Event focuses on Israel and science

BY MIKE SHERWIN, ASSISTANT EDITOR

Israel’s commitment to science and technology has proved to be one major reason for the country’s success over the past 60 years, and has led to beneficial partnerships throughout the world — including here in St. Louis — according to speakers at the opening reception last week for a science and technology exhibit at the Jewish Community Center.

The exhibit, “Advances in Science and Technology: The Israel-St. Louis Connection,” which was on display during the KaleidoFest week of activities, was sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Danforth Plant Science Center, IBM Israel, the Jewish National Fund, American Technion Society – St. Louis Chapter, and St. Louis Chapter Hadassah.

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Dr. Roger Beachy, president of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, was the keynote speaker at the opening reception. He said Israel has been the model of a nation that has embraced science and technology.

“The real emphasis, the real thing on which Israel was built, was science and technology. It was to say, ‘How can we use our information, our knowledge, our gifts, as it were, to create a better world, not just for Israel, but extending beyond.'”

“That’s a rare thing,” Beachy said.

Beachy pointed to the beginnings of the Technion, in the 1920s in Israel, as an early example of the of the large number of flourishing research institutions and world-class scientists in Israel

“We are absolutely privileged that many Israeli scientists have chosen to split their careers between Israel and the U.S. Had we not had that, our science would not be as advanced in the U.S. as it is, and we are grateful for that linkage,” Beachy said.

Beachy said that scientific partnerships between the U.S. and Israel include an ongoing project at the Danforth Center in St. Louis.

The Danforth Center is currently partnered with the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. Dr. Daniel Schachtman, a scientist with the Danforth Center, is working in conjunction with the Weizmann Institute to study plant roots and drought tolerance, through a grant by the Lubin Family Foundation.

“The project we have now is one that is very near and dear to Israel’s heart: how to make the most use out of a limited amount of water,” he said.

“Whether or not our scientists are here or there, and whether or not they travel between our two countries or send emails and share databases and make connections electronically, we know that we can do more together than we can do separately,” Beachy said.

Sharing agricultural research and technology can be particularly vital to developing countries, he said. “In my perspective, the role that food and agriculture play is paramount. You don’t have stability without a full belly. You can’t build industry without a full belly.”

“We know that conflicts arise because of water, because of land usage, because of the inability to produce food,” Beachy said. “How do we learn from what Israel has done and extend the Israeli model to other countries?”

While funding from private foundations has helped further important plant research, Beachy said he hopes that governments will similarly help fund projects with far-reaching global implications.

“Science bridges lots of ways, out of academics into technology companies, or across oceans to create partnerships that help the Danforth Center do its job better in helping to meet the needs in Africa.”

“We hope to build on that support to help find ways to use science to build bridges, much in the way that Israel built its own future back 60 years ago,” he said.

David Bohm, a co-chair of the Israel Business and Technology Committee (IBTEC) of the JCRC, said the exhibit and the opening event meshed with the overall goals of the committee.

“IBTEC’s mission is to bring information to the St. Louis Jewish and general community about the outstanding opportunities Israel has offered in the areas of business, research and technology, to advocate on behalf of the Israel business and technology community, and to strengthen the connection between these sectors in Israel and their counterparts in St. Louis,” he said.

“We believe that the exhibit that we celebrate this evening, the advances in science and technology, the Israel-St. Louis connection, successfully advances these objectives by highlighting the connection between St. Louis and Israel in research and development as well as the current application of Israeli scientific innovation.”