Dr. Odeya Cohen (photo by Dani Machlis/BGU) and Dr. Rami Puzis (photo courtesy)
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) researchers discovered patterns of significantly decreased joy, increased sadness, fear and disgust among healthcare professionals (HCP) in the largest social media study to track emotional changes and discourse during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the study, a multidisciplinary BGU team analyzed more than 53,000 HCP tweets from followers of several hundred Twitter accounts of healthcare organizations and common HCP points of interest. The most significant topics HCPs discussed during the pandemic were COVID-19 information, public health and social values, medical studies, as well as daily life and food. Approximately 44% of their discourse was about professional topics during the entire 2020 year.
The research indicates data-driven approaches for analyzing social media networks are helpful as a method for exploring professional health insights during both routine clinical situations and emergencies. The study will be published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. A preprint is already available online. It was funded by the BGU Coronavirus Taskforce and by an Israeli Ministry of Science and Technology coronavirus research grant.
“Our findings, which track increasing sadness and decreasing joy, should be a warning to health organizations of the importance of better mental health support to help HCPs cope with the emotional consequences of the pandemic,” say Dr. Rami Puzis of BGU’s software and information systems engineering department (SISE) and Dr. Odeya Cohen of the department of nursing. “Most interestingly, HCP tweets expressed greater levels of fear just prior to pandemic waves in 2020. This indicates that many HCPs, beyond those working in epidemiology, observed, and were adequately qualified to anticipate pandemic development.”
Puzis goes on to say, “This suggests that decision-makers could benefit from investing additional resources into listening to the broader HCP community to track and anticipate bottom-up pathways for developing health crises.”
– Courtesy Canadian Associates of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Dates being harvested from Hannah, a tree germinated from ancient seeds in Israel. (screenshot from arava.org)
The Mediterranean Diet is not a recent lifestyle development, but rather a form of eating going back to ancient times.
Based on the foods consumed by people living near the Mediterranean Sea, this diet contains lots of olive oil, legumes, unrefined cereals, fruits and vegetables. It includes fish and dairy products, such as cheese and yogurts. It allows for wine drinking and a bit of meat.
From the specialized field of Israeli agro-archeology, we can get an idea of what people once grew and ate – and a number of these foods are mentioned in the Torah.
In some instances, the sages understood why certain foods were healthy, as seen in this quote from Tractate Ketubot of the Babylonian Talmud: “Dates are wholesome in the morning and in the evening. They are bad in the afternoon, but, at noon, there is nothing to match them. Besides, they do away with three things: evil thoughts, sickness of the bowels and hemorrhoids.”
In September 2020, the Arava Institute harvested 111 very special dates – the first fruit of Hannah, a tree sprouted from a 2,000-year-old seed and pollinated by another ancient Judean date tree. Dr. Elaine Solowey, director of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture of the Arava Institute, and Dr. Sarah Sallon, director of the Louis L. Borick Natural Medicine Research Centre of Hadassah Hospital, harvested these ancient dates in the culmination of a decades-long experiment to raise the biblical-era Phoenix dactylifera (date palm) from the dead. The date seeds were originally discovered in the 1960s, when Yigal Yadin excavated Masada.
And, in January 2021, Israeli archeologists published the discovery of thousands of olive pits off the southern coast of Haifa. These pits were embedded in stone and clay neolithic structures in a now-submerged area, but one that was probably once part of the northern coast. They date back to about 4600 BCE.
Tel Aviv University archeologist Dafna Langot points out that these pits were not from olives used for oil because, in the production of olive oil, the pits get crushed and, in this find, the pits were mostly still intact. The site’s proximity to the Mediterranean Sea may indicate that the seawater served to de-bitter, pickle and salt the olives. (To read the article “Early production of table olives at a mid-7th millennium BP submerged site off the Carmel coast [Israel],” visit nature.com/articles/s41598-020-80772-6. BP stands for “before the present.”)
There is no biblical reference to olive eating itself. But, at the ceremony in which Moshe’s brother Aaron and Aaron’s sons become the priests over the ancient Hebrews, they ate matzah with oil olive (Exodus 29:2). Indeed, olive oil seems to have the edge over olives as seen in R. Yohanan’s warning: olives cause one to forget 70 years of study, olive oil restores 70 years of study (Babylonian Talmud, Horayot 13b). Yet, in Numbers Rabbah 8:10, proselytes are praised using a comparison to olives: “just as there are olives for eating, preserving and for oil … so from proselytes came Bible scholars, Mishnah scholars, men of commerce and men of wisdom, men of understanding.”
