Revisiting the Tel Aviv Zoo

Two TAU students developed an app that recreates the mythological zoo in the heart of the city.

For many years, there was a zoo right in the center of Tel Aviv. Residents of nearby streets used to wake up to roars of tigers and monkeys’ chatter. In 1980, the zoo and its residents were relocated to a large complex in neighboring Ramat Gan, but seasoned Tel Avivians still think of it fondly. Maya Shekel and Yuval Kela, two talented students in the digital media track at The Steve Tisch School of Film and Television, wanted to see it with their own eyes, and developed the TAZOO app that enables this.

Throughout the four years of their studies, they designed and created the unique widget, based on stories and memories of the local community. The animals were created by help of augmented reality technology, and in order to experience the project in full, all you need to do is to download the app on your phone, make your way to Tel Aviv’s City Garden and look for the orange signs that are scattered in the garden.

This new attraction, which will soon be launched in a festive ceremony, has already warmed the hearts of several Tel Aviv residents who inspired the creation of the project and the stories, as well as Tel Aviv Mayor, Mr. Ron Huldai, who still recalls the exact wording on the garden signs.

The Next-door Neighbor

What brings two students, both born long after the zoo was closed, to recreate Tel Aviv’s animalistic past? “I’ve been living on Tel Aviv’s Hadassah Street all my life, right opposite where the zoo used to be,” says Maya Shekel. “Whenever people hear where I live, they ask me, ‘Did you know that there used to be a zoo there?’,” Therefore, after hearing the recurring questions for years, she decided to investigate the subject further together with Yuval Kela, who is also her life partner.

“After some online research, we discovered amazing photos of elephants and lions in the middle of Tel Aviv. We realized that the place used to be a cultural center for the residents of the city. We decided to start a Facebook group which we called ‘Tel Aviv Zoo Community’. Gradually, people would join the group and share photos, memories and stories about the zoo. This way, we got confirmation that there was a nostalgic need to revive the lost zoo, and to share its story with those who visit the place today, unaware of its history.”

 

“An elephant is about to join us,” Maya Shekel demonstrates to Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai how the TAZOO app works

Reviving Animals in Augmented Reality

Unlike many apps that allow you to sit in your living room and feel like you’re somewhere else, Maya and Yuval chose to encourage their users to venture to the real site where the zoo was once located. “It was important for us to create an experience where people actually had to physically experience the sights and the feelings, while reviving the lost place,” explains Yuval.

Their main challenge was to adapt the app for two different target audiences: the older residents, who wish to reminisce, and to the younger target audience (such as the elderly residents’ children and grandchildren). “We overcame this hurdle by adding layers to the app, like short films about the zoo staff and additional information where you can choose to delve deeper and read more about each station. We also added some games that are more suitable for children,” he adds.  

For big and for small. The virtual zoo in the Hadassah Garden

Storytelling and Technology

During their studies, Maya and Yuval learned the importance of storytelling on platforms of this type. They made sure to study the technology thoroughly to get a good grasp of both its advantages and limitations.

Throughout their work on the app, more and more ideas for future projects were born. “We’re constantly thinking of how we can take the idea and expand on it to include more destinations in the city, in Israel and in the world. There’s no shortage on ‘lost’ places that have left memories and history that can be revived by help of technology, allowing for people to experience and learn about them,” says Maya.

“The technology is constantly evolving. We hope to continue to create significant impact by combining storytelling and innovative technology. Our dream is to constantly create mainly projects that are accessible to the general public,” she concludes. On the question of which animal she would not want us to miss on the TAZOO app, she says “We would not want you to miss out on our hippos, Paula and Jacob! They jump into the water and really blend in with the physical space.”

 

Paula and Jacob with friends

The project was supported by the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality, which cooperated and placed the signs throughout the park, as well as The New Fund for Cinema and TV, which supported and assisted with funding.

Download the app on iOS- https://apps.apple.com/ch/app/tazoo/id1548925102

Download the app on Android- https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.tazoo.tazoo

*Maya and Yuval hope to create an English version of the app in the very near future, as part of the existing one.

Raising the Bar in Film

TAU student Bar Cohen is bringing Israeli spirit and transgender representation to the big screen.

“I like to explore myself through film, as a woman and a transgender woman; filmmaking is always personal,” says Bar Cohen, a student at Tel Aviv University’s Steve Tisch School of Film and Television.

Cohen wrote and directed the semi-autobiographical film Her Dance, which in June won two awards at the Palm Springs International ShortFest—Best Student International Short and the Audience Award for Best Student Short.

Her Dance along with her upcoming release, Bug, are fictional short films inspired by her experiences as a transgender woman whose family has roots in the Orthodox Jewish community. The intimacy and pain expressed by Cohen’s work are hitting a nerve with audiences, and successfully bringing representation from the lesser-known transgender community in Israel to the local and world stage.

A Rising Auteur  

Cohen, 26, realized at an early age that filmmaking was her calling.

“I’ve had a camera in my hand since I was eight years old,” she says. Cohen studied in a cinema track in high school and began her journey at TAU following her IDF service and after transitioning from the male gender assigned to her at birth to identifying as a woman.

Cohen, who recently completed her final year of undergraduate studies, is a scholarship recipient of both the Blavatnik Student Film Production Fund at TAU and Israeli transgender rights organization Ma’avarim (transitions).

Bar Cohen at Tel Aviv University

“The most amazing thing here at Tel Aviv University is the diversity of voices among the teachers,” she says. That range, she adds, provides a broad pool of mentors who can help students craft their own artistic expression. Cohen credits her academic mentor, Maya Dreifus, for providing invaluable guidance and inspiration.

“The best advice she gave me was to believe in myself and not worry about the opinions of others, because there will always be critics,” explains Cohen, who took that advice and ran with it.

Inspiration from the Heart

Cohen explains that lean budgets require Israeli filmmakers to rely on creativity and strong plotlines, rather than blockbuster action and overblown special effects.

“Israeli film brings heart,” she says. “Our main strength is telling meaningful stories.”

Cohen’s work is extremely close to her heart; she draws inspiration from the most vulnerable and authentic of sources—her own life.

A scene from Bar Cohen’s award-winning short film Her Dance

“It can be frightening to display elements of your real life on the big screen, but it’s the only way to create something of consequence,” she says.

