and fatten to such an extent, so soon after the Big Bang.
In fact, several processes tend to limit how fast a black hole can grow. For example, the gas normally does not fall directly into the black hole, but gets sidetracked into a slowly spiraling flow, trickling in drop by drop. When the gas is finally swallowed by the black hole, the light it emits pushes out against the gas. That light counterbalances gravity, and it slows the flow that feeds the black hole.
So how, indeed, did these ancient quasars grow? Prof. Tal Alexander, head of the particle physics and astrophysics department at the Weizmann Institute of Science, proposes a solution in a paper written together with Prof. Priyamvada Natarajan of Yale University, which appeared in a recent issue of Science.
Their model begins with the formation of a small black hole in the very early universe. At that time, cosmologists believe, gas streams were cold, dense and contained much larger amounts of material than the thin gas streams we see in today’s cosmos. The hungry, newborn black hole moved around, changing direction all the time, as it was knocked about by other baby stars in its vicinity. By quickly zigzagging, the black hole continually swept up more and more of the gas into its orbit, pulling the gas directly into it so fast, the gas could not settle into a slow, spiraling motion. The bigger the black hole got, the faster it ate; this growth rate, explained Alexander, rises faster than exponentially. After around 10 million years – a blink of an eye in cosmic time – the black hole would have filled out to around 10,000 solar masses. From then, the colossal growth rate would have slowed to a somewhat more leisurely pace, but the black hole’s future path would already be set – leading it to eventually weigh in at a billion solar masses or more.
More than 120 women attended Community Mega Challah Bake that was led by challah-baking expert Rochie Pinson, who also gave a lecture. (photo from Chabad Lubavitch BC)
More than 120 women from across Greater Vancouver gathered on Wednesday evening, Sept. 10, for the Community Mega Challah Bake at the Lubavitch Centre. The event was a joint project of N’Shei Chabad of British Columbia, the Chabad centres of Vancouver, Downtown Vancouver, East Vancouver, Richmond, University of British Columbia and White Rock, Congregation Beth Hamidrash and Congregation Schara Tzedeck.
First, the women made and kneaded their own dough, led by challah baking expert Rochie Pinson of New York. They then enjoyed mingling and refreshments and a lecture by Pinson about the deeper significance of challah making and Rosh Hashanah. After that, they returned to their baking stations to braid their challah, once again led by Pinson, who demonstrated various methods of braiding.
“I had such a wonderful time and I was so happy to see the different organizations coming together for this event,” said one participant as she left with two beautifully braided challahs.
“The evening surpassed all of our expectations!” said Henya Wineberg, co-coordinator of the event. “The display of unity in the community was heartwarming to see.”
Pinson, who teaches challah-baking workshops to women across the world, will be publishing a book about challah baking titled Rising, with an expected release date of fall 2015.
An illuminated Chumash from the El Escorial Library collection in Madrid. (photo from Courtesy of El Escorial Library)
Everyone has heard: “All good things must come to an end.” This saying certainly holds true when talking about Spanish Jewry’s Golden Age. Back in the Middle Ages, Spain’s church and state used forced conversion, expulsion and the Inquisition to obliterate Jewish life on their peninsula. While we might have some sense of how these methods devastated the lives of this once great Jewish community, we are probably less aware of the toll it took on the products of this culture, namely its books.
Let’s first be clear about what the Spanish Inquisition was. In her article “Medieval and Early Modern Sephardi Women,” published in the volume Jewish Women in Historical Perspective, Prof. Renée Levin Melamed writes that the Inquisition was “a temporary legal institution or court set up by the Roman Catholic Church in order to extirpate suspected heresy. Its jurisdiction was solely over baptized Catholics; thus, it could bring to trial converted Jews or Muslims, suspected witches, sectarians and the like.”
What set the Spanish Inquisition in motion? According to Prof. Felipe Fernandez-Armesto (author of Ferdinand and Isabella), in the late 1400s, the Spanish monarchs genuinely dreaded that the souls of their Catholic subjects would be forever lost to Islam and Judaism. Indeed, there was a pervasive fear that those who had already left Judaism (those former Jews known as conversos) had not really put aside their original religion. Hence, Spanish Christians strongly suspected conversos of Judaizing. To deal with this perceived threat to Christianity, the king and queen established the Inquisition.
Once the institution began functioning, religious considerations were perverted into accusations based upon economic rivalry, as well as the settling of assorted personal grudges. Moreover, as the offices of the Inquisition had the power to impound the possessions of the accused, it became advantageous to keep the institution going. Far worse than losing one’s possessions, however, was the sadistic physical torture the indicted commonly suffered, and the death by burning of those convicted. Fernandez-Armesto writes that contemporaries of Ferdinand and Isabella chose conveniently (and paradoxically) to forget – or ignore – the fact that “the Spanish royal house, too, was remotely affected by Jewish blood, through its founder, Henry of Trastámara, and his mother, Leonora de Guzmán, mistress of Alfonso XI.”
