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Monday, November 21, 2016

STEM Israel Trip 2016: Day 1

 Wow! We've just completed the first day of our trip and what a day it has been! After arriving at Ben Gurion airport, we collected our bags, prayed, and met with our tour guide, Kobi, and security guard, Peleg. We then boarded our tour bus to head to the warm boardwalk of Tel Aviv. There we found a barbecue spread prepared by our friends at The Jewish Journey. Having replenished our energy, we then headed to the Grand Beach Hotel where we unpacked and debriefed, and got a much needed night's sleep before our first day of activities.
This morning we were out of bed by 6am and after Shaharit and a great breakfast at the hotel, we were off to the first Entrepreneurial workshop of the trip. We met with 2 facilitators from Presentense to brainstorm ideas for social startups. They gave our students a task of coming up with an idea that will improve students' lives. Some ideas we came up with were to use social apps to help students get to school on time, eat healthy lunches and improve curriculum for seniors. One group even had an idea to invent a new type of nasal decongestant! Our groups thought of their target audience, their goals, the purpose of their startups, and catchy names. We then presented our plans to each other to begin the process of becoming comfortable with pitching ideas. We will fine-tune that skill tomorrow when we meet with Assaf Luxemberg of Crowdmii.

After, we went to the "Invitation to Silence" program at the Holon Children's Museum. In this amazing exhibit we learned how many ways we can communicate with each other besides speaking. We used hand gestures, facial expressions, body language and learned some basic sign language. There was even a new appreciation of the concept that a deaf person doesn't relate to their names the way hearing people do - and in fact we made up new names and signs for ourselves that represented who we really are. Our guide, who is deaf, shared that she often feels left out in social situations, even when she's with her family. We came away with a new awareness of and sensitivity to people who are hearing impaired.
Next we visited Israel's premier water purification plant, Shafdan. There we learned about how Israel, a desert country, is able to maintain its water supply. One major way they do this is by purifying the sewage waters coming out of Israeli homes and industries. Shafdan has built a 120 km network of pipes to transport the waste water to their facility. There, they filter out the rocks, sand, and microorganisms to a point where the water is safe for agricultural use. The water produced here and at the 89 other sewage treatment plants supply 70% of the water used to irrigate the Negev. This water translates to about 10% of Israel's total water consumption. No other country recycles anywhere near the 86% of its water that Israel does - the next closest country is Singapore with 35%! We have learned about this process in our Global History classes, and it really was great seeing how it all actually happens.
After visiting the Shafdan sewage treatment plant, we drove to Ramat Dan to visit the educational tech company, Compedia, a privately owned tech company which is motivated to help innovate classroom education. They have many upcoming projects which they hope can change the way we teach our children. Their most recent project has children jumping for joy to learn the Bible. The company has created an application, which when paired with their "Tamar" textbook, brings augmented reality to the classroom. This application scans the textbook page and converts dull text into a live and interactive movie for the children to watch and manipulate. They hope that as more and more schools adopt the software, more students will begin showing interest in the ancient biblical text which many secular Israeli children find irrelevant to their lives.
Compedia doesn't only help in classroom education, they are also helping the military train for future scenarios. They have been using Augmented and Virtual Reality technology to imitate battleground conditions from the safety of a control room. This type of virtual training allows soldiers to have seemingly first hand experience of fighting in Gaza without risking their lives. Compedia is also working closely with the new Biblical Museum that will be built in Washington D.C. to develop a personalized GPS system for visitors which is geared to their particular interests. Compedia is apparently involved in a multitude of technical ventures in Israel and abroad. They seem like a small company, but in truth their impact goes farther than any of our group expected. All we saw was a small office and some workers, but after our time with them we truly understood that this seemingly small company is revolutionizing secular education, biblical education and even the military. We can all learn from what Compedia has accomplished because this small company has the power to change much more than we think. When Ezra Faks asked Shai Newman, the PR person who met with us, how we can be successful he said, "Keep an open mind, be a believer, don't think it can't happen, don't be afraid of failure and believe that you can be someone who can change the world."
We ended this incredibly jam-packed day by going to an exciting and very loud soccer game in Yerushalayim - between the two biggest rivals in Israel. We even joined in the cheering for Beitar Jerusalem! But the game ended in a 1-1 tie, and now we're back at hotel in Tel Aviv getting ready for bed and resting up for another great day tomorrow! ~Moses Bakst and Yair Chaya, Class of 2018