A Journey of Self-Discovery

Originally from Bnei Barak, Cohen’s parents separated when she was three. Afterward, she lived with her mother in a secular home while her father remained Orthodox. At age five, Cohen told her mother that she didn’t feel like a boy, but rather a girl.

“My mom didn’t really understand it and thought it was just a phase,” explains Cohen.

“For a good part of my life, I was playing a role that wasn’t the real me. I was acting,” she says. That experience, she adds, contributed to her desire to study film.

Following a post-army trip to India, Cohen urgently felt the need to live her truth and told her parents that she had decided to transition to live as a woman.

“My parents lost a son, but gained a daughter,” she muses, noting that she made Her Dance to convey the complexities of that reality.

On the World Stage

Her Dance follows Aya, a secular transgender woman who arrives uninvited to her estranged, Orthodox family’s house during celebrations for her sister’s wedding. The heartrending 22-minute film debuted at the 2020 Tel Aviv Student Film Festival before premiering internationally.

WATCH: The trailer for TAU student Bar Cohen’s film Her Dance:

 

“It was the first time I saw my film in-person on the big screen since festivals went virtual due to COVID-19,” she explains shortly after returning from the Palm Springs ShortFest. “The audience was so receptive. After the screening, they had tears in their eyes and even gave me a standing ovation!”

In addition to Her Dance, the festival selected three other films by students of TAU’s Tisch School among the showcase of over 300 works from around the world: Borekas by Saleh Saadi, Neurim by Shaylee Atary, and Complicated by Isak Kohaly.

Her Dance was also among the competitions at the Aspen ShortFest, the BAFTA Student Film Awards, and the Indy Shorts International Film Festival.

Boosting Transgender Representation

For her next production, Cohen will soon shoot her graduation film about two friends navigating life and love after transitioning. It will feature a reprisal of the character Aya from Her Dance.

Following graduation, Cohen aims to create a TV series expanding upon the universe of her existing works.

While Cohen plans to initially establish her career in Israel, she notes that it is difficult to find local transgender actors and actresses.

“It’s important for me to bring real representation from the community,” she says. “It’s important for trans directors, actors and writers to take a part in our own stories.”

While transgender representation has made some significant steps in recent years with shows like Netflix’s Pose and the HBO adaption of Israeli drama Euphoria, Cohen acknowledges that there is still a long way to go.

And she believes she is well-position to help bring about that change.

Featured image: Bar Cohen accepts two awards at the Palm Springs International ShortFest (Photo: Nathan Cox, Palm Springs International ShortFest)

This Exhibition Will Make You Sweat

New exhibition on climate crisis gives us tools to save the planet.

Recent news has covered extreme events all over the world: floods in Germany, Belgium and central China, huge wildfires raging in California, consuming thousands of acres of land and extreme temperatures in Canada, Iraq and the United States. Scientists no longer doubt that all this and more is taking place due to global warming, and what is commonly referred to as the “climate crisis”

Seeking to educate the Israeli public on the science behind the concepts that we keep hearing, such as the greenhouse effect, global warming and carbon footprint, the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History has set up the exhibition “Global Warning: The Climate, the Crisis and Us”, which encourages the public to learn more about the subject and become ambassadors who will lead the long-awaited change. We checked, and can share with you that it is impossible to remain indifferent after visiting the exhibition.

How Many Trees Are Working Just for You?

The exhibition, which the museum has been working on for over a year, guides the visitors to the sea, land, glaciers and forests, in the past, present and future. It presents current scientific findings and basic concepts in the field in simple terms and through interactive means, such as videos, thermal cameras that expose thermal gases that surround us, and more.

It uncovers the dire consequences of the climate crisis here in Israel and worldwide, and illustrates the impact of our daily choices as individuals. Everything is not lost; the exhibition illuminates how we can counteract the changes that are causing the crisis and reduce the harm caused to us and the environment.

The various stations of the exhibition show how popular tourist spots may look like in 20 years from now, what the atmospheric composition was thousands of years ago, and what it may be in a few decades from now. The connection between allergies and global warming is explained, as well as what it will be like when sea level reaches our shoulders. You can even check what your personal carbon footprint is, by the help of an online calculator which was developed especially for the exhibition and is the first of its kind in Israel.

 

What do greenhouse gases look like? Judi Lax explains big concepts in simple language.

Fostering Change Agents

The new exhibition does not, however, intend to scare us into passivity: “We wish to increase the awareness surrounding our daily choices, such as what to eat, how to travel, what to buy and what not to buy. These things have implications and a price beyond the cost of the purchase itself. Oftentimes, people hear about the climate crisis and say, “Ok, but how does this relate to me?” We wish to impart that, although a lot [of damage] has accumulated, it is not all lost. We also have a hand in the matter, and can undo some of the damage,” explains Hadas Zemer Ben-Ari, the exhibition’s curator and designer. “Along with the experience of visiting the exhibition, we strive to make our visitors agents of change, who will spread the message outside the walls of the museum and inspire many others to work for the change that we so desperately need,” says Prof. Tamar Dayan, Museum Chair at the Steinhardt Museum of Nature.

The Museum joins some of the worlds’ largest museums in the common mission to carry out their social role in educating the wider audience on the topic of the climate crisis and the discussion of the biodiversity crisis and its impacts. Museum Director Alon Sapan explains that museums are capable of illustrating and simulating a complex reality and the processes that led to it, along with predictions for the future, while ensuring the visitors’ experience and encouraging their curiosity. “I hope that the exhibition will inspire questions, and also enlighten individuals on how they contribute to positive change by adjusting their personal habits,” concludes Sapan.

 

An invitation to change a habit (or three!) at the “Global Warning” exhibition.

Featured image: The exhibition “Global Warning: The Climate, the Crisis and Us” (Photo: Dor Kimchi)

Read more and purchase tickets here >> 

He’s Bringing Plastic Back

TAU alumnus Tal Cohen and his company “Plastic Back” converts plastic waste back to its original form.