Around the ancient Hula Lake – referred to by researchers as Gesher Benot Yaakov or GBY – Israeli archeologists have discovered different types of nuts, dating back to the Lower Paleolithic period (1.5 million to 200,000 years ago). Two types of pistachio nuts (Pistacia atlantica and Pistacia vera) are said to have been gathered there. (See “Nuts, nut cracking, and pitted stones at Gesher Benot Ya’aqov, Israel,” at pnas.org/content/99/4/2455.)
Pistachios are one of only two nuts mentioned in the Bible. Pistachios may have grown in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 43:11). Legend has it that the Queen of Sheba declared pistachios were to be enjoyed only by royalty, even decreeing that it was illegal for commoners to grow pistachio trees. The nuts were considered an aphrodisiac.
In the Middle East, both Muslims and Jews prepare pistachio-filled baklava for holiday celebrations.
On the Gezer Calendar, which dates back to King Solomon’s era, the springtime months of Iyar and Sivan are noted as the time for harvesting barley, the first grain to ripen in Israel. On the status scale, however, barley was held in low regard. It was used as fodder for donkeys and horses (I Kings 5:8). Thus, in biblical times, if you ate barley, it was a sign you were poor. At recent Israeli archeology digs, onsite workers collected barley seeds from the epipaleolithic period, some 20,000 to 10,000 years BP.
In addition, Israeli archeologists have identified 1,000-year-old eggplant seeds. They found the seeds in cisterns located in an ancient market complex that was discovered in Jerusalem’s Givati Parking Lot dig, more or less across from the Old City’s Dung Gate. The cisterns apparently had been left behind in either cesspits or garbage pits and the eggplant seeds had neither rotted nor disintegrated. Researchers surmise that the market stall owners used garbage pits to hold their unused stock or to discard damaged produce. Eggplant seeds found in cesspits were seeds consumed and naturally eliminated.
Eggplants are well-traveled. According to the late Gil Marks, in his cookbook Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World, eggplants originated in India some 4,000 years ago. By the fourth century CE, eggplants arrived in Persia. From, there they were “picked up” by Arabs, who probably brought them to Spain in the ninth century. Claudia Roden writes in her book The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York that Jews came to be associated with eggplant when they fled the Almohades and Almoravides and when the Inquisition banished them from southern Italy.
Seeing that pomegranates are part of the Rosh Hashanah table, I’ll close with some information about the ancient fruit, one of the seven species mentioned in Deuteronomy 8:8. The Roman Pliny the Elder, who died in the 79 CE eruption of Mount Vesuvius, also had something to say about this juicy fall fruit – he wrote that the wild pomegranate seed, taken in drink, is curative of dropsy (edema).
Pomegranate seed oil contains high concentrations of Omega 5, which is believed to be one of the most powerful antioxidants in nature. Prof. Ruth Gabizon and Prof. Shlomo Magdassi from Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital are hopeful that their pomegranate seed oil research will lead to a way of slowing down or lessening the effects of degenerative brain diseases.
A 2020 report by other researchers, which was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqz241), contends that pomegranate juice helps maintain visual memory skills in middle-aged and older adults. The authors of the study state that it could have a potential impact on visual memory issues commonly associated with aging.
The old Mediterranean diet continues to provide new promise.
Deborah Rubin Fields is 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.
Israeli actor Shira Haas was the featured guest at the Canadian Associates of Ben Gurion University of the Negev’s virtual gala July 7. (photo byShula Klinger)
On July 7, the Canadian Associates of Ben Gurion University of the Negev held their second virtual fundraising gala. More than 1,200 participants logged on to the An “Unorthodox” National Virtual Gala event, which raised $850,000 for brain research at BGU’s Zlotowski Centre for Neuroscience.
The Zlotowski Centre is a group of researchers dedicated to finding cures and management tools for neurodegenerative diseases including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, ALS and epilepsy.
Months in the making, the virtual gala was the work of a countrywide team of BGU staffers and numerous volunteers. Every participating household in Metro Vancouver received sweet and savoury kosher treats from Café 41. The accompanying gift box also brought olive oil from the Negev, a copy of Deborah Feldman’s memoir, Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots (Simon & Schuster, 2012), appetizer dishes and a commemorative cutting board.
Danny Chamovitz, BGU’s president, spoke about the work of BGU’s academics in general, in disciplines ranging from public health to brain research. Canadian Senator Linda Frum conducted the feature interview – with multiple-award-winning actor Shira Haas.
Describing herself as “very, very shy” as a young person, Haas said she had considered psychology or graphic design as professions, until a casting director approached her on Facebook. Sixteen years old at the time, she said, with respect to that first project, “I understood that this is what I want to do, it was like the door to Narnia.”