While Christian officials busied themselves in setting up the Inquisition, a few undaunted Spanish Jews moved ahead in printing sacred Hebrew texts. Significantly, these came to be highly regarded: “Their biblical texts were regarded as more accurate and authoritative … their codices are … very precise,” writes Teresa Ortega-Monasterio in Spanish Biblical Hebrew Manuscripts.
In Early Hebrew Printing in Sepharad ca. 1475–1497, Prof. Shimon Iakerson points out that “in 1482, Solomó ben Moisé Levi Alkabiz was established in Guadalajara and produced the first printed edition of the Talmud; in 1485, [Eliezer ben Abraham ibn] Alatansi was established in Híjar; and, in 1487, Samuel ben Mousa y Emanuel was working in Zamora (Torre Revello 17).”
While we know that Alkabiz printed a Rashi commentary on the Torah, information about Alatansi’s press is limited, and researchers only know of a fragment from the halachic compendium of Jacob ben Asher, including two copies of the latter prophets and two copies of the Torah. From what we know, ben Mousa, like Alkabiz, printed Rashi’s commentary on the Torah, as well.
It should be noted that during this same period, Hebrew printing was going on elsewhere, but it has been difficult to assign locations. Nevertheless, by comparing the fonts and printing paper to known texts, it is possible to suggest (but not confirm) those who may have worked on the books and the possible location of their workplace.
Intriguingly, for a limited time, there was cooperation between Jewish and non-Jewish printers. For example, it appears that Alfonso Fernandez de Cordoba “rented out” his frames to Jewish printers in Híjar in order that they might decorate the pages of their editions. Elsewhere, the Christian type caster Maestro Pedro of Guadalajar was mentioned in a Hebrew text.
Still, the Spanish monarchy felt threatened by the accessibility to Jewish learning afforded by the printing of Hebrew texts. Copies of the Talmud became a target of the Inquisition. From there, the hunt intensified, turning towards other Jewish texts. Two years before the 1492 expulsion of Jews from Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella ordered Grand Inquisitor Fray Tomás de Torquemada to burn Hebrew books. Later, during an auto-da-fé (act of faith, which really meant the public burning of a heretic) extravaganza in Salamanca, this same church father oversaw the burning of more than 6,000 volumes, which were said to be “infected with Jewish errors.”
Even after the expulsion, this ruthlessness continued, as Inquisition officials confiscated Jewish books and searched for any so-called “Jewish contamination” in the conversos community. Arias Montano (1527-1598), the first director of El Escorial Library, described the situation this way: “Of Hebrew books, of which there was great wealth in Spain, there is now great poverty.” In fact, the Inquisition finished off Hebrew printing in Spain.
Miraculously, some Hebrew books printed in Spain survived this onslaught, often as single copies or as mere fragments, writes Iakerson. Some of these remnants exists in Spain, stored in places like the library of the Royal Monastery of El Escorial, in the library of the Royal Palace of Madrid and in the library of the Complutense University of Madrid. While the originals remain out of the public eye, some facsimiles are on view today. For example, in Cabinet 43 of the Escorial Library’s viewing room, there is a facsimile of a 15th-century Torah, which also contains the Masora, or Masoretic texts (various scholarly notes on the biblical text written into the margins).
In his 1969 book Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts, art scholar Bezalel Narkiss located illustrated medieval Spanish Jewish manuscripts in several European libraries and museums. These beautiful texts are now housed in places such as Sarajevo’s National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina, National Library of Portugal in Lisbon, the Oriental Department of the Berlin State Library, British Museum in London, Israel Museum in Jerusalem, National Library of Israel in Jerusalem, Oriental Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest and John Rylands University Library at the University of Manchester. Many of these collections are available for online viewing. For example, in 2012, the National Library of Spain gathered and mounted a large temporary exhibit of Spain’s most important medieval Hebrew texts. The exhibit is now viewable online and includes Hebrew Bibles, liturgical texts, texts dealing with reason and revelation, biblical exegesis, polemics and Spanish reports on the Inquisition trials of various conversos, suspected of Judaizing.
With the ability to digitize ancient documents and with the increasing international connection between libraries, perhaps additional surviving medieval Spanish Hebrew texts will be discovered. At the very least, we hope to learn more about those already discovered fragments of this once-flourishing Jewish culture.
Deborah Rubin Fieldsis an Israel-based features writer. She is also the author of Take a Peek Inside: A Child’s Guide to Radiology Exams, published in English, Hebrew and Arabic (take-a-peek-inside.com).
An artists’s rendering of the new facility now under construction in Bnei Brak. (photo from Mayanei Hayeshua Medical Centre)
Chavi (not her real name) awkwardly positions herself on the chair in the group therapy room. The doctors gave her parents no choice, hospitalize her or she may develop organ failure as a result of her extreme anorexia. Chavi is 16 and has grown up in the Charedi enclave of Bnei Brak, where there was little public knowledge or discussion about this debilitating disorder.