We use plastic in almost every aspect of our lives. It is cheap in production, durable and can be reused multiple times. The problem is, though, that 350M tons of plastic waste is produced annually, out of which only 8% is recycled. To counter the environmental hazard, laws and regulations, are implemented towards reducing landfill and increasing recycling. The EU has pledged to reduce landfilling to 10% of its current capacity by 2030. We spoke with Tal Cohen, a TAU alumnus with an MBA from the Coller School of Management and founder of a startup company called “Plastic Back”, who may have found the perfect solution.

The Big Savior Becomes the Big Offender

When plastic was originally introduced, 70 years ago, it was commonly believed that it would contribute to save the environment. “When plastic was first introduced, it was actually thought to be the big savior of the future environment, replacing the use of ivory, tortoise shell and corals. While petroleum came to the relief of the whale, plastic has given the elephant, the tortoise and the coral a respite in their native haunts,” says Tal. With time, however, it went from being the big savior to instead becoming recognized as a major environmental hazard,” Tal muses. Over the past 70 years since its invention, 8.3 billion tons of plastic waste has been accumulated worldwide.

And how is plastic produced? “After developing over millions of years underground, crude oil is drilled out and extracted. It is then sent to be refined by the petrochemical industry, after which it can be used for various purposes, such as fuel for cars and… plastic production,” explains Tal. Plastic is, in other words, produced from oil, a non-renewable source of energy.  

Tal is well acquainted with plastic. After earning his B.Sc. in Marine Sciences and Environment at the Ruppin Academic Center, Tal Cohen worked as a marine biologist. Three kilometers offshore, surrounded by fish and – you guessed it – plastic, he would research, work in the lab and dive. After a few years, he went on to study for an MBA at Tel Aviv University: “I wanted to learn how to develop technologies and businesses that are focused on ecological solutions. While studying ‘Entrepreneurship and Innovation Technology Management’ at TAU, I was also working at a venture capital fund, handling portfolios of ten renewable energy companies. It taught me a lot about the needs of startups in the renewables field.”

 

Plastic Back’s technology offers waste handlers to help treat their waste streams and create profit, as an alternative to landfill

Bring it Back: A Chemical Solution

Tal Cohen and his Israeli based startup company “Plastic Back” offers an interesting solution: “By way of ‘reverse engineering’, we are able to convert plastic waste back to its original, valuable form of oils, waxes and other valuable chemicals. With unique chemicals, ratios and timing, our technology breaks down the carbon-to-carbon bonds of the plastic polymer to liquid fractions that can be (re)used by the petrochemical industry.” Brilliant, isn’t it?

“While transforming plastic back to oil through burning is already done, that requires very high temperatures, between 600-1000 degrees Celsius, which constitutes an environmental and financial burden. The real innovation here, is that we manage to convert the plastic to oil by chemical means only, and at room temperature. So there’s an environmental advantage which is expressed financially, and it is also advantageous energy-wise. The goal is to offer an alternative to the traditional drilling for additional non-renewable oil.”

The idea, Tal got while he was working with one of the aforementioned portfolio companies: “Once I felt like I had learnt enough about the startup world and what setting up a startup entailed, I went on a mission to find technologies. At The Hebrew University, they had a technology in place from 2016-17. It spoke to me, as it was related to plastic, which I was intimately familiar with from my time working underwater as a marine biologist, and I also knew that the renewables field is evolving.”

“The technology was in place, and so I decided to find out if there was any business interest for it. In 2019, I attended Shell’s competition in Holland, which is the largest energy competition in the EU, where more than 250 companies competed during 10 days of business and technological validation. We ended up in 2nd place. We knew then that there was demand for the crude oil which we were able to convert the plastic back to. Shell was willing to invest and to pay some money up front, so we had some starting capital. I went ahead and founded the company. We have since found an angel investor who invested a certain amount, have received recognition from the European Commission and are taking part in the EU accelerator program.”

Making Waste Vanish and Renewing Non-renewables

Who are the winners with this initiative? “Plastic Back enables a shift from a linear to a circular economy, by closing the loop between the petrochemical industry (including companies such as Shell), which is currently dependent of crude oil drilling and operating under increasingly heavy regulation and pressure, and the waste handlers who receive millions of tons of plastic waste from waste manufacturers, such as agriculture, factories and hospitals and medical devices, most of which goes to landfill. The waste handlers are seeking alternatives, especially as there’s been a fivefold increase in landfill price since 2019. The waste manufacturers, on their side, would gain the ability to treat their waste on site/close by, save expenses on removal and treatment fee and even create profits from their plastic waste.”

Tal is not planning to rest in the coming years, “The research and development phase of our project is completed for the most part. Last year, we successfully proved that there is demand for what we are offering. We have received a grant from the Ministry of Energy to set up our first pilot facility together with an industrial partner in the South of Israel in 2022. A year and a half after that, we would like to set up our first facilities. In five years from now, we should have two or three active facilities, hopefully one of them here in Israel and the rest in Europe.”

 

Tal Cohen presenting his startup at TAU’s Coller $100,000 Startup Competition in July 2021

Featured image: By way of ‘reverse engineering’, Tal’s team is able to convert plastic waste back to its original form.

See You at Naftali

Prof. Itai Sened explains how TAU students will tackle global warming from what will become the greenest building on campus.

The Naftali building, which houses the Gershon H. Gordon Faculty of Social Sciences and was built in the 1960s, is one of the most iconic buildings on campus. And now, Prof. Itai Sened the Dean of the Faculty is planning to turn the building into a green island, attracting students from all faculties.

Imagine walls covered with photovoltaic cells (solar cells that convert solar energy to produce electricity), an open research lab on a roof top, and a green wall in the garden… The physical makeover of the building is only the tip of the iceberg: “This is the infrastructure of the program, and will serve as a focal point for research and development on the topic of climate change for the entire university, quietly contributing ideas and environmental solutions touching on all faculties,” says Prof. Sened.

A Lab that is not a Lab

What will it look like? The walls of the Matanel Garden on the ground floor are already covered with tropical vegetation that gives a sense of freedom and nature. In the garden, it will be possible to hold academic meetings on any subject, and there will be indoors work spaces with screens on the walls, displaying data on how much alternative energy the university produces on all roofs at any given moment. There will be a facility for landless agriculture, where the products will be monitored and tested by research teams. It will also provide raw materials for the cafeteria, which will make a comeback. The cafeteria will be operated by youth at risk, closely accompanied by students of social work and psychology.

