AIPAC Village offers an insider glimpse to Israeli innovation

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Inside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center here, you can learn how one Israeli tech company is creating a vest that protects against radiation, how another that is bringing guide dog training to the Middle East and how a third is modifying bananas to keep them ripe longer.

At the AIPAC Policy Conference now underway, “The Village,” on the center’s lower level, serves as a cafeteria, a concert venue, a place for panel discussions and an innovation showcase all in one.

Although the panels and the projects that were featured all had a different focus, they all highlighted one thing: collaboration.

“Our technology is in their fields and their technology is in our fields,” research scientist Yafit Cohen said of a partnership her organization has with the University of Georgia to test ways to monitor the irrigation of a field. “This is how we share knowledge.”

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Cohen, who is working with the Israeli research institute Volcani, said the goal of their project is not to compete with other Israeli companies but to complement one another with different technologies, as well as help farmers to utilize whatever equipment they choose.

“In every generation, another step is made,” she said.

And then, since it is AIPAC, Cohen and other researchers, entrepreneurs and policy makers who were presenting their ideas, were also promoting how Israeli advancements can benefit the United States, and how their American listeners can help bring them here.

“You’ve got to get industry to work together,” Gili Elkin, a partner in the Israeli-Colorado Innovation Fund, which funds the implementation of Israeli advancements in America, said at a panel on how Israel manages their water supply. “The United States should start importing Israeli water technologies now.”

Although this particular panel pushed heavily for the partnerships of public and private water authorities in the United States — a topic that automatically lends itself to state and local political discussion — most of the ideas discussed in the Village tended to steer clear of politics, focusing instead on personal stories of successful startup initiatives or looking back on the people and moments that shaped Israeli history.

Gil Haskel, the deputy director of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the story of Foreign Minister Golda Meir offering aid to Africa in 1957.

“We did not have eggs or milk [in Israel].] We had egg powder and milk powder and they were rationed,” he said. “And there you have leaders deciding, ‘Do we establish aid [for countries in Africa]?’ and their decision was immediately ‘yes.’”

Sivan Ya’ari, another presenter, shared her story of founding Innovation: Africa, a company that is bringing solar power, energy and water to rural Africa. The mission is to “help them empower themselves,” she said. “The installation of the solar energy is the easy part.”

The speakers and presenters may sound too optimistic about their technologies’ potential.

But, once hear about how you can increase crop yields with technologies as simple as a large vacuum for pests or as complex as infrared imaging; and using augmented reality to help first responders with disaster relief — it’s not hard to agree with panelist Avi Jorisch, who said, “You have one of the smallest countries in the world trying to solve the biggest problems.”

Lauren Rosenblatt is digital content manager for the Jewish Chronicle in Pittsburgh.

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