The group therapy room is in the adolescent unit where she has been hospitalized, a couple of miles away from her community and yet a world away from the life she knows. Girls talk openly about intimate experiences. They discuss the influence of media on their eating disorders and they talk about their secular lifestyles. Chavi doesn’t understand; she understands the words, but not their connotations. She is told that this place will help her get better but she feels lonelier than ever, like an outcast, discarded from her community and implanted into an alien world.
Chavi is one of the lucky ones; her parents noticed the signs of her illness and took her to seek help. One in four people will experience mental illness in their lifetime and the Charedi community is no different. And times are changing: Israel’s Charedi community is breaking down barriers to tackle the stigma of mental illness.
“The last few years have seen the community join together to fight mental illness,” explained Nechami Samuel, a psychotherapist at Mayanei Hayeshua Medical Centre (MHMC) in Bnei Brak. What was once a taboo subject is now being discussed and debated by rabbis, and the message is hitting home. “People in our community don’t turn to medical professionals in these situations, they turn to their rabbi for help with shalom bayit [domestic harmony],” said Samuel. “These rabbis are now referring families to us, seeking professional guidance and, together with MHMC, leading a revolution in reducing the stigma of mental illness.” This changing atmosphere could not happen soon enough – within the first days of the recent Operation Protective Edge, air-raid sirens began to sound in Bnei Brak.
“We have seen an influx in cases because of the war. For some, anxiety disorders get worse, and people who have had no prior anxiety issues may develop disorders because of the situation,” explained Dr. Michael Bunzel, chief psychiatrist at MHMC. “We have been charged by the Ministry of Health as an acute-stress treatment centre for Bnei Brak to deal specifically with trauma in the case of a national disaster. The idea is to create separate sites for trauma so that people don’t have to go to the emergency room. Mayanei Hayeshua serves as one of these sites.”
“Take, for example, postnatal depression: 10 years ago, it [was thought not to] exist in our community. We’re talking about a communal prevalence of 13 percent and yet it was brushed under the carpet.”
In addition to the upsurge in cases of post-traumatic stress and anxiety, MHMC is continuing to tackle the basic mental health needs of the community. “Take, for example, postnatal depression: 10 years ago, it [was thought not to] exist in our community,” said Shimon Goloveizitz, head of administration for MHMC’s psychiatric services. “We’re talking about a communal prevalence of 13 percent and yet it was brushed under the carpet.” Today, in addition to the organizations that have been founded to provide support, a substantial public awareness campaign has been instigated. “Recently, we hosted a rabbi-therapist to give a lecture to men to help them spot the signs of postnatal depression in their wives and support them effectively, and the turnout was overwhelming.”
Prior to his position at MHMC, Goloveizitz managed a health centre in central Israel. “One day, they decided to do an evening for Charedim because they never came to any of their health-promotion events,” he recalled. “They chose a night during Chanukah, brought in glatt-kosher food and entertained the Charedi visitors with a female singer and scantily clad dancer. They just simply didn’t understand.” There is a need to provide more information about social norms so that there is less misunderstanding between secular and religious Israelis.
MHMC is currently home to both child and adult outpatient and day-care psychiatric services but it has struggled to serve the high demands of this typically under-served population. The therapists take into account religious sensitivities and the particular challenges of conforming to religious norms. “When I am conducting family therapy and the father doesn’t look at me, rather than racing to conclusions of autism or communication disorders, I think shmirat ha’ayin [guarding the gaze],” said Samuel. “Even in standard diagnostic tests a child can be diagnosed with low intelligence because he doesn’t know culturally determined answers, or a yeshivah student diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder because his religious lifestyle fits the criterion for this disease.”
“We don’t close our doors to anyone. We have patients from all religious backgrounds, but it is an environment of religious respect, which is unique to our institution.”
MHMC is now halfway through the construction of a state-of-the-art psychiatric facility that will become the first in Israel solely dedicated to serving the religious population; it promises to increase the available treatment options. “We don’t close our doors to anyone,” clarified Goloveizitz. “We have patients from all religious backgrounds, but it is an environment of religious respect, which is unique to our institution.”
The new facility will house inpatient services in addition to its current outpatient services and is hoping to become a centre for excellence in Israeli mental health care. “There is no doubt that there is a need for an inpatient facility when a person is endangering himself or others, but our goal is not to be a sanatorium. We want to give people the tools to reintegrate into society as speedily as possible and for that we need to build a welcoming environment in which religious people, like Chavi, will feel comfortable living,” said Samuel.
Israel’s mental health system is currently undergoing reforms. The country’s psychologists currently predominantly offer psychodynamic therapy, which is a long-term, in-depth therapeutic approach primarily focusing on unconscious internal conflicts. Under the new system, there is a move toward evidence-based practice, which advocates the use of treatments that have a strong empirical support. While this does not exclude psychodynamic therapies, it does recommend more targeted treatment approaches based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for specific disorders.
“Our main purpose is to get our patients back out to the community and we use whatever treatments have been shown to be most effective for that purpose,” said Samuel. “Especially with these treatments, which have strict protocols, first and foremost, the research outlines the importance of cultural applicability and individual tailoring of treatment goals and plans.”