The green wall and the agricultural garden will be irrigated with water extracted from the Tel Aviv air, which has been proven suitable for drinking, operated from the roof. An extension of the project, on the roof of the nearby Social Sciences Library, will include gray water purification laboratories, wind energy facilities and more. Solar panels will also cover the southern wall of the building.

The real focal point, however, is the lab. The ‘Laboratory without a laboratory’, as Prof. Sened calls it, will be run by Prof. Hadas Mamane, head of the Environmental Engineering Program at The Iby and Aladar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering, and Dr. Vered Blass from The Department of Environmental Studies, who specializes in circular economy. And where will it be? “The laboratory is located in the minds of students and researchers,” explains Prof. Sened. “The spaces must be open; we cannot continue working with closed laboratories. We are building a unique program here that will take on anything that can be changed. Our goal is to train future leaders to deal with climate and water crises, to create a sustainable future.”

The future Naftali building, complete with vertical gardens, biodomes, solar panels, a shaded lab area, grey water tank and algae ponds.

Flow of Thought

The students in the novel program entailing a “lab-less lab” are master students, Israeli and international. “With us, they learn how to do special things in the most remote places in the world, but they need freedom. It’s a new era. These are young people who grew up in a world without limits. There is no Faculty of Engineering, no Faculty of Law. There are young people who hang out, they are here and there and they keep returning, ” Prof. Sened shares his reasons for setting up the special venture.

“Here you will see graduates of selected academic units who travel to the most remote villages in the world, together with someone from the Faculty of Life Sciences, someone from the School of Computer Science, students from the Faculty of Social Sciences – from Economics, Public Policy, Psychology and Anthropology. They go to those villages because that is what they enjoy doing and exploring. They will not sit here and write a doctorate for five years – that would be torture for them, as it does not suit them anymore. However, if we put them in this new type of lab, they will get a doctorate after they do much more. That is the guiding principle. “

An Entire Generation Looking for Purpose

Prof. Sened explains that while the whole thing  may give off an “engineering and life sciences” vibe, most of the projects that are undertaken there are actually related to the social sciences. “One of our most talented doctoral students is about to start working at the State Comptroller’s Office as a real estate expert. Individuals like her wish to succeed and to change the legislation on all aspects of renewable energy. “

He explains that it is important for their students to know, right from the start, where they will be able to integrate when they complete their degree. “In these projects, they often integrate in the process. A student who goes to Kenya to purify water, install solar panels, or to study a worm that is making its name known in corn crops – may be noticed and ‘snatched” – and will already be on his way to another project. That’s how it works.”

“The infrastructure of what we are building here is 20% of the matter, and it is what is visible to the eye. However, the most interesting part is the remaining 80%, the minds involved. And they are not limited by space (…) We needed something visible, and so we built the green Naftali. Now they will finally be visible, ” concludes Prof. Sened.

Students hanging out in the Naftali garden surrounded by its green walls

A New Tool for Combating Discrimination

After decade long study, the Kantor Center has published a special book edition on legislation against discrimination and racism around the globe.

The Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry recently completed writing four extensive volumes of legislation covering existing anti-discrimination laws on the grounds of racism, religion and ethnicity in all 195 countries of the world. Entitled “Legislating for Equality – a Multinational Collection of Non-Discrimination Norms.” It is the first time that researchers have mapped, examined and compared policies aimed at eradicating discrimination in each country.

The comprehensive initiative, led by Adv. Talia Naamat, legal researcher at the Kantor Center, involved in-depth examination of the countries’ constitutions, as well as international conventions and agreements. Universities and researchers from around the world contributed. Recognizing the value this work brings to the global stage, former Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova wrote the introduction to the volumes published by Brill, one of the world’s leading law book publisher.

From Antisemitic Laws to Racist Laws

“The study was born out of a practical need to combat antisemitism,” says Naamat, the editor-in-chief of the volumes. “We started working on it in 2011, when researchers approached us with questions about antisemitic legislation following a seminar on the subject. We’d receive questions such as where Holocaust denial was allowed and where it was forbidden.” Prof. Dina Porat, Head of the Kantor Center, recalls “One of the researchers mentioned the law in his country, when another researcher jumped in and pointed out that in his country the situation was different.”

The research quickly expanded, “We realized that we needed to review the information in a broader manner, looking at the general prohibition of discrimination and the combatting of all types of racism. Thus we began compiling the relevant constitutional clauses, parts of penal codes as well as the language of specific laws,” explains Naamat.   

In the volumes, the authors sorted the countries according to continents. Obtaining the information was more straightforward for some continents than others. The highly organized and digitized nature of the information gathered from European countries made the research easier, while for continents like Africa and Asia they had to win collaborations with universities and other bodies in order to obtain the necessary data, translate the information to English and obtain the required translation certificates. Many of the laws had never before been published in English.

Israel and the World

Legislation, of course, does not necessarily reflect the actual situation on ground. The researchers consulted with annual reports from the U.S. State Department, among others, to assess the situation in each country. “We addressed such discrepancies in the footnotes. For example, if the constitution in a particular country stipulates that every citizen has the right to political organization, but we know the actual situation on ground is catastrophic and that there’s currently a civil war taking place there, then we’d address this in the comments,” notes Naamat.

And what is the current situation here in Israel? “We like to compare ourselves to Europe, and we do operate with a high standard for freedom of expression in Israel. The enforcement, however, is more severe in Europe, and the whole discourse is conducted differently here,” says Naamat. Porat adds, “While calling another person a ‘Nazi’ in Europe is an offence which may lead to punishment, here in Israel a person can use the word [unpunished] from morning to evening. We have this absurd situation whereby we [Israelis] demand that Europeans enforce it, while we do not have a single law on the subject ourselves.” 

The Israeli discourse is more open than in Europe – for better or worse

Human Rights Violations Against Witches and Persons with Albinism

Our research showed that culture, form of government and attitudes towards religion greatly influenced legislation. “We were surprised to see that there are countries with harsh realities on ground, but with good constitutions. The constitutions of Saudi Arabia, Libya and Iran, for instance, appear very enlightened. If you had read the constitutions of any of these countries without preexisting knowledge about the country, you could mistake it for being all about equality and solidarity”, says Porat.