Haas does not take her success or popularity for granted. “It was always a dream to work internationally, in different languages, for different audiences, but I never imagined it,” she said. “It was always about the work. I am very, very lucky to be in this position.” She added, “My parents deserve to be talked about! They are the most supportive and amazing parents.”
Known for taking on demanding roles, Haas approaches acting in a scholarly fashion. She studied musculoskeletal diseases to play a terminally ill woman in the film Asia, and researched Russian, Yiddish and Charedi culture for the series Shtisel and Unorthodox. She said she finds beauty in hard work, explaining that Asia was “challenging in the most beautiful way. It was a lot of physical and emotional work, and very personal for me.”
When playing a part, Haas said she is motivated by two things. First, she must be passionate about the role because “that’s what brings everything alive.” About Shtisel, she said, “I fell in love with it immediately.”
Her second principle is to portray “subjects that matter to me.”
Haas’s idealism was evident in the way she spoke about Asia. “It’s not really about death,” she said. “It’s about relationships, about appreciating the time we have and what we do with it. The highest form of art is to bring light to the darkness.”
About Unorthodox, she said, “It didn’t occur to me that it is about the Orthodox world. It was just a story about people who want to be loved, their doubts, desires and failures.”
And Shtisel, she noted, had a huge impact on people all over the world. The show helped change people’s view of Orthodox communities, she said: “It’s universal.”
Of her forthcoming portrayal of Golda Meir in her early years, Haas described a woman with “a very interesting life. She was very passionate, with many dreams and desires.”
Since David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir were friends, she laughed, “this event was meant to be!”
Haas spoke of her personal connection to BGU. Her sister studied at the university and a close friend is there now. Haas wanted to participate in the gala for several reasons, including, she said, “I am Jewish, I am an Israeli. I want to keep on doing events like this! I am even more proud to do it for Ben-Gurion.”
As for the brain research being conducted at BGU, which the gala funds will support, there has already been groundbreaking progress. Claude Broski’s group has identified a protein that can slow down the degeneration brought on by Parkinson’s. The social robots developed by Shelley Levy-Tzedek and her team will have an impact on stroke patient recovery – the robots offer motivation, feedback and performance-tracking during the rehabilitation phase. Epilepsy researchers are developing wearable hardware and software that could alert patients to an oncoming seizure, an hour before it happens. And Deborah Toiber’s Alzheimer’s team is exploring questions about brain aging, such as, Why does the disease affect so many of us, when only 5% of cases are genetic?
David Berson, executive director of CABGU, British Columbia and Alberta, said, “It has been very gratifying to see how the Metro Vancouver community has embraced BGU students and faculty in recent years. Many new supporters have stepped forward during the last year to engage with us. We are especially grateful to our community partners, who helped us promote this Unorthodox event.”
Among the many contributors to the gala were board members Jay Eidelman and Si Brown. Rachelle Delaney helped Berson with the goodie boxes at the crack of dawn on July 7, while volunteer drivers delivered the boxes. Adrian Cantwell and I were co-chairs for the Metro Vancouver team.
Shula Klingeris an author and journalist living in North Vancouver. She was Metro Vancouver co-chair of the CABGU gala with Adrian Cantwell.
Shira Haas is the featured guest at the July 7 event organized by Canadian Associates of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. (photo from CABGU)
Israeli actress Shira Haas, star of the popular Netflix series Shtisel and Unorthodox, has been busy in recent months. Not only is she preparing to take on the role of a young Golda Meir in the upcoming series Lioness, executive produced by Barbra Streisand, but she is also the featured guest at the Canadian national virtual gala in support of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) on July 7.
An “Unorthodox” National Virtual Gala for Brain Research, organized by Canadian Associates of Ben-Gurion University (CABGU), BGU’s Canadian fundraising arm, will raise money for the Canada Fund to Advance Brain Research.
“We are thrilled to share this exciting announcement with our community,” said Mitchell Oelbaum, national president of CABGU.
“According to the World Health Organization, there are approximately 50 million active cases of dementia worldwide, with an estimated 10 million new cases being added each year. Ten million people battle Parkinson’s each year globally. And, according to the World Stroke
Organization, 13 million people suffer from stroke annually. We wanted to do our part to help improve the chances of finding a cure for these debilitating diseases.”
The numbers are large, and there are no signs of a slowdown. That is why the fund was established by CABGU, with the goal of supporting groundbreaking and cutting-edge research for neurodegenerative diseases at the university’s Zlotowski Centre for Neuroscience.
