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Jewish Journal

Innovation Israel tries innovative approach

by Orit Arfa

March 1, 2011 | 6:30 pm

Blame it on coinciding with the Grammys and the Jewish Federation’s annual Super Sunday, but only 15 people showed up at the Feb. 13 L.A. leg of the nationwide tour of “Innovation Israel: Shaping Israel’s Future. Today,” presented by the aliyah organization Nefesh B’Nefesh, and PresenTense, an incubator for ideas empowering the Jewish community. To the organizers, Israel’s stars are its social entrepreneurs solving social problems through innovative ideas.

Social entrepreneur Romi Shamai kicked off the event by blowing bubbles the size of beach balls into the small crowd. While earning his degree in physics, he developed a special soap solution for what he thinks is one of the happiest substances in the world: bubbles. His idea blew up into Baabua, a business that gets people blowing huge bubbles at events.

Baabua also created peula.net to help people post, share, track and rally letters of complaint and requests to businesses and to government offices.

“I started to think while studying, ‘How can I make a difference and help professional people act upon their social problems when they are busy with their professional life?’ ” Shamai said.

Another presenter, Elyssa Moss Rabinowitz, intentionally started her talk with a boring, text-heavy source sheet on a famous talmudic passage.

“I felt there was a strong disconnect between people sitting in the world of study, whether academic universities or yeshivas, and the rest of the Jewish world that doesn’t have that opportunity and access,” the Berkeley native and Bar Ilan University alumna said.

She co-developed Kol HaOt: Illuminating Jewish Life Through Art, an alternative educational institute and content provider aimed at making Jewish study a sensory experience through the arts.

Next up was Chaim Landau, an Israeli immigrant who observed how Americans studying in Jerusalem often get their opinions about the Arab-Israeli conflict from secondary sources — whether media or pundits. He developed Perspectives Israel, an apolitical organization that forges interactive encounters with people at the heart of the headlines, from peace activists to settlers.

“I want to give them an opportunity to go out and meet a variety of Israelis and understand the human dimension and many voices that you have in a healthy democracy like Israel,” said the bespectacled Landau.

But the organizers and speakers also wanted to get the crowd to visit Israel as the place to be for start-ups dealing with Jewish social change.

Landau concluded his story with, “Create your own story with us.”

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