The degree of separation between state and religion was also a significant factor. “For example, in Iran where the Sharia law, a religious law, has been incorporated into the country’s otherwise secular laws. Other religious principles can be found, such as permitting the murder of a person who has raped or harmed another person,” notes Porat.

The volume about African countries shows how religion and culture influence legislation, for example through the persecution of witches and albino hunting. “We may expect legislation to be something that represents net justice, while in practice it is a product of what you and I believe and believe in. For example, there are religious principles that contradict human rights and the freedom of religion and worship. We have seen laws prohibiting the persecution of witches and albinos (there are places where being in the possession of an albino person’s limbs is considered a blessing), and the fundamental question arose as to when religious worship should be allowed and when religion violates human rights,” Naamat and Porat explain.

 

Leave them alone. An albino child anno 2021.

Legislation is Dynamic

The good news is that in most countries of the world laws are constantly being renewed and updated. The circumstances for enacting new laws vary. In 2008, the EU announced that all member states must align and enact anti-discrimination laws, which led to widespread legislation across the continent.

Porat and Naamat point to growing global immigration over the last decade as one of the main influences on changes in legislation: “We observed this in the early 1990s, when a big wave of immigration began. The USSR disintegrated, Germany united, waves of immigrants changed their direction and, and new questions emerged: Who is an immigrant? Who is a refugee? Who is a foreign worker? Who deserves what? The legislation was expanded and many new laws were introduced.”

“As immigration grew, so did racism, discrimination, and harsh expressions. The mass immigration to Germany led to the rise of neo-Nazism and the extreme right, which is actually a counter-reaction of those who ask ‘What about us? You care about the immigrants but what will happen with us?’” says Naamat.

Where Are We Headed?

The situation on ground may not look particularly bright in many places. However, these new books make the information accessible for all, openly presenting what is happening all over the world. The anthology could serve as a source of hope and pave the way for revolutions. “We are offering a tool that allows countries to compare their laws with those of other countries, and improve them. Such activity started as soon as the books were published. The secretary of the Jewish community in Greece received a copy and went on to check the existing laws in Europe against Holocaust denial. He told us that the information helped him promote an amended law in his country. And this will happen in other places,” predicts Porat.

 

Israel’s Supreme Court President Justice Esther Hayut receives the four volumes.

 

Porat presented the four volumes to Supreme Court President Justice Esther Hayut during a special visit to the country’s highest judicial officer. Chief Justice Hayut congratulated Prof. Porat on the academic achievement, noting that it adds an important dimension to the war on racism and discrimination against various peoples and groups in the world.

The meeting was also attended by former president of Tel Aviv University Professor Emeritus Yoram Dinstein who chaired the scientific committee that accompanied the work; former Deputy President of the Supreme Court Justice Prof. Elyakim Rubinstein and Supreme Court Justice Daphne Barak-Erez who were members of the accompanying committee; Adv. Talia Naamat and Celia and Jack Michonik who generously supported the work.

“Thank you, Your Excellency, on behalf of everyone present, for the time you have devoted to us and for the interest which you have shown our work. We hope that these volumes will contribute, albeit modestly, to the fight against racism-based discrimination in the world – an evil which is present in many countries and societies. And that’s consistent with the spirit of the values that our Supreme Court, of which we are proud, leads in your leadership,” said Prof. Porat excitedly. 

Featured image: Prof. Dina Porat with the four volumes

TAU Medical Student to Swim for Israel at Summer Olympics

Andi Murez enhances her athletic performance at the Sylvan Adams Sports Institute.

“Most people tell me I’m crazy to be a professional swimmer and medical student, but I couldn’t give either up, so I tried to do both, not knowing whether I would succeed at either,” says Andrea “Andi” Murez during a break between training sessions at the University’s Sylvan Adams Sports Institute and the neighboring Sports Center. “I’m proud that I’ve given it a shot and prevailed.”

A Balancing Act

In 2017, California native Murez enrolled at TAU in the Sackler School of Medicine New York State/American Program. She has since completed her first two years in the MD Program that offers English courses for students from North America. 

This will be 29-year-old Murez’s second Olympics; she previously represented Israel in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. With the Games in sight, the Israeli national record-holder in the 100-meter and 200-meter freestyle has taken a temporary break from her studies to focus on her Olympic aspirations. Following Tokyo, she will return to medical training and begin two years of clinical rotations at TAU-affiliated hospitals.

Training at TAU

Murez’s grueling routine in the final stretch to Tokyo consists of regular sessions at TAU facilities, including performance analyses at the Sylvan Adams Sports Institute, alongside teammates from Israel’s Olympic delegation and its national swim team.

Established in 2018, the Institute focuses on improving athletic capabilities in endurance sports: swimming, running, cycling, and triathlon. The Institute houses a state-of-the-art flume (counter-current) pool that helps swimmers improve their craft by testing factors such as limb function, movement symmetry and muscle fatigue.

 

Murez trains at the flume pool at TAU's Sylvan Adams Sports Center (Photo: Moshe Bedarshi)

Murez trains at the flume pool at TAU’s Sylvan Adams Sports Center (Photo: Moshe Bedarshi)

“Having Andi and other members of the Olympic team at the Institute is a realization of the Sylvan Adams Sports Institute’s mission, which is to enhance the abilities of Israel’s top athletes and nurture Olympic-level champions,” says the Institute’s Director, Prof. Chaim Pick of TAU’s Department of Anatomy & Anthropology, Sackler Faculty of Medicine.

“In a sport where every hundredth of a second matters, training sessions such as those performed at the Sylvan Adams Sports Institute—which could not have been done elsewhere in Israel—are vital for high-level swimmers such as Andi to evaluate and fine-tune their technique,” he adds.

WATCH: Murez trains at the flume pool at TAU’s Sylvan Adams Sports Center

 

For her part, Murez appreciates the variety of performance building options available at TAU. “Some people perform better in the flume pool, some in the open pool,” she says. “It’s great to have both for a holistic approach.”

Diving into Israel

In addition to her Olympic aims, Murez hopes to inspire other women along with potential olim to realize their dreams in Israel, particularly when it comes to athletics and higher education. 

“Growing up, I never thought I’d swim for Israel—but it’s been great,“ says Murez.