“We are getting closer to determining the causes of age-related neurodegenerative diseases,” explained Dr. Debra Toiber of the department of life sciences in the faculty of natural sciences at BGU. “It’s an exciting time to be a scientist and uncovering the mechanisms of aging.”
Toiber is one of 67 researchers at the Zlotowski Centre. Her lab recently discovered that the SIRT6 protein is critical for the prevention of neurodegeneration, which can lead to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Colleague Dr. Shelly Levy-Tzedek’s lab studies the impact of age and disease on the control of body movement and how best to employ robotics to facilitate a fast and efficient rehabilitation process. Meanwhile, Dr. Claude Brodski, also with the Zlotowski Centre for Neuroscience, is currently conducting a study, albeit in its early stages, that may offer a disease-modified drug target to address the impact of Parkinson’s. While these findings are encouraging, more research needs to be conducted.
“CABGU launched the Canada Fund to Advance Brain Research at BGU in April,” said CABGU chief executive officer Mark Mendelson. “Our team has been hard at work ever since, and there is a strong appetite for this subject matter here in Canada. The sad reality is that we all know someone, whether it is a relative, a friend or a neighbour, who is struggling with one of these devastating brain diseases.”
The national virtual gala is already more than 50% sold out. To learn how to become a sponsor or to purchase tickets, head to bengurion.ca.
Dr. Joe Schwarcz, director of the Office for Science and Society, McGill University, presented on The Chemistry of Wine and Its Many Benefits, at Canadian Friends of Sheba’s virtual event on May 2. (screenshot)
Canadian Friends of Sheba hosted Sheba Under the Stars on May 2, raising close to $100,000 for Israel’s Sheba Medical Centre. More than 100 guests attended the virtual evening featuring live entertainment, wine tasting and presentations on lifestyle choices from leading world experts.
Guests received a complimentary gift bag of wine and chocolates, and were treated to numerous performances from host Stacey Kay, Juno Award-winning singer/rapper and finalist on America’s Got Talent. The hour-long show also featured live wine tasting with Michael Avery, winemaker at Galil Mountain Winery, in Israel, as well as a presentation on The chemistry of Wine and Its Many Benefits, by Dr. Joe Schwarcz, director of the Office for Science and Society at McGill University.
Prof. Yitshak Kreiss, director general, Sheba Medical Centre, opened the event by highlighting Sheba’s global fight against the coronavirus through its recent support of missions to India, northern Italy, Cyprus and Uruguay, and called on the guests to be “inspired by Sheba’s vision to transform into the city of health.”
Presentations from “Sheba’s stars” included Redefining the Field of Lifestyle Medicine by Dr. Rani Polak, founding director of Sheba’s Centre of Lifestyle Medicine, and from Prof. Michal Schnaider Beeri, director of Sheba’s Joseph Sagol Neuroscience Centre, who shared tips on how wellness and lifestyle affects the brain.
Sheba Medical Centre recently published a study undertaken over three years by its department of obstetrics and gynecology in conjunction with Sheba Genetic Institute and the Genetics Institute in the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Centre, which found that women of Ashkenazi descent were twice as likely to have a baby born with Fragile X syndrome (FXS) compared to Jewish non-Ashkenazi women.
Nearly 600 female carriers of the FXS gene from various Jewish heritages participated in the study, which was published in the peer-reviewed publication Nature. Previously, it was known that only CGG repeats and AGG interruptions affect the risk for a child with FXS. This new research adds a third identifier, children of two Ashkenazi parents, allowing for better personalized genetic counselling for carriers who are trying to conceive.
FXS is the most common genetic cause of mental disability in an unborn child and causes intellectual disability, behavioural and learning challenges, and various physical characteristics. The prevalence of carriers in the Jewish population stands at about one in 150 women.
Dr. Noam Domniz of the IVF unit at Sheba Medical Centre said: “The new information from this study regarding the influence of ethnicity stresses the importance of providing more accurate and personally targeted genetic counseling to each woman, according to her personal level of risk. At Sheba, we aim to use this new approach to better evaluate each carrier’s risk level, empower them to make informed choices, leading to a clearer and safer road to motherhood.”
Simon Fraser University Prof. Lara Aknin (photo from SFU Communications & Marketing)
There are several paths to finding happiness, according to Prof. Laura Aknin. “But a central theme that rises above the rest is that a lot of happiness comes from our relationships with other people, and how we help and give to others.”
Aknin will deliver the talk A Reality Check, for Good: A Talk on Happiness via Zoom on Feb. 22.
