Posts Tagged ‘Hebrew University’

Israel: The good, the bad, and the beautiful

August 2, 2011

Student transforms sludge into ‘green’ foam

An Israeli student has found a way to transform waste from paper mills into industrial foams with many uses, replacing conventional foams that are made from fossil oil. Foams are used as core materials in “sandwich” panels, for example, in furniture and in car doors.

In paper production, about half the fibers are lost as sludge. In Europe alone, this means 11 millions tons of waste annually. The new foams, developed by doctoral student Shaul Lapidot and colleagues at the Faculty of Agriculture, Food, and Environment on the Hebrew University’s Rehovot campus, require relatively low energy and chemical input. An Israeli-Swedish start-up aims to develop the product for industrial-scale production.

Hebrew University professor fired for sexual misconduct

At long last, the Hebrew University has let it be known that it will not tolerate sexual harassment of students by their professors. Anthropologist Eyal Ben-Ari has been dismissed for several reasons, including having taken advantage of his position to have intimate relations with one student and having proposed to two others that they share a room when they were abroad.

In August 2008, three former students complained to the police that Ben-Ari had made indecent proposals to them. Their complaint followed an anonymous letter to the university authorities alleging sexual misconduct.

In September 2008 the police announced that Ben-Ari would not be charged, but in February 2010 the university’s disciplinary tribunal ordered that he be suspended for two years. Following an appeal, the university’s appellate tribunal decided to dismiss Ben-Ari.

When another kind of professor marched into Jerusalem

The first time my husband saw The Music Man—that is, the 1962 film version of the Broadway musical—he went wild. On the way home, he drove his motor scooter around and around and around a traffic circle, for the sheer joy of it. And when we arrived at our barely furnished room, he marched in with his head held high, his arm rising and falling as if he were carrying a baton and leading a band in a rendition of “Seventy-six Trombones.”

So when I learned that a live version of The Music Man was coming to Jerusalem last month, I quickly bought tickets. I knew that the group, Israel Musicals, consisted mainly of amateurs, but we’ve enjoyed many amateur productions in Jerusalem; there’s a wealth of talent here. And it seemed a fitting way to celebrate our anniversary.

We weren’t disappointed. Meredith Wilson wrote the book, the music and the lyrics for this show in which a con man comes to River City, Iowa, and convinces the townspeople that they need a boys band “to keep the children moral after school.” The prim librarian falls in love with him because, despite the con, he succeeds in waking up the somnolent and hypocritical townspeople and helping her little brother overcome his extreme shyness.

One of the cleverest musical elements is a tune that serves both for the brash “Seventy-six Trombones” march and for the tender love song in waltz time, “Goodnight, My Someone.” And then there’s the wonderful counterpoint of “Pickalittle Talkalittle” and “Goodnight, Ladies,” and of another pair, “Lida Rose” and “Will I Ever Tell You.”

The two leads—Howard Metz as “Professor” Harold Hill and Shani Wahrman as librarian Marian Paroo—were excellent, and Kiefer Johnson as Marian’s little brother with a bad lisp, Winthrop, was very good. Choreographer and featured dancer Assaf Berznitsky was also a delight, as was the Chutzpah barbershop quartet.

The chorus was weaker than in other amateur productions we’ve seen in Jerusalem, but that didn’t keep us from enjoying the music as we sang along in our heads. What did detract from our enjoyment, however, were the two women sitting behind us, who apparently thought they had come to a sing-along. If I’d brought an extra pair of socks with me, I could have solved the problem.

Text copyright 2011 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text may be used without written permission of the author.

They raced through the capital on a rainy Friday

March 25, 2011

Four Kenyan men were the first to reach the finish line in Jerusalem’s first marathon, but three of them took a wrong turn and ended up at the wrong finish line, according to The Jerusalem Post. The official winner, Raymond Kipkoechh, 34, ran the course in 2:26:44, but arrived at the finish line of the half-marathon, rather than that of the full marathon.

The winning female runner was Oda Worknesh, 26, from Ethiopia with a time of 2:50:05.

Street closures for the marathon, whose route wound through residential neighborhoods, perplexed local residents, who found that as early as 6 a.m. they could not drive anywhere. The race was held as scheduled despite a bomb attack in the city two days before.

Mary Jane Gardner, 55, has been identified as the woman killed by a bomb in Jerusalem Wednesday. She was from Orkney in Scotland and was studying Hebrew at the Hebrew University in order to better understand the Bible. She recently helped translate the New Testament into Ifè, a language spoken in Benin and Togo.

