As Passover begins, Jews around the world will gather at their seder (holiday) table to tell the ancient story of the Exodus, and the journey Moses and the Israelites made from slavery to freedom.
As many will recall, the climax of the story occurs when the Israelites, being pursued by Pharaoh and the Egyptian army, come to an impasse. Their escape route is cut off as they have run smack into the Red Sea. Their demise seems all but certain.
So what does Moses do?
In a moment of despair, he cries out to God to save them and provide a way across the sea to spare their lives.
And what is God’s response?
Essentially God says, don’t cry out to me. I gave you a mind. I gave you a will. Figure it out. Find your own way across.
And that is what Moses and the Israelites did, thanks, in no small measure, to a young upstart innovator named Joshua. According to Jewish tradition, the water began to recede, not with prayers, but by the action of Joshua jumping into the sea and beginning to swim.
Today there are no shortage of plagues, both man made and naturally occurring, over which to despair. We may want to cry out for a miracle or throw our hands up in despair. And yet, what we learn from this story is that standing paralyzed by our problems is not the answer — there is always a way across the sea. And it begins when we are ready and willing to jump in and swim.
Today, 4000 years after the Exodus, this message is alive and well in the descendants of the ancient Israelites within their great grandchildren, the Israelis.
Entrepreneurs. Innovators. Scientists. Engineers. Coders. Researchers… these are men and women out in the deep end confronting very real, modern plagues:
- Security threats
- Food deficiencies
- Water shortages
- Health challenges
- Energy crises
Maybe this year, in addition to looking backwards and recounting the Exodus, Jews and non-Jews together should also look around and see the story alive and well among us. This year at the seder, we should talk about Israeli innovation, the Start-up Nation, and the young “Joshuas” who are helping us find our way forward.
Here are 10 examples you might want to incorporate into your Passover seder.
Ten Israeli startups confronting 10 modern plagues.
- Water scarcity (water): Ex. 7:14–24
Technology from Watergen literally pulls