“Guest speaker Lara Aknin is a distinguished associate professor of psychology at Simon Fraser University, and director of the Helping and Happiness Social Psychology Lab at SFU,” said Rabbi Yechiel Baitelman, director of Chabad Richmond. Born and educated in Vancouver, Aknin became interested in social psychology and human emotions while studying as an undergrad and graduate student at the University of British Columbia. According to Aknin, “Human emotions colour our existence, and bring meaning to a lot of what we do.”
Among Aknin’s research interests are well-being, happiness, social relationships, prosocial behaviour and altruism. She established the Helping and Happiness Social Psychology Lab, which studies the predictors of happiness and what makes people happy, the emotional consequences of kind and generous behaviour, and the well-being outcomes of specific spending choices. The lab also looks at how people can increase their happiness.
“Happiness is broadly universal, yet religious people tend to report higher levels of happiness,” said Aknin, when asked how happiness relates to Judaism. “One of the major lessons emerging from our helping and happiness lab and our study of well-being is that it’s not just what we do for ourselves, it’s what we do for others. When we help others and give to others, that’s when we find happiness.”
While not overtly connected, it appears that happiness aligns with Judaism’s emphasis on giving tzedakah and doing mitzvot.
“Helping others is a pretty clear and reliable path to experiencing greater well-being,” confirmed Aknin.
While acknowledging that religion is not her specific area of research, Aknin said, “The notion, or central message that giving to others, whether it be G-d or other people in your community or beyond is a meaningful source of finding joy, reward, value and meaning in life, is certainly aligned with the evidence in the literature.”
A fundamental concept in Judaism is the importance of serving G-d with joy.
“The emotional rewards of giving are a psychological universal, not just particular to the Jewish faith, but it might align with many of the teachings of the Jewish faith and others,” said Aknin. “Researchers see this not just in North America, but in rich and poor countries around the globe. We see it in kids under the age of 2 … we see it in ex-offenders. People experience emotional rewards when they engage in kind behaviour. Many religious principles regularly espouse the value and virtue of giving to others … these ideas have been around for centuries, but the evidence is now documenting the importance of this.”
The topic of helping and happiness resonates with people.
“At some level,” said Aknin, “our intuition says that giving to others is emotionally rewarding but, in real life, people are spending more on themselves – out of necessity, for things like paying their bills, [but] we often overlook opportunities [to give] and would be better off spending the money in our pocket on someone else, rather than on an extra coffee.”
Is it always about our own sense of well-being or is happiness a byproduct of something more altruistic? Is it selfish, for example, to donate clothes to a homeless shelter because it makes us feel good? Is it wrong to have a sense of well-being when we give to others?
“Those questions are central to the work that I do,” Aknin said. “It’s important to distinguish what the motives are for giving in the first place, versus how do you feel afterwards. There’s no question that there are emotional benefits for the giver, and that donating one’s time or money to others promotes well-being and increases life satisfaction. Sometimes, people give to feel good but, by and large, people are giving because they think it’s the right thing to do, and they want to help the person in need. Feeling good about it afterwards isn’t a bad thing. On the contrary, I think that’s a beautiful feature of human behaviour. It serves a purpose to help inspire us to do it again. It’s indicative of a care for humanity. Feeling indifference after giving would be more surprising.”
Aknin said happy people tend to have strong social relationships, they tend to be individuals who donate. and they tend to be relatively comfortable with where they are in life, not only financially, but also proud of what they’ve accomplished. Happy people also tend to live in a safe environment, she said, so being able to trust your neighbours is important.
Aknin is working on a commission that’s studying the trends around happiness and physical/mental health. Findings show that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, most people’s physical and mental health has suffered.
“Negative emotions are up, mental distress is up, depression and anxiety are up. Yet, despite all that, there is still some resilience and stability,” she said. The pandemic has given people time to evaluate their lives, and there is still much stability to be seen.
Aknin said some behaviours that are “protective,” such as exercise, make us feel better. “But people still feel better when they’re helping others,” she said.
According to Aknin, most people are happy, because “we’re very adaptive”; even though we think we aren’t, we are.
When asked if she’s happy doing what she’s doing, Aknin replied: “Yes, there’s great meaning and purpose in what I do.”
At the second program of the season in the Jewish Seniors Alliance Snider Foundation Empowerment Series, a few Simon Fraser University graduate students shared their research interests with the 70-plus participants who tuned in via Zoom on Jan. 15.
Jointly sponsored by the JSA and Sholem Aleichem Seniors of the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Studies, the Gerontology Research Panel: Eager to Share our Interests and Help our Community – What’s Up With Seniors event featured master’s students Lindsay Grasso and Kishore Seetharaman, and PhD student in gerontology Eireann O’Dea.