 

Murez will swim for Israel at the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan (Photo: Moshe Bedarshi)

Andi Murez is making waves in the pool and the classroom (Photo: Moshe Bedarshi)

The 17-time Maccabiah Games medalist credits formative experiences at the so-called “Jewish Olympics” for connecting her to Israel. Murez decided to make aliya following the 2013 Maccabiah, where a local counterpart drove home the exciting potential of living and swimming in Israel. 

After undergraduate studies at Stanford University, she accepted a spot on the Israeli National Swimming Team and made aliya in 2014. Murez encourages others to follow similar paths. “It was a very welcoming experience,” she enthuses.” I love it here.”

She views swimming and medicine not as disparate endeavors, but as parallel tracks with many similarities. “The medical path is a long and rigorous journey, which takes patience and delayed gratification—two things I have experienced as a swimmer. When I was stressed in the classroom, I had swimming to fall back on,” she says. “When I’m stressed by swimming, I can focus on school to help me feel better.”

“The TAU faulty supported my passion for swimming and allowed me to take two years off of school to train for the Tokyo Olympics,” she notes. “I feel very fortunate that I found a great medical program to continue my studies.” Murez also nods to her classmates for their support. “In our program, I often studied in groups with classmates. If I fell behind on the material because of trainings, they would help me catch up,” she recounts. “They even came to a few swim meets to cheer me on!”

Following the 2021 Olympics, Murez plans to stay in Israel and pursue her professional swimming career alongside working as a physician. We wish Andi good luck and will continue to root for her in all her endeavors!

 

Murez will swim for Israel at the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan (Photo: Moshe Bedarshi)

Murez will swim for Israel at the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan (Photo: Moshe Bedarshi)

Featured image: TAU medical student and Olympic contender Andi Murez poolside at the University’s Sports Center (Photo: Moshe Bedarshi)

The Faculty of Engineering Predicts: A Greener and Safer Future

Graduates of TAU’s School of Mechanical Engineering present innovative projects.

 

Just like every year, graduates of the School of Mechanical Engineering of The Iby and Aladar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering recently presented the projects they have been working on throughout their final year of studying towards their degree. A lot of ground was covered, with one project promising those suffering from nightmares after trauma to sleep peacefully, another offering a robot capable of disinfecting aircrafts from viruses, and other teams have developed drones designed and developed to transport defibrillators and first aid kits through areas that are either difficult or downright impossible to access from the ground. Seeing these original ideas makes it clear how the faculty’s motto is befitting for those who enter (and perhaps even more so for those who exit) its gates: “Those who fall in love with a problem are the ones who will find a solution to it.”

Thinking Within the Box

We use them every day, usually multiple times a day, but how much thought do we dedicate to the garbage bins in our homes? And, while we’re on the subject, have you ever thought to calculate how many garbage bags you dispose of every year? As environmentally-conscious people, Tal Kelmachter and Nimrod Ben-Yehuda have given this more than a little thought, and got inspired to design their very own garbage can.

The exterior part of the bin does not distinguish itself much from your standard garbage bin. The secret is hidden within the box: the uniqueness of this product is that it does not require a plastic bag, which is an environmental hazard. Nimrod explains, “We designed it as a stand-alone solution which does not require any special infrastructure, like drainage, water supply and electricity. Once you have emptied the contents of the garbage bin, an integral rinsing mechanism cleanses it on the inside, easily and quickly. The water is contained in a clean water container, and a mechanical pump forces the water through a system of pipes with a no-return valve to a system of sprinklers that showers the sides of the tin from the inside. The dirty water then flows into a dedicated water drawer which is easy to empty. The result is a garbage bin that remains clean and free of bad odors and contaminants.”

Tal adds, “During the past few years there has been increased awareness which has led to a growing trend of reducing plastic use and recycling. And yet, there is currently no product on the market that completely prevents the use of garbage bags. Nimrod and I managed to find a solution to this problem.”

 

Tal Kelmachter and Nimrod Ben-Yehuda with their green garbage bin, ECOCAN

Enjoy the Ride

A few minutes into Aviv Halachmi’s motorcycle drive to his girlfriend in Beer Sheva, his headset ran out of battery. The annoying experience motivated Aviv to form the ChargElmet team together with fellow students Tal Belilty and Itay Shulman.

“Motorcyclists attach a variety of electronic components to their helmets, such as hands free and camera, in order to enhance their riding experience. These utilities have batteries that require charging. We designed and built a system which uses the wind and the sun to produce green energy to charge gadgets from motorcycle helmets while you travel”, says Aviv.

Did the project become a smoother ride than Aviv’s trip to his girlfriend? Not at all. The team ran into plenty of difficulties along the way: “The system we created is multidisciplinary and contains a lot of engineering elements from various fields, not all related to mechanical engineering, such as electrical diagrams, electrical design including the investigation and selection of the appropriate cards and components and much more. So, we were forced to learn a lot while on the job. That being said, solving issues that arose throughout the process and accomplishing the end product brought us tremendous satisfaction,” he shares.

Aviv concludes, “For now, our invention is geared towards motorcyclists and improving their lives. In the future, we plan to expand the project to address all two-wheelers (bicycles, scooters…). On a macro level, our vision is to improve public awareness of green energy and to take part in the global trend of promoting and transitioning to renewable energy.”

 

Itay Shulman, Tal Belilty and Aviv Halachmi found a way to improve other motorcyclists’ lives

Hover and Save

This year, the presence of the drone stood out in the Innovate project (a cooperation between TAU and Elbit Systems Ltd), which encompasses several complementary projects on the subject of detecting, rescuing and making life-saving first aid accessible to those trapped under earthquake ruins.

May Davidovich and Ariel Drizin tell us about their part in the project:” We presented a design and a preliminary prototype for a robotic first aid release arm system, installed on a drone and controlled by a dedicated control system, making it easier for the rescue forces to maneuver among the trapped and offer them first aid. In the future, the project can be advanced by allowing for larger systems capable of carrying heavier kits.”

“Our premise was that the system we were planning would be part of a swarm of drones, including one that would scan and photograph the area, a parent drone that would carry a large number of kits, and drones that would know how to receive kits from the parent glider, bring these to the person(s) trapped and then to release the kit. The system will be controlled by an operator from his control room, who will receive information about the trapped, put together a suitable kit, bring it to the disaster stricken area, and release it as close as possible to the trapped.”