The future looks hopeful for the mental health of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community. With 3,350 patients accessing Mayanei Hayeshua’s psychiatric services in 2013 alone, the improved services are needed. “The first stage of the revolution on stigma has been a success,” said Samuel. “Now we have to stand up to the challenge of the increased demand for our services.”
Anna Harwood is a writer and clinical psychology student at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. She made aliyah from England at the end of 2010 and has been living in Jerusalem ever since.
Joshua Malina will help launch the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s annual campaign on Sept. 21. (photo from Joshua Malina)
The title of his talk is How to Make it in Hollywood and Remain a Mensch. From the one minute and 20 second video he made to help the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver promote the Sept. 21 launch of this year’s annual campaign, you can tell he knows that of which he speaks. Joshua Malina exudes menschlichkeit.
But that doesn’t mean the actor’s a pushover. Follow him on Twitter and you’ll see that he knows how to push back. He also has a wicked sense of humor, and not just in writing apparently – he has a reputation for being a prankster on set. He’s currently co-starring in the hit show Scandal, which may sound far removed from his yeshivah roots, but his character, David Rosen, has the clearest moral compass of the bunch. Not that it matters, of course, as actors, well, act, and Malina told the Jewish Independent that he “was intent on becoming an actor from about age 8 onwards. Prior to that, baseball player, Good Humor man and rabbi were all options I considered.”
As to whether his athletic or sales skills would have been up to the challenge is unclear, but anyone who has read about Malina – or watched that minute-plus video – knows that he could have easily been a rabbi.
“My parents’ decision to send me to yeshivah from first through eighth grades was a major factor in establishing my Jewish identity,” he told the Independent. “At Westchester Day School (in Mamaroneck, N.Y.), I acquired many of the skills that are helpful in living a substantive Jewish life. I studied Torah, learned about the holiday cycle, was taught to pray and to leyn, and so on. But, probably more crucially, I was taught there to consider the ethical decisions of everyday life. We were taught about tikkun olam, the concept that it’s every person’s responsibility to help repair this imperfect world.
“I’m a middle child, with a sister who’s two and a half years older than I, and a sister eight years younger,” he continued. “My family has always been extremely close, and my parents helped us all forge strong Jewish identities by raising us in a home that valued and celebrated Jewish tradition.
“Seeing how others live and observe Judaism reminds me of the resiliency and creativity of our people. It’s one of the reasons I get such pleasure from visiting different communities when I go out to speak.”
“So, I grew up in a Conservative household, attended an Orthodox shul, and spent eight years at an Orthodox day school. I ended up marrying a convert, and now my family attends a Reconstructionist synagogue, so you could say that I’m the ultimate Jewish mutt. Rather than a liability, though, I’d say that my exposure to a broad variety of Jewish experience has enhanced my own faith. Seeing how others live and observe Judaism reminds me of the resiliency and creativity of our people. It’s one of the reasons I get such pleasure from visiting different communities when I go out to speak.”
Malina now lives in Los Angeles with his wife and their two children. In addition to Scandal, his ABC biography notes that, “during his hiatus, he filmed a role in writer/director Warren Beatty’s latest Howard Hughes feature.”
Malina has had many career successes, in such television shows as The West Wing and the acclaimed but short-lived Sports Night. He has appeared in numerous other popular TV programs, as well as first-rate films, and was executive producer on Bravo’s Celebrity Poker Showdown, which “broke ratings records for the network.” But there also have been some downs since he made his professional debut in Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men on Broadway.
“Ah yes, ‘professional uncertainty,’ I know it well,” he said. “I consider myself luckier than most who pursue a career in acting, but it has certainly been a rollercoaster. Work can be very hard to come by, and a job can disappear as quickly as it materialized. The emotional aspect I’m pretty good with. I don’t take rejection personally, and I understand that I may book one job for every 50 I’m considered for. Also, my self-image is not wrapped up in my success as an actor. I am much more concerned about being a good father and husband than I am in being well-known, or anything like that. That said, I do have responsibilities. I need to put food on the table and a roof over my kids’ heads. It is not always easy in this profession.”
And Malina isn’t just concerned with putting a roof over his own family’s heads.
“I try to support a variety of organizations, but I am particularly fond of groups that take their inspiration from Judaism, and do good on behalf of everybody, regardless of religious affiliation,” he said in response to a question about his charitable endeavors. “Jews are a wonderfully philanthropic community, and I like for the world to see that. Mazon – A Jewish Response to Hunger, is a nonprofit that addresses hunger issues in Israel and the U.S. They do terrific work, as does Bet Tzedek, which is a pro bono law firm in Los Angeles that takes its motivation from the Torah verse that states ‘Justice, justice you shall pursue.’
“Of course, I am also supportive of organizations that help Jews specifically, and that insure that we are a community that takes care of its own.”
One of the causes Malina supports is the Creative Community for Peace.