Grasso became interested in exploring the impacts of separating couples in long-term care settings when her own family experienced it. She said this problem of separation will become more severe as more couples age together. Current long-term care settings separate couples, depending on each partner’s individual needs.
The effects of dementia on couples is profound and, often, one partner ends up as the caregiver for the other, she said. When the point is reached that institutional care is required, being together would alleviate a lot of the pain, believes Grasso, who has received a grant to look into the long-term effects of separating couples, as well as the effects on visiting spouses, when only one partner is in care. In both scenarios, there is the loss of a shared life, shared memories and the beginning of mourning. It is important to continue the relationship through visiting, sharing activities and eating together, she said. The healthier spouse would need to monitor care and advocate for their partner. For her research, Grasso will be conducting in-person interviews with couples, and will also meet with staff to review their understanding of the issues surrounding separation.
The second presenter, Seetharaman, has a background in architecture and is interested in planning and designing dementia-friendly neighbourhoods, especially in Metro Vancouver.
Worldwide, 70% of dementia-affected adults live at home, so dementia is more than an individual health issue, it is a community issue. Communities must be more inclusive, he said. He would like them to focus on eliminating stigma, raising awareness, social engagement, accessibility to services, improving planning and design of public spaces and support given to caregivers.
In terms of design, he said, familiarity and easy recognition are important. Signs should be clearly visible and easy to read. Distinctive landmarks are helpful for finding the way, he added. There is some work being done in Vancouver in this area but it is not clear as yet how it will be implemented. Seetharaman would like to create a body of knowledge for designers. He is hoping to interview both dementia patients and public servants.
O’Dea is looking into volunteerism and cultural generativity. She became interested in these topics as an undergraduate, when she was volunteering at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver and its L’Chaim Adult Day Centre. There, she encountered seniors who were volunteering with other seniors, and she is looking into the benefits on health and sense of purpose in life, as they move away from former roles. The strengths and capabilities of these older adults motivated other seniors to become involved, she noted, adding that each person’s aging process is unique.
O’Dea already has interviewed a number of senior volunteers regarding their motivation. She said many spoke of being motivated by the values of tzedakah (charity) and tikkun olam (repairing the world), and the passing on of Jewish culture. These responses led her to the exploration of cultural generativity, i.e., the desire or need to keep cultural identity alive and pass it down to future generations. This is especially relevant to ethno-cultural minorities, she said, and O’Dea will be researching four minorities: Jewish, Chinese, South Asian and Iranian. She will be studying the effects on both the volunteers and the members of the communities.
During the Q&A session, there were queries about dementia villages; the design and cost of facilities for couples in long-term care; and retention and recruitment of volunteers. The City of Vancouver is apparently looking into an age-friendly action plan that could include persons with dementia.
JSA co-president Gyda Chud reminded everyone about the evaluation questionnaire, then Shanie Levin, program coordinator for JSA, thanked the presenters. The entire program, including the PowerPoint images, is available via the JSA website, jsalliance.org.
Shanie Levin is program coordinator for Jewish Seniors Alliance and on the editorial board of Senior Line magazine.
Ben-Gurion University’s Prof. Amir Sagi, left, and Dr. Amit Savaia have found a way to use shrimp to fight a deadly parasitic disease in Nigeria. (photo from BGU)
This year, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev plans to launch a new school that will specialize in climate change research, mitigation and environmental sustainability. It will also offer a graduate program with a cross-section of specialties.
BGU’s three campuses house an enrolment of 20,000 students and a faculty of 4,000. Its areas of expertise range far and wide, and, among other things, the university has become known as a go-to place for figuring out how to address one of the 21st century’s biggest threats: climate change.
For BGU president Daniel Chamovitz, the university’s growing reputation isn’t that much of a surprise. “Because what have we been doing in the last 60 years?” he asked rhetorically. “We have been learning how to survive – not to survive, how to thrive in the desert.”
Chamovitz’s own expertise is in genetics and plant biology. Originally from Aliquippa, Pa., he is most recently known for his studies in plant development and for his book What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses, which has been published in 18 languages.
The realization that the university already has a strong foothold in environmental and sustainability research, Chamovitz said, is what led to its new mandate to become the world’s authority on climate change and sustainability.
A long history
For Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, the Negev was always Israel’s greatest untapped resource. It was the place, he predicted, that the Jewish homeland would sow their greatest accomplishments. A desert that spans more than 60% of the country’s land mass, the Negev would hold the answers to Israel’s most pressing problems of the day: how to grow enough food to feed a nation, generate sufficient energy to power cities and harness enough water to turn brown deserts green.
