JAMen Celebrates Israeli Innovation at Hanukkah Program

JAMen Celebrates Israeli Innovation at Hanukkah Program

Avi Jorisch tells the crowd about Israel’s Innovations. Photo credit Jake Sussman

On Dec. 5, the fourth night of Hanukkah, more than 120 JAMen members and their guests attended the December Speaker Series featuring Middle East expert and author Avi Jorisch. His presentation provided an inspiring overview of his latest book, "Thou Shalt Innovate: How Israeli Ingenuity Repairs the World."

Before highlighting some of the country’s most compelling and renowned innovations, Jorisch shared his thoughts on why Israel continues to produce some of the world’s most pioneering ideas. While Jorisch cited key motivators for Israeli’s commitment to innovation, including chutzpah, obligatory military service, renowned universities, smart big government, a dearth of natural resources, and global diversity, he credited Jewish culture for the country’s abundance of groundbreaking ideas.

Jorisch reflected on the impact of the Jewish values at the center of the religion: to be a “light unto the nations,” a concept largely interpreted as taking responsibility for making the world a better place. From the Aleinu prayer to Pirkei Avot, he said, the message has impacted overall Israeli culture. This has further led, Jorisch pointed out, to a culture in which “Jews cannot remain indifferent.”

Jorisch took the audience through example after example of innovations developed by Israelis and implemented across the globe, from United Hatzalah’s standardized GPS app and EMT volunteer system that enables first responders to answer emergency calls in a fraction of the time, to entrepreneurs who have helped bring Israel to a state of water independence, to the invention of the Grain Cocoon, enabling farmers to store surplus crops. All of these innovations, created by Israelis, are influencing communities around the world.

Futurist, technologist and entrepreneur Byron Reese, a featured JAMen speaker last season, returned to lead the question and answer period following Jorisch’s presentation. As authors who both address the intersection of innovation, technology and humanity, their conversation initiated numerous questions from the engaged audience.

At the end of the evening, Jorisch concluded, “For Israel to succeed, this is the story we have to tell,” encouraging the audience to spread the narrative of Israel’s innovation.

“Ask yourselves,” he said, “What challenge are you going to get involved in to make the world a better place?”

A senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council and founder of IMS, a merchant processing company that services clients nationwide, Jorisch is a thought leader in exploring global innovation trends, the Arab world, counter-terrorism and illicit finance. He previously served in the U.S. Departments of Treasury and Defense.

Jorisch holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Binghamton University and a master’s degree in Islamic history from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He also studied Arabic and Islamic philosophy at the American University in Cairo and al-Azhar University, the preeminent institution of Sunni Islamic learning.

An author of five books, Jorisch‘s articles have appeared in influential outlets including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, Forbes and Al-Arabiya.net. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Entrepreneurs’ Organization.

The next JAMen dinner program will take place on Wednesday, Jan. 23, and features Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of Hillel International, the world’s oldest and largest organization serving Jewish university students at 550 universities across the globe.

A former U.S. congressman and former chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents, Fingerhut will address “Engaging the Next Generation: The Challenges and Opportunities of Jewish Campus Life.” ■

The Jewish Austin Men’s Dinner and Speaker’s Forum is a program of Shalom Austin. For more information, visit shalomaustin.org/JAMen.

JBookFest Features Author Erica Perl

JBookFest Features Author Erica Perl

JGallery features Buddhist Sacred Days:  Photographs by Kate Graham

JGallery features Buddhist Sacred Days: Photographs by Kate Graham