“We may not all share the same politics or the same opinion on the best path to peace in the Middle East,” reads the About Us explanation on the group’s website. “But we do agree that singling out Israel, the only democracy in the region, as a target of cultural boycotts while ignoring the now-recognized human rights issues of her neighbors will not further peace.
“We understand the power that our music, our films, our television shows, and all arts have. They have the power to build bridges. Foster better understanding. Encourage dialogue. And hopefully lead toward greater mutual acceptance.”
Among Creative Community for Peace’s initiatives is an anti-boycott petition, headed “Don’t Let Israel’s Detractors Politicize Art,” and the statement “Commitment to Peace and Justice.”
“The idiocy of accusing Israel – which attempts to minimize civilian casualties – of attempted genocide, while ignoring the words of Hamas’ charter, which call for the extermination of every Jew, is maddening.”
“It was a very easy decision for me to sign that statement,” he told the Independent. “It expressed grief for the loss of life among Israelis and Palestinians and, without explicitly referencing the Almodovar-Bardem-Cruz letter, it indirectly responded to its foolishness. The idiocy of accusing Israel – which attempts to minimize civilian casualties – of attempted genocide, while ignoring the words of Hamas’ charter, which call for the extermination of every Jew, is maddening. One can only come to the conclusion that those engaging in this type of false accusation are either maliciously dishonest or out of touch with reality.
“And please understand, I do not vilify everyone who is critical of Israel. I have criticisms of my own. But the vicious and intellectually dishonest nature of the double standard applied by many to the Gaza conflict requires a response. Hence, my signature on the letter.
“I have heard from many as a result of my signing the statement. The vast majority has been quite positive, some of it’s been very negative. But that’s all right. I expected it, and I can take it. I’m an actor; I have thick skin.”
Tickets for the campaign launch Sept. 21, 7:30 p.m., at Chan Centre for the Performing Arts are $40 ($18 students), with group discounts available (Anna Vander Munnik, 604-257-5109 or [email protected]). For more information and to buy tickets, visit jewishvancouver.com.
In Italy, at Ben-Gurion Racing’s pit, from left to right, BGR2014 team leader Dudy Daud, project manager Tamir Plachinsky, main sponsor of the event Giampaolo Dallara, former EU president and former Italian prime minister Romano Prodi and the rest of the BGR team. (photo from BGR)
Israel is not known for manufacturing cars, let alone race cars, but that hasn’t stopped students from Ben-Gurion University from doing just that.
At their first race this year, in Austria Aug. 17-20, the car had an oil leak in the middle of the endurance race. “The car was stopped and we were very disappointed,” said mechanical engineer Tamir Plachinsky.
At the second race, however, in Italy Aug. 29-Sept. 1, the team fared better. They finished 21st overall out of 44 teams, completing all of the events, including acceleration, skid pad, autocross and hard endurance (which was incomplete in Austria).
“The team is extremely happy to have finished the event,” said Plachinsky. “We showed again the strength of our students – that, even in a year like we had [in Israel], we managed to build the most advanced car we’ve ever built and to race it in two races.”
Plachinsky began the initiative to build the first-ever Israeli Formula SAE project in 2010. After the successful participation of the first Ben-Gurion Racing (BGR) team in 2011 in the Italian race, Plachinsky was granted a six-month apprentice opportunity at the Italian racecar manufacturer Dallara. Upon his return, he started managing the race-car project at the university.
This year’s car is the fourth that students have designed and manufactured in the team. The aim is to redesign a new car each year for the Italian event, with a new group of students to replace the graduate students who have completed their studies.
“Each year starts with a new team and new goals, and you never know what will happen until the race,” said Plachinsky. “Think of it like a manufacturing company that forms at the beginning of the year with a new CEO … and everything [is] needed. And, at the end of the year, all the personnel retire from the company and you hire completely new staff.”
This year, Plachinsky said, “We started with new goals for the team and we knew we wouldn’t have enough time and resources to complete the car, but we still worked as hard as possible to keep to the time table and find support.”
The creation of the team occurs around September. The new team meets with the old team and learns about the current car. “We go over the good systems and the bad ones, where we need to improve and develop, and what should be left as is,” explained Plachinsky.
For 2014, the team consisted of 31 mechanical engineering students together with five students from the university’s department of management and design students from Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem.
“We’re confident and believe in our ability to face any difficulty we’ll encounter,” said Plachinsky.
This year’s design concept was formed in September 2013. “They put into it their previous three years’ experience and a lot of courage to make it a better car from the 2013 model – one that put a new standard for race cars produced in Israel,” said Plachinsky.
This car, dubbed the “BGR14004,” had two unique features. The main frame is built from carbon fibre, instead of welded steel tubes, and the students designed their own gearbox.
“The carbon frame, also called ‘monocoque’ (Latin for ‘single shell’) is the first of its kind ever produced in Israel and allows for [a] lighter and stiffer chassis,” said Plachinsky. This is a feature the university students have been developing over the past two years.