But building a sustainable nation, he warned, one that could benefit from a desert that receives less than 200 millimetres of rainfall per year wouldn’t be simple. “It is incumbent upon Israel’s scientists to reveal the secrets of nature that are unique to our land,” he said. The Negev, he insisted, was the perfect environment for an institute of study that could solve the world’s most basic – and challenging – problems of existence.
Ben-Gurion’s visionary thinking was the catalyst for many of Israel’s earliest environmental accomplishments, including desalination and energy generation using seawater, steps that would be critical to Israel’s much-needed water technology. Both projects were developed in the 1960s, at a research facility in the town of Be’er Sheva, a Bedouin settlement at the northern tip of the Negev. The institute that gave rise to these early innovations would eventually become BGU.
BGU’s new school
Two years ago, when he was hired as president of BGU, Chamovitz told the Jewish Independent he had conducted a “bottom-up” assessment of all of the departments and their areas of specialization. He wanted to know what their strengths and weaknesses were.
“[We] identified over 150 researchers dealing with various issues of sustainability and climate change,” Chamovitz said. “And, in every discipline. Not only in our institutes of water, energy and desert agriculture – that’s the low-lying fruit – but also in engineering and in civil engineering, where we develop energy-efficient building material and methods.
“It was clear to everyone that the field of sustainability and climate change was what sets Ben-Gurion University apart from every other university in Israel.”
That brand-name recognition helped secure a new partnership with Royal Bank of Canada, which is sponsoring the new school’s first graduate fellowship program. The investment by RBC will fund two fellowship positions for students specializing in climate change or sustainability-related research and, in doing so, help launch the program.
This isn’t the first time that RBC has partnered with the university. In 2018, RBC and BGU entered into a cybersecurity partnership, in which the bank invested $2 million toward research programs in BGU’s department of software and information systems engineering.
In this case, the partnership aligns with RBC’s own long-term sustainability goals and its Tech for Nature program, which it launched in 2019.
“The research being conducted also aligns with RBC’s interests as we recognize that innovative technologies offer immense potential to help solve environmental challenges,” Martin Thibodeau, B.C. regional president, RBC Royal Bank, told the Independent. “The most pressing environmental concerns of our time are negatively impacting the planet at a rate that often outpaces the solutions designed to address them. RBC is leveraging its capabilities in technologies such as artificial intelligence and blockchain, as well as its convening power, to build solutions and the type of multi-partner coalitions needed to address and solve our shared environmental challenges.
“Our commitments align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and, through our partnerships, we aim to develop multi-sector, multi-partner solutions to achieve progress on these challenging issues. We’re both proud and excited to partner with BGU through CABGU to address these important issues,” Thibodeau said.
“We are in awe of the grassroots contributions that RBC makes to our Jewish community and the positive role that RBC plays and has played in strengthening so many local community organizations in British Columbia and across Canada,” said David Berson, executive director of the B.C. & Alberta chapter of the Canadian Associates of Ben-Gurion University, which worked as a liaison with RBC and BGU to secure the partnership.
“[We] are incredibly excited that corporations such as RBC see the importance of partnering with Ben-Gurion University, [and] that their investment [will] pay back to society tenfold,” Chamovitz said. He likened RBC’s partnership to an educator who invests in students’ goals, which, in time, benefit generations to come.
A new learning model
Climate change is a multidisciplinary problem, said Chamovitz, one that takes the expertise of not only hydrologists, biologists and engineers, but geneticists, geologists, legal experts and others. Education, therefore, must be tailored to meet the broad range of knowledge required to understand climate change. That doesn’t mean graduate students won’t specialize in their research and their studies, Chamovitz said, but they will be expected to have a multidisciplinary background that connects with the challenges of creating a sustainable world and addressing climate change.
“The one requirement would be their willingness to work interdisciplinarily and to take courses in other fields. Otherwise, they don’t need the school,” said Chamovitz. “They could just go into the school of engineering [for example] or school of ecology. And, you know, for some people, that’s the better track.”
Chamovitz said it’s companies like RBC that are making this new branch of education possible, adding that the university has seen an increase in inquiries from companies and communities across the world that are attempting to address climate change challenges. Last year, for example, a company located in Chennai, India, reached out to see if BGU could assist in building a local agricultural research institute. Chamovitz said the institute’s future researchers will be trained first at BGU before returning home to Chennai to begin their new jobs. The university has also struck up a three-way partnership with the city of Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, and Arizona State University, in Tempe, Ariz., to address issues relating to global warming in Dubai.
“We have similar collaborations in western China, which are also in arid places. And we are really excited about developing relationships in Canada,” said Chamovitz, who recently visited Vancouver to meet the presidents of Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia, which both offer studies in climate change and sustainability.
