Nostalgia Sunday – BGU Looks Back

Aerial view of campus - circa 1975Ben-Gurion University of the Negev was established in 1969 with the aim of promoting the development of the Negev. Today, BGU is a major center for teaching and research with close to 20,000 students, five faculties with 51 academic departments and units, six schools of which five are in health-related fields, and eight research institutes. It’s convivial academic atmosphere, active campus life and pioneering “making-the-desert-bloom” spirit has also made it Israel’s most popular school for undergraduate studies.

A new exhibition, “From the Past to the Future” opened last week at the George Shrut Visitors Center Gallery at Ben-Gurion University (BGU). The exhibit, prepared by the BGU’s Department of Publications and Media Relations, is the culmination of a project to build a digital database that will be an authoritative source of the University’s history.

Old photographs and negatives of images taken before the digital age that had been stored in the University’s warehouses were scanned and transferred to digital format. They are now available in an online archive that that serves the whole University, presenting its history from the groundbreaking ceremony…


The dusty hills where a modern campus now stands…


To photographs of historical events and visits of dignitaries and high-ranking officials such as Defense Minister Gen. Moshe Dayan…

Moshe Dayan

And celebrity supporters from around the world, such as movie star Elizabeth Taylor.

Elizabeth Taylor

There are also images of campus life as it was in years gone by. The library with its hard-copy index system — where are those index cards and file cabinets now?

student in library - 1980's

A rare desert snowfall in the year 2000…

For the first time in decades, in January 2000, snow fell in Be'er Sheva.

To give you an idea of how far BGU has come, here’s a present-day shot of the Ilse Katz Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology.

BGU Ilse Katz Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology

Information for some of the photographs is incomplete. If you have photos or details to share, contact BGU’s Department of Publications and Media.

Tomorrow never knows

mayanAs I’m sitting writing this on December 21, looking out over the gray skies above the Judean Hills, it does look quite ominous. But, it doesn’t appear that the end of the 5,000-year-long Mayan calendar which a global frenzy has surmised signals the final Armageddon is going to result in the end of the world. Some strong winds, whipping rain and cold temperatures perhaps, but that’s pretty normal for late December.

Of course, I could be proven wrong, in which case it’s been a pleasure writing for Israelity. However, I have hunch we’ll still be here tomorrow.

According to Mayan culture expert Dr. Barak Afik, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who specializes in the ancient history of Latin America, the Mayan equivalent of a millennium is a “great cycle,” which lasts 5,200 years. He told The Jerusalem Post’s Melanie Lidman that the current great cycle, which they believed was the fifth such cycle since the beginning of the world, ends on December 21, 2012.

In contrast to the Western concept of time, Mayans believed that time was cyclical. Afik described the Mayans’ view of time as a spiral: We have now finished one circle and are climbing upward to the next. For them, the end of the calendar was a time of deep introspection.

The HU professor explained that if Mayans were alive today, they would ask themselves – as a community – what did we learn during the last cycle? What wars did we fight and how can we learn to make peace with our neighbors? What technology did we invent and how can we use it to improve our individual and communal lives? What is the state of our environment? How are we impacting the natural world? What did we do well, and what did we do poorly? Mayans also firmly believed that an unbalanced natural world, suffering from uncharacteristically strong storms, or what today’s world would call pollution, could only be balanced once internal problems within the community were solved, he said.

It sounds like instead of focusing on end of the world parties and constant replaying of REM’s “It’s the End of The World” and Elvis Costello’s “Waiting for the End of the World,” we should be taking some of Afik’s comments to heart. Because if any civilization needs some introspection and corrections, it’s our Western one.

And why do I have a hunch the world will still be here tomorrow? I take my clue from the late, great Warren Zevon, who once sang about earthquakes in California and how he wasn’t afraid because as long as he owed money to the bar of the hotel he was in, it would remain standing.

I still have 12 years mortgage payments left, so I’m equally confident that the world will remain whole until I pay my bill.

Foto Friday – Save A Child’s Heart

Over the years, ISRAEL21c has written many times about Save A Child’s Heart (SACH). But quite honestly, there can never be enough mentions of this amazing Israel-based international humanitarian project, whose mission is to improve the quality of pediatric cardiac care for children from developing countries suffering from heart disease and to create centers of competence in those countries.

Photo by Nati Shohat

To date, SACH has treated more than 2,900 children suffering from congenital and rheumatic heart disease, aged 0 to 18 years of age — most recently one and a half year-old Clairia Irangabiye of Burundi, the 43rd country on the SACH roster.

SACH patients are brought to Israel to be treated at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon. Approximately 50% of the children are from the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Iraq and Morocco; more than 30% are from Africa; and the remaining are from Asia, Eastern Europe and the Americas.

Photo by Natalie Behring

Most patients have their medical costs covered by SACH and its partners, from the moment the child comes into care and until they have fully recovered – even if they require a lifetime of check-ups.

Photo by Natalie Behring

A few years ago, SACH initiated a follow-up project, to contact their former patients and get updated on their current health and life.

Yared Worde of Ethiopia, whose life was saved by SACH in 1999, is today principle of the School of Saint Yared in Addis Ababa, which fights poverty through education of 100 of the city’s poorest and under-privileged children.