“Together with the frame, we managed to design and manufacture the new gearbox,” he added. “This will enable the car to access a much better power supply, giving the driver help in reducing lap times.”
The main assembly was done in the university’s new compound, but the different parts were manufactured at various factories supporting the team. The carbon fibre frame was made at Composite Materials Ltd. in Modi’in, the gears were made at Ashot Ashkelon Industries Ltd. in Ashkelon, and the 3D-printed intake manifold was made at Aran Research & Development Ltd. in Caesaria. “But, as much as possible, we’re trying to keep the manufacturing of the parts in the Be’er Sheva area and the south of Israel,” said Plachinsky.
Registration for the races in Italy and Austria was in January 2014. “Once we knew we had spots at those events, all that was left to do was to build the car,” said Plachinsky. “This [was] no easy task, especially this year, because of the complicated manufacturing of the new frame and also – and maybe mainly – due to the fact that almost half the team got recruited to serve in the army. Even with these difficulties, we managed to complete the car just in time for the Austrian event, after a month of working 25 hours a day.”
Overall, Plachinsky said everyone is very happy with how the car performs. “It shows all the features we designed into it and is faster than last year’s car,” he said. “The students’ devotion to complete the car and represent the team, the university and the country in the best way possible has just been unbelievable.
“Arriving at the event with the car you’ve designed and built is an amazing feeling,” he continued. “Adding to that is the fact that the Austrian event is held at the famous Red-Bull Ring and that the Italian event, our traditional race, is always an amazing experience.”
The financial side
Getting the funding necessary for such a project is daunting – and most participating teams get 10 times the funding that BGR does, according to Plachinsky.
“We received support from the university and some companies and factories (from 2013 and continuing into 2014) but, as the design level goes up, so does the need for support,” he said. “Also, as we’re now on tour in Europe for three weeks; it’s not cheap or easy to organize and finance.”
Plachinsky and the team are approaching companies in Israel that they feel will want to collaborate with them “on a joint development basis or for marketing interest.” He said, “We want to show them how amazing this project is and that they can earn something by supporting us, having there be positive publicity, connections to the university, future employees, and so on.”
Plachinsky said of donors, “None of what we do would happen if it wasn’t for the good hearts of those people. We’ll be forever grateful.”
Looking ahead, the team’s goal is, as always, to advance into new areas and technologies. For the coming year, the plan is to participate in the Austrian and Italian events once again. This time, with a new car that will be the first electric race car made in Israel.
Although the team has not yet begun building it, the general concept is in place. “Some team members from next year’s team are here with us [in Italy], learning about the competition, the race and the car as much as possible before the current team will clear the stage for them,” said Plachinsky.
BGR is continually seeking assistance in helping them “represent Israel in the most amazing way and to educate the future engineers and automotive industry of Israel,” said Plachinsky. “And, for this, we greatly need to find further financial support.”
Rose Yorsh with Kevin Land, principal of Gladstone Secondary School. (photo by Alix Bishop)
Local community member Rose Yorsh has been honored with a scholarship in her name by friends at the University Women’s Club at Hycroft. The scholarship benefits two students at Gladstone Secondary School who are pursuing nursing studies, which was Yorsh’s profession. Yorsh has enjoyed a remarkable career and was a pioneer for women in operating room nursing.
Graduating nursing in 1944 at Misericordia Hospital in Edmonton, Alta., Yorsh received post-graduate training in operating room technique. As a Jewish woman studying in a Catholic setting in the 1940s, she faced many challenges. For example, she received top marks, but publicly was listed at the bottom of the class. After Misercordia, she went on to the New York Hospital at Cornell, where she worked in the neurosurgery operating room. As part of her post-graduate training at Johns Hopkins Hospital, she worked under noted doctors Alfred Blalock and Helen Taussig, who developed the Blalock-Taussig Shunt, a surgical procedure that has saved countless lives. She went on to head the cardiovascular and pulmonary surgery operating room at Beth Israel Hospital and, later, was asked to head the operating room at Montefiore Hospital. While back in Canada to make the decision, she met and married Dr. Ralph Yorsh in 1953.
After raising three children, Rose Yorsh returned to school and obtained a bachelor of arts in classical studies from the University of British Columbia at an age when most people are thinking about retirement – at 65. She continued to serve women’s health and education through the National Council of Women of Canada, serving as the international health chair from 1997-2000. She continues to be an inspiration to women today, and especially to the young women recipients of the Rose Yorsh Scholarship who will follow in her footsteps.
Prof. Shlomo Hasson of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem speaks with audience member Marvin Weintraub after his presentation on Israel’s geopolitical situation. (photo by Cynthia Ramsay)
While Prof. Shlomo Hasson of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem offered some hope that Israel will one day live in peace, he did not offer many reasons to be optimistic about the future of the Middle East.
Speaking to more than 150 people at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver on Sept. 4, Hasson put the current geopolitical situation of Israel into context, and discussed four possible futures for the Middle East in general, and for Israel in particular. These scenarios were derived at HU’s Shasha Centre for Strategic Studies, which Hasson heads.