The two Israeli RBC fellowship students have already been selected. Shir Eisenstein will be doing a master’s in material engineering, looking for new materials that help harness sustainable, renewable energy. Nadina Levitt, who is also pursuing a master’s, will be enrolled in the department of geography and environmental studies and studying sustainability models for smart cities. Both students demonstrated a key requirement for upper-level studies when it comes to BGU’s approach to this new specialization: innovation.
“One of the problems in higher education is this need for prerequisites,” Chamovitz noted. “What we are looking for is not prerequisites, but ingenuity.”
The university is expected to complete the formalization process and approval for the new school of sustainability and climate change in February and be open for enrolment this October.
Jan Lee’s articles, op-eds and blog posts have been published in B’nai B’rith Magazine, Voices of Conservative and Masorti Judaism, Times of Israel and Baltimore Jewish Times, as well as a number of business, environmental and travel publications. Her blog can be found at multiculturaljew.polestarpassages.com.
Prof. Ori Efrati, left, and Dr. Michael Cohen. (photos from IMP)
With the arrival of the coronavirus vaccine, there has also been a spike in morbidity, clearly indicating that we’re not out of the woods yet. In fact, hospitals in Israel have warned that they are steadily approaching maximum capacity, as the numbers of severely ill COVID patients breaks all records.
When COVID-19 first erupted in March 2020, health authorities warned that a surfeit in severely ill coronavirus patients would overwhelm the system due, in large part, to a lack of ventilation machines – the standard of care for coronavirus patients whose condition deteriorates to pneumonia. In the ensuing months, Prof. Eyal Leshem, director of the Centre for Travel Medicine and Tropical Diseases at Sheba Medical Centre, explained that, in addition to the shortage of ventilators, one of the most pressing issues is the lack of highly trained intensive-care-unit staff to monitor patients attached to those devices.
An innovation by Yehonatan Medical addresses both of these issues.
Yehonatan Medical, in collaboration with Prof. Ori Efrati, director of the pediatric pulmonary unit at Sheba Medical Centre, devised a first-of-its-kind ventilation system that can treat multiple patients.
“Conventional ventilators, aside from being very costly, are limited in that they can only be used with one patient at a time,” explained Efrati. “Their capacity factor and programming functions were designed for single-patient use, and there is also the danger of cross-contamination.”
The new ventilation system resolves issues that corona ICU wards have been grappling with as the number of severely ill patients rises.
“We were able to use the relatively simple and inexpensive BipaP non-invasive ventilation machine as the basis for the advanced ventilation technology,” said Efrati. “Thanks to the high-power output and built-in disinfecting mechanism, the new system can safely treat three to five patients simultaneously.”
Moreover, a system that can treat multiple patients at one time necessitates fewer ICU-trained staff. Thanks to the remote interface, the medical team can monitor patients from a safe distance.
“This tremendous breakthrough is nothing less than a game-changer when it comes to caring for large numbers of corona patients,” Efrati added.
Dr. Michael Cohen, an engineer and scientist and the founder of Yehonatan Medical, said, “All in all, we’re talking about a system that delivers personalized care in a multi-user format.”
Additional features based on artificial-intelligence technology include the ability to have a hierarchy and classification of alerts; the ability for automatic parameter correction according to set criteria; respiratory rehabilitation for the patient by adjusting to changes in the patient responsiveness; and more. The streamlined, relatively low-cost system can be implemented in makeshift clinical settings, such as field hospitals, as well as in step-down units within the hospital, in the internal and other wards.
Yehonatan Medical is the medical department of Mofet Etzion, a company that for more than two decades has developed various security and military innovations for the Israel Defence Forces and foreign armies. Cohen has developed dozens of life-saving innovations, including in the area of cardiology, in collaboration with cardiologists and cardiothoracic surgeons from Israel, the United States and Canada.
“Some of the insights for the development of this revolutionary ventilation system were provided by cardiologists who helped us to devise the various accoutrements and sensors,” Cohen said, making specific mention of Dr. David Adams, professor and system chair of the cardiovascular surgery department at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York; Dr. David Tirone, chief of cardiac surgery at Toronto General Hospital; and Dr. Gideon Cohen, cardiothoracic surgeon at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. The development of the system itself took place in Israel, marking the first time that an invasive ventilation machine has been built in Israel.
The advanced ventilation technology is currently in advanced phase trials at the MSR Medical Simulation Centre at Sheba, where it is being tested on artificial lungs, and is expected to be ready for mass marketing in the coming months.
– Courtesy International Marketing and Promotion (IMP)