May recounts sleepless nights: “The system worked fine up until a few days before the project was to be presented. As we were putting the parts together, we discovered that we had made some measurement errors prior to the printing of the parts, which meant the components didn’t work properly together.”

“We also had to make several design changes and print the model three times before we achieved the desired result. We learnt that when you print the prototype, you need to consider the system in its entirety, which is hard to do before all the components arrive. It is a time-consuming process which requires a lot of planning in advance.”

“We hope that our invention will help streamline the process of rescuing people who are trapped. For instance, by taking measures and signaling back to the control room the severity of the physical condition of victims, so the rescue can be prioritized accordingly. There are many more potential usages, not necessarily related to rescue, such as grocery delivery from the supermarket.”

 

Extending their robotic arm. Ariel Drizin and May Davidovich.

Saving the Black Box

Did you know that every plane crash is investigated in depth to determine the cause of the crash? Yaniv Alon, Dor Cohen and Ido Rosenzweig designed a system to be ejected from a plane in the event of a crash, and which transmits location details and additional data, significantly reducing the radius of the search for a plane when contact has been lost.

“The system includes a smart box with electronics and internal controllers. When it recognizes that the plane is about to crash, it is ejected from the plane at high speed with the help of mechanisms that we developed. It then falls to the ground with a parachute and can weather any condition, on land or sea.”, explains Yaniv. He clarifies that the system is not meant to replace the black box, but rather it is meant to offer a better alternative to the aircraft transmission systems that exist today, which tend not to be resilient or ejected, and usually vary according to the aircraft systems.

They started working on the project already last year. After a thorough examination of the system’s weaknesses and failures they undertook significant adjustments and enhancements before presenting the product this year. “We encountered quite a few complications along the way, when deciding how to operate the mechanism, examining various alternatives, finding suitable components, communication with suppliers, delivery delays and manufacturing glitches, requiring us to do ping-pong between the workshop and the production. However, thanks to our combined creativity, determination, efforts and our dedicated project manager Danny Barko, we were able to create a functioning product.”, he says.

When asked how they think their invention will contribute to change our lives, Yaniv replies, “The two main problems those who investigate plane crashes are faced with today, are that the black boxes are not ejected and that they are not resilient, which means that they mostly disappear along with the the aircraft. Unproductive field searches can reach sums of around $155 million. A system is required that will allow for swift and effective investigations and save us a lot of resources and money. Our solution meets these requirements and might even end up saving lives by helping locating crashed planes and their black boxes, advancing the investigation of the failures that led to the planes’ crash and preventing similar future cases.”

 

Will they help find the black box? Ido Rosenzweig, Dor Cohen and Yaniv Alon

Diamonds in the Rough

Maximizing the potential of TAU students on the autism spectrum.

Giving a presentation in front of a class can be daunting for any university student. For someone with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it can be terrifying. Routine study tasks like this can make higher education an unattainable dream for most people with ASD, which reduces the ability to connect with people. To help, TAU established Yahalom (“Diamond”), a comprehensive program that supports high-functioning ASD students from the moment they enroll at TAU through to graduation. “Today we know that ASD does not necessarily affect a person’s academic abilities,” says Alberto Meschiany, Head of the Psychological Services Unit at the Dean of Students Office, which runs the Yahalom program. “We support ASD students in whatever they need help with—primarily enhancing their interpersonal communication skills and ability to independently navigate the complexities of campus life.” Yahalom was launched in October 2017 with 10 students. Today it has 46—an almost fivefold increase in three years. “Ultimately, we aim to substantially boost these students’ independence and self-confidence, ensure they complete their degree, and broaden the range of options open to them once they enter the employment market,” explains Meschiany.

Mentors: Heart of the program

Yahalom is run by a dedicated coordinator who gets to know each of the ASD students and also recruits and trains volunteer TAU students as mentors. The goal is to ensure that the mentors know what to expect and how to communicate with ASD people, reduce their anxiety, help with their dealings vis-à-vis the staff and lecturers, accompany them to classes, and meet whatever other day-to-day needs may arise during the academic year. Demand among students wishing to be mentors is high, says Meschiany. “Right now, we can only give the mentors token scholarships, but we would love to give them larger ones. This is our biggest funding need,” he adds. Mentors help in myriad ways. For example, Yahalom heard about an ASD student who had been unnecessarily buying expensive textbooks for almost two years because he didn’t know how to make photocopies at the library and was too embarrassed to ask for help. He was immediately assigned a mentor who now helps him with these types of issues. Many ASD students have asked their mentors for advice on how to tell their classmates about their condition and the difficulties they face.

Personal ties reduce stress

Efrat Gilboa, a third-year student of Psychology and Law at TAU, mentors two ASD students. “I’ve always enjoyed volunteering and helping others, and used to work with special needs children. I thought that Yahalom could be an amazing opportunity for me not only to help autistic people integrate into the University, but to try to see the world through their eyes,” she says. “As a Yahalom mentor, my main job is to help the students cope with their study load, better manage their time, and help them flourish,” she explains. “But now we have a real friendship. My students can—and do—contact me whenever they feel like it, whether it’s to ask me a question or show me something interesting that they saw on their way to the campus.” “It’s a real privilege and fantastic experience to be able to mentor these students. They are among some of the best people I’ve had the opportunity to meet,” says Gilboa. “Since I began mentoring them half a year ago, I can see that my students are now less stressed and anxious and are better at managing their time.”  