Hasson, who is also a professor in HU’s department of geography, School of Public Policy, and the Leon Safdie Chair at the Institute of Urban and Regional Studies, began by sharing his belief, as a strategist, that, “In every crisis, there is also embedded an opportunity.”
The main issues, he explained, are Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state and its security within recognized (legitimate) borders, the conflict with Hamas and the regional upheaval. The question is which map(s) and policy(ies) can best deal with all these issues (demography, democracy, legitimacy and geography) and what are the driving forces (internal, regional and global) shaping this map.
The dilemma is not new, said Hasson. “We have always asked ourselves, ‘How can we sustain Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and legitimate borders?’” What is new, however, is the context.
According to Hasson, the new aspects of Israel’s dilemma include that the United States doesn’t have a comprehensive Middle East strategy; the cold war in the region (states fighting each other indirectly using proxies, such as extremist groups); the region’s instability (failed states, non-state actors); the increase in criticism of Israel (even by allies) and antisemitism; and the indeterminate results of Operation Protective Edge.
About the war with Hamas over the summer, Hasson divided the results into achievements and failures. Achievements included the devastation Israel inflicted on Hamas, the tunnels it destroyed and the top commanders it killed, the effectiveness of the Iron Dome, the isolation of Hamas, the resilience within Israel and Israelis’ support of the war. On the negative side, he said, Israel did not manage to defeat Hamas; the Israeli government exhibited reactive policy, a lack of creativity and an absence of strategy during the conflict; there were rifts with the United States; the recognition of Hamas as a political actor; and, within Israel, there was bitterness and political division. Hasson questioned whether the war had achieved greater security or served as deterrence.
Hasson went through four predominant opinions on Israel’s possible future, ranging from the Greater Land of Israel to no Jewish state. One of the reasons that progress in achieving agreement is hard, he said, is because people approach it with their own “inevitability assumptions” about such things as to where Israel’s borders should lie: for example, the 1967 borders are inevitable because they stem from moral/progress imperatives, or the Greater Land of Israel borders are inevitable because of a divine promise.
Israel’s decisions and border preferences are not the only ones that will influence its future. Other forces are at work: the super powers (United States, China, Russia, European Union), regional powers (Turkey, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia/Egypt), developments in the Arab world, relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, as well as developments within the PA.
Hasson highlighted the importance of the Sunni versus Shi’a conflict, explaining some of the possible regional outcomes: national-religious states, democracy, the prevalence of moderate autocrats or the rise of extremists. He said that Israel cannot only focus on its relations with the Palestinians, but must take a broader view, including in its strategizing the Arab world, non-state actors, regional rivalries, and global competition over resources and positions.
He described four scenarios and hypothesized their likelihood.
“Pax Americana,” in which the United States returns to the region as a major actor, the Arab nations engage in democratization and Israel returns to the 1967 borders was one of them. Hasson said, “If you ask me, what are the chances, or the probabilities, of this scenario, I would say … very slim. So, when people talk about the ’67 borders, I share their expectation and I have the highest respect for the people who believe in a two-state solution … unfortunately, the leading driving forces are not taking us in this direction….”
Hasson described both the regional hegemony of Sunnite moderate parties (“a moderate Hamas” may prevail in this scenario) and “clash of civilizations” (between Islamic and non-Islamic forces, but also within Islam, where the extremists will take over) as having a moderate chance of occurring, and the potential for anarchy (with even the superpowers fighting each other) as high.
The Middle East will be unstable for a long time and a two-state solution cannot come to fruition, at least in the short term, he concluded. While a bi-national state might be possible, it is not desirable from Israel’s perspective, he said, and there is a need for another approach.
Hasson recommended that Israel recognize a Palestinian state without recognizing its borders, continue to engage in negotiations with the Palestinians and work toward international legitimacy. If negotiations fail, he said Israel has “to consider the possibility of unilateral withdrawal to defensible borders because we shouldn’t give the Palestinians a veto right over Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state…. So, Israel must ensure its security and international legitimacy but also its demography.”
Hasson, referring to the Shasha Centre scenarios he outlined, predicted that Israel in 2020 will have defensible borders, and that the future will involve unilateral acts by the Palestinians (turning to the United Nations, for example) and Israel (more settlement building, for example) – “there will be mutual adaptation and, from time to time, we will have a cycle of violence in the Middle East. But, currently, we don’t see any prospect of getting to the ’67 borders.”
Dina Wachtel, executive director of the local Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University, welcomed the audience, and CFHU board member Dr. Sam Bugis introduced Hasson.
SCiO allows users to find out the molecular breakdown of almost anything. (photo courtesy of Consumer Physics)
Consumer Physics, a technology startup based in Israel, was founded on the idea of empowering people to learn more about the physical world in which they live, according to the company’s chief executive officer, Dror Sharon.
A collaboration of two Technion electrical engineering graduates, Sharon and Consumer Physics chief technical officer Damian Goldring, the company has been honing in on coming up with “an affordable, handheld device that would allow people to explore the world around them and get a better sense of what things are made of,” said Sharon.