SACH has also been aided by volunteer photographers including Eli Gross, who curated From Art to Heart, a traveling exhibition that fosters awareness of the program and raises funds around the world.

Check out this online version of the photo exhibition. To learn more about SACH, contact them at

Nostalgia Sunday – As Always Hadassah

Over the past decade, Israel21c has written dozens of articles about Israeli advancements in healthcare and medical research. A hefty percentage of these mention the word “Hadassah” because, in fact, Hadassah — the hospital and the organization that funds it — are all but synonymous with healthcare and medical research in Israel.

Hadassah’s Centennial Convention opens tomorrow in Jerusalem — a nice moment to make note of a few of the Women’s Organization’s many accomplishments and contributions that have benefited healthcare not only in Israel but around the world as well.

Hadassah medical ‘firsts’ include the first double bypass surgery in Israel (1964), the first successful bone marrow transplant in Israel (1977), first “Test Tube” baby in Israel (1983), first successful heart transplant in Israel (1986), first successful liver transplant in Israel (1991) and the first successful lung transplant in Israel.

In the new millennium, Hadassah’s medical success went global, conducting the first computer-guided hip replacement in the world (2004), the first successful freezing of ovaries before chemotherapy treatment (2007) and the first successful pregnancy using ova genetically tested prior to implantation (2008).

Hadassah was also responsible for opening the first ambulatory surgery center in Israel (1986), Israel’s first trauma unit (1991) and has pioneered many other innovative and unique medical treatments. In 2005, Hadassah was nominated for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize for its ongoing initiatives to use medicine as a bridge to peace.

A list of highlights is available online, as is a fascinating timeline of the history of Hadassah. Below, we present a few movies from the Hadassah vault — they serve to illustrate the organization’s long-standing commitment to healthcare in Israel, the Middle East and the world.

As Always Hadassah (from The Spielberg Jewish Film Archive)

A Lifeline for Israel – The Hadassah Medical Organization, 1913-1967

Hadassah: In The Midst of Crisis 1967

Hadassah & Israel: A Partnership of Distinction

Hadassah: A Day to Remember

Hadassah: How the Future Was Built

Foto Friday – The Seven Species

The biblical Seven Species (shiva’at ha-minim) are seven agricultural products listed in Deuteronomy 8:8 as typifying the bounty of the Land of Israel. There are two grains — wheat and barley — and five fruits — grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and/or olive oil, and dates and/or date-honey (silan), which is alternately interpreted as honey.

At Sukkot, the Seven Species are traditionally used as decorative motifs all over the Jewish world. In Israel, however, they are actually harvested at this season and, like all things Israeli, these ancient fruits of the land are being adapted to the modern world.

Wheat, for example. In 1906, on a trip to Rosh Pina, agronomist, botanist and underground Zionist leader Aaron Aaronsohn discovered wild emmer (Triticum dicoccoides), also known as “the mother of wheat” — one of the first crops domesticated in the Near East. To paraphrase Wikipedia, Aaronsohn’s discovery was an important one as emmer (also known as farro) can be grown in areas with poor soil providing countries around the world with the ability “to improve nutrition, boost food security, foster rural development and support sustainable landcare”.

More recently, an Israeli evolutionary biologist has found hard evidence of global warming in the changes found in wheat and barley plants. On a more cheerful note, Israeli microbreweries are using wheat and barley to good effect… and according to Israel21c, they’ve brewed up Pomegranate Ale in time for the High Holidays, too.

Pomegranates have been the subject of medical research in Israel and their juice has been found to help diabetics; its antioxidant properties is also beneficial in skincare — as is olive oil.

Olives and olive oil are major agricultural products in modern-day Israel and related research ranges from biofuel generated from olive pit waste to using brackish water in growing olive trees to fight desertification to creating innovative olive oil-based nutraceuticals and food products.

The land flowing with milk and honey is also fighting the mysterious killer known as colony collapse disorder that has threatened the world’s honeybee population as well as researching bee and honey-related medical applications.

Although, in fact, the “honey” referred to in the Old Testament is apparently silan, a sticky-sweet syrup derived from dates. Cultivated in the region since time immemorial, Israeli agronomists were actually able to sprout a live date tree seedling from a 2000 year-old seed while medical researchers have discovered that eating dates can protect against atherosclerosis.

Figs have also been grown locally for millennia as proven by the archaeological finding of an elaborate ancient garden near Jerusalem that housed a wide variety of imported and domestic plants, including fig trees and grape vines.

Today’s Israeli wine is far cry from the rough stuff produced by the ancients, or the sugary carbonated swill produced here in the 1970s and early 80s, (glass of Fantasia, anyone?) Last year, Golan Heights Winery was the first Israeli winery to win a Gran Vinitaly Special Award as “world’s best wine producer”. Although Israel’s modern viticulture has roots in California wine country, Napa Valley and Sonoma County are now turning to Israeli technology for help.

As we sit in the Sukkah this year, lets look up at the Seven Species decorations and contemplate these modern miracles.

Olive image courtesy of the JNF-KKL photo archive. All other images: Wikipedia.

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