An interdisciplinary approach

Along with providing opportunities for ASD students, TAU is pursuing autism research from diverse perspectives. “Together with other neurodevelopmental disorders, autism needs to be addressed by academics from multiple areas—neuroscientists, geneticists, psychologists, cell biologists, speech therapists and social workers—alongside practicing pediatricians, neurologists and psychiatrists,” says Prof. Karen Avraham, Vice Dean at TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine. “This is why TAU, with its inherently interdisciplinary research culture and strong ties with hospitals, is ideally positioned to bring about influential discoveries in the field—and why it has made autism research a strategic priority.” One such researcher is cognitive neuropsychologist Prof. Lilach Shalev of the Jaime and Joan Constantiner School of Education who heads the Attention Lab, affiliated with the Sagol School of Neuroscience. She develops novel training programs aimed at improving academic performance of learners from kindergarten to university students, and assesses their outcomes using neuropsychological, eye-tracking, brain-imaging and psychological measures. Her main work centers on the Computerized Progressive Attention Training Program (CPAT) that she pioneered for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in 2007; it is now implemented in several countries. Several years ago, Prof. Shalev expanded her research focus to include autism. “Our system was shown to work with great results among autistic people, also for their behavioral and communication difficulties, and we were very surprised,” she explains. These findings might also be relevant for university students on the autistic spectrum. Read about  how TAU alumna, Noga Keinan, promotes the integration of ASD students in higher education. Meschiany concludes: “The tailored support we offer Yahalom participants helps to level the playing field relative to their peers. These are very intelligent students with a high capacity to learn. Our job is to help them overcome their social difficulties and fulfill their potential.” By Ruti Ziv Featured image: Efrat Gilboa mentors two ASD students

Is It Game Over for The British Monarchy?

TAU scholars weigh in on whether losing the queen will mean losing the game.

Duchess Meghan and Prince Harry’s bombshell interview on the Oprah Winfrey Show was watched by millions around the world, and subjected the institution of the royal British family to fierce scrutiny. The interview sparked debates in media on the future of the monarchy, some arguing that it is an outdated form of government. The recent death of Queen Elizabeth II’s husband, Prince Philip, is a reminder that the Queen’s nearly 70-year reign is in its final stretch. Most Brits do not remember a time when Queen Elizabeth II, now 95, did not reside in the Buckingham Palace. Prince Charles III (72), the Queen’s eldest son and heir, is undeniably less popular than his mother, prompting the question of whether the British monarchy will survive for much longer after Elizabeth is gone. Is it time to give the monarchy a royal good-bye wave? We asked a few of our scholars to share some thoughts on the situation of the British monarchy today.

A Royal Mess?

For a cultural and historical perspective, we turned to Prof. Noam Reisner, who is an expert on Renaissance English literature and culture from TAU’s Department of English and American Studies in The Lester and Sally Entin Faculty of Humanities. Reisner doesn’t think the British monarchy is in the midst of any form of existential crisis. Reisner explains, “With the exception of a brief and unsuccessful 11-year stint with republican rule, which ended in 1660, England has had a remarkable continuity of royals. After the 11-year long, failed republican experiment, monarchy was quickly restored and the Brits never looked back.” The challenge for Elizabeth and her heirs going forward, he says, will be to reinterpret the royal house’s contract with the people, to keep it relevant. But its footing is strong: “For the Brits, the monarchy is not an invented tradition, but rather it is a part of the country’s DNA, and strongly ingrained in its culture. Its popularity remains high, as it symbolizes to the Brits what they are as a people: Constant, united and permanent.”

Royal Plates and Netflix

“Constant, united and permanent” would make an excellent tagline for the Royal House, wouldn’t it? Could the British Monarchy be regarded as a brand? We asked Prof. Shai Danziger from TAU’s Coller School of Management, a professor of marketing who is fascinated by how consumers process information and make decisions. Prof. Shai Danziger suggests the success of the British royal family as a brand can be measured by comparing it to other long lasting brands that have been able to retain customer loyalty over decades: “I see a successful brand as having unique and clear identifying features and as having a set of strong, favorable and unique associations in the minds of its primary stakeholders (typically consumers). The more readily accessible the brand is in consumers’ mind, and the stronger, more favorable and unique associations it has, the more consumers will be willing to ‘invest’ resources such as time and money in the brand. Would a consumer be willing to pay more for a branded plate with the queen’s picture on it than one without? Or, in the context of media consumption, would consumers be willing to consume more media when they know it is about the royal family – such as reading tabloid articles about William and Kate and watching Netflix series like ‘The Crown’?” Judging by the many millions of households worldwide (the UK and the US being the strongest markets) that have watched the royal drama since it began in 2016, the royal brand is faring well. What does the future look like, for the British monarchy, as a corporate brand? Danziger says, “only the future will tell whether younger consumers will still find the royal family relevant and interesting or a remnant of the past. In a world where values are rapidly changing and social media dictates popularity, it may be difficult for a very traditional establishment such as the royal family to keep up with the times.”   Royal wedding souvenirs commemorating Harry and Meghan’s royal wedding

The Glue that Binds Everything Together

We asked Dr. Alon Yakter from The School of Political Science, Government and International Affairs to pitch in with his thought on the continued relevancy and chances of the British monarchy, in particular given the recent commotions. Yakter’s research and teaching interests include comparative political economy and social policy, identity politics, and electoral behavior during conflicts. Yakter notes that in the Western world, monarchies remain popular, acting as a unifying and symbolic force. He does not believe that the monarchies as such are going anywhere anytime soon. They will, however, need to adapt to the daily life of this century: “Europe is becoming ethnically more heterogeneous, so the royals will need to be more inclusive, so that people of diverse cultures in their countries feel that the royals represent them too. That’s why the alleged concern within the British royal house about the skin color of Harry and Meghan’s then-yet-to-be-born son, Archie, was and remains a big deal.” “Furthermore, strides will have to be made by the royals to become more ‘like ordinary people’ – they should for instance give a thought to their continued reliance on taxes. However, while our world may feel less stable at present time, this might even work to strengthen the monarchy, and democratic parliamentary monarchies in particular, as long as the royals make sure to stay out of politics and play their cards right.” Yakter is unfazed by Duchess Meghan and Prince Harry’s marriage and the ensuing controversies, noting that this type of drama is nothing new: “Similar commotions have taken place in other monarchies and with other royals in the past – and the monarchies survived. The factory kept running. Because it is, indeed, an operation – and one which excels at PR. Prince Philip opened the Castle to the public. He wanted the royal family to engage more with the people, and insisted that the coronation of the Queen (in 1953) should be shown on TV. The royals reinvented themselves, as celebrities and symbols. And they have indeed gotten closer to the people. This is a new trend, one which followed the world wars and the understanding by West European monarchies in particular that their role had changed. What the royals have to offer the people, is to continue to be the glue that binds everything together.” Featured image: The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, as portrayed in the popular Netflix TV-series “The Crown”.

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