The business partners discovered that they could miniaturize a spectrometer (optical sensor) to scan material objects, much like the technology used to miniaturize optics for smartphone cameras.
After several years of research and development, this idea became Consumer Physics’ first product, dubbed “SCiO.” It can analyze a vast number of physical materials and provide information previously unavailable without large-scale laboratory equipment.
SCiO provides real-time molecular breakdowns, and can tell you anything from how much fat is in your latte to what the unmarked pill in your medicine cabinet is, and whether or not your plants need to be watered.
By miniaturizing the spectrometer to about the size of a USB flash drive, and using technology and products that are cost-efficient, Consumer Physics has made spectrometry both affordable and accessible.
SCiO includes a light source that illuminates the sample and a spectrometer that collects the light reflected from the sample. The spectrometer breaks down the light to its spectrum, which contains all the information required to detect the molecules in the sample.
SCiO communicates the information from the sample to a smartphone wirelessly, which then sends it out to a cloud-based service for review.
Creating a global database of possible materials that the scanner will encounter is one of the biggest challenges SCiO programmers face.
“Advanced algorithms rely on our updatable database of matter to analyze the spectrum and deliver information about the sample back to the user’s smartphone in real time,” said Sharon.
Considering the buzz their device has already spurred, Sharon said, “People are interested in SCiO to be able to learn more about their physical world in a way that, until now, they haven’t been able to.”
Some people have shown interest in specific applications, like being able to track the nutritional aspects of the food they eat, or being able to select the sweetest melon at the supermarket. Others, especially developers who supported Consumer Physics in its early stages, are excited about what future applications there might be for the company’s hardware.
“We’re working diligently to ensure we ship the products to our early supporters on schedule, and are currently growing our research and development team internally to support the demand for SCiO,” said Sharon. “Professional applications, like consumer applications, will vary, based on what the community of developers creates.”
Soon, SCiO will be available in Canada and around the world. “We were very pleased to see that our Kickstarter backers came from five continents, and will continue to support our global community,” said Sharon.
Right now, Canadians can pre-order SCiO for $249 from the company website (consumerphysics.com). Early Kickstarter supporters will receive their SCiOs in December 2014, while later purchases are expected to be shipped in March 2015.
“It’s safe and easy for kids to use, but they’ll need a smartphone to see the results,” said Sharon. “SCiO can teach children all about the world around them – from gardening to biology and nutrition – and we’re also looking forward to seeing what educational applications will be built for children.”
Members of Dr. Barak Dayan’s team, left to right: Serge Rosenblum, Yulia Lovsky, Orel Bechler and Itay Shomroni. (photo from wis-wander.weizmann.ac.il)
Weizmann Institute scientists have demonstrated for the first time a photonic router – a quantum device based on a single atom that enables routing of single photons by single photons. This achievement, as reported in Science magazine in July, is another step toward overcoming the difficulties in building quantum computers.
At the core of the device is an atom that can switch between two states. The state is set by sending a single particle of light – or photon – from the right or the left via an optical fibre. The atom, in response, then reflects or transmits the next incoming photon accordingly. For example, in one state, a photon coming from the right continues on its path to the left, whereas a photon coming from the left is reflected backwards, causing the atomic state to flip. In this reversed state, the atom lets photons coming from the left continue in the same direction, while any photon coming from the right is reflected backwards, flipping the atomic state back again. This atom-based switch is solely operated by single photons – no additional external fields are required.
“In a sense, the device acts as the photonic equivalent to electronic transistors, which switch electric currents in response to other electric currents,” explained Dr. Barak Dayan, head of the Weizmann Institute’s Quantum Optics group, which includes Itay Shomroni, Serge Rosenblum, Yulia Lovsky, Orel Bechler and Gabriel Guendleman of the chemical physics department in the faculty of chemistry. The photons are not only the units comprising the flow of information, but also the ones that control the device.
This achievement was made possible by the combination of two state-of-the-art technologies. One is the laser cooling and trapping of atoms. The other is the fabrication of chip-based, ultra-high-quality miniature optical resonators that couple directly to the optical fibres. Dayan’s lab at the Weizmann Institute is one of a handful worldwide that has mastered both these technologies.
The main motivation behind the effort to develop quantum computers is the quantum phenomenon of superposition, in which particles can exist in many states at once, potentially being able to process huge amounts of data in parallel. Yet superposition can only last as long as nothing observes or measures the system, otherwise it collapses to a single state. Therefore, photons are the most promising candidates for communication between quantum systems as they do not interact with each other at all, and interact very weakly with other particles.
“The road to building quantum computers is still very long,” said Dayan, “but the device we constructed demonstrates a simple and robust system, which should be applicable to any future architecture of such computers. In the current demonstration, a single atom functions as a transistor – or a two-way switch – for photons, but in our future experiments, we hope to expand the kinds of devices that work solely on photons, for example new kinds of quantum memory or logic gates.”