Friends who operate the wonderful Quillcards Blog are also part of the Lonely Planet’s Blogsherpa community of travel writers. They refer their readers to Todd Wassel, who is a development expert specializing in conflict management and human rights. Wassel, who has lived in Japan for many years, has put together a list of trusted organizations. Note that most of the organizations accept bank transfers but not credit card payments.

Albert Einstein, one of the founders of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (my alma mater), was present at its opening in 1925. He bequeathed his papers, some 80,000 documents including letters to his wife and step-daughters, to the university.

Now a $500,000 grant from the Polonsky Foundation of London is enabling the university to digitize its Einstein archives and make them available on-line. The papers are an important resource for the history of physics, and they also shed light on the social, political, and intellectual history of the modern world.

The digitization project is expected to take one year.

Einstein bequeathed not only his papers to the Hebrew University, but also the royalties from the use of his image. Apparently this is not common knowledge. Ben Faraj, the owner of a photography shop in Petah Tikva, was surprised to discover that the university wanted NIS 20,000 from him for a violation of its rights, specifically for agreeing to print an image of the famous physicist on 40 T-shirts for a mysterious customer who did not identify himself, the Ha’aretz daily reported last week.

In response to a query from the newspaper, the university apologized to Faraj. Apparently the mysterious customer was an over-zealous private investigator. The university insisted that it does not deceive merchants in order to catch them in violation of the copyright. 

The lord chief justice and presidents of the courts of England and Wales is to speak at the university this coming Monday. The topic of the talk, “The judiciary and the media,” is interesting enough, but even more interesting is the name of the lord chief justice: Ivor Judge.


Egypt on my mind

February 2, 2011

A friend in the United States wrote yesterday to ask whether we’re concerned about the situation in Egypt. Here’s one answer: Yesterday I spoke to two Israelis who are very close to me. Both reported having had nightmares the previous night.

In one dream, a sniper was methodically killing all the people in a house where the dreamer—the last live one alive—remained to guard something precious. In the second dream, an angry mob was pursuing the dreamer. Both dreamers blamed the situation in Egypt for their nightmares.

Israel has much to be concerned about regarding its huge southern neighbor, which has more than 80 million inhabitants, many of them hungry for bread and not only for reforms.

President Hosni Mubarak’s dramatic announcement that he would step down in November (which is not soon enough for the masses) should have been the lead story in today’s paper but was overshadowed by Israel’s failed attempt to appoint a new chief of staff. A smooth handover in the IDF was never more important, and this failure highlights, among other things, the complexities of democracy and the naiveté of anyone who thinks a dictatorship like Egypt can become democratic overnight.

Last week, my immediate response to the situation in Egypt was to try to contact two women I’d met on-line, one through a copy editors forum and the other through a translation job. There was no response to my e-mail messages, and I knew I was unlikely to receive one because the Egyptian government had shut off the Internet, but I had to try.

Talk on Israeli news programs about the shutting down of the Internet focused on the uses that had been made of the social media in getting young people out on the streets.

And then, yesterday morning, I couldn’t access the Internet right here in Jerusalem. I couldn’t help thinking, for a second, what if this is spillover from Egypt? I had two urgent projects that were to arrive by e-mail; without the Internet I simply could not work. But it took no more than one (long) phone call to tech support to get hooked up again.

Egypt must have millions of people like me who have not been able to do their work, let alone get the latest unofficial information about the political crisis. In our computer-dependent age, being cut off for a week or more is almost inconceivable.

There is another minor personal angle to the Egypt story. The only part of Egypt I’ve visited is the Sinai Peninsula, and that was decades ago. Ever since I wrote about the grand Bibliotheca Alexandrina in 2000 when it was still under construction, I’ve been promising myself to go and see it. This was to be the year of the visit, but I’ll have to wait.

And one more tidbit: Cairo University was established as a state institution in 1925, incorporating the private Egyptian University founded in 1908; it had colleges of arts, science, law, and engineering, as well as a medical school.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (my alma mater) was established the same year, and Cairo University’s president, Prof. Ahmed Lutfi el-Sayed, attended the inaugural ceremonies.

One of the participants at the inauguration, Dr. Selig Brodetsky, a mathematics professor at the University of Leeds and future president of the Hebrew University, passed through Cairo on his return to Leeds and addressed a teachers society.

“We are entitled to expect and anticipate with hope,” Brodetsky said, “the future in which these two universities will become the center of intellectual life in the Near East.”

Meanwhile, however, Egypt’s universities and colleges are producing 800,000 graduates a year who have little hope of finding suitable jobs. And they are leading the revolution.

Text copyright 2011 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text may be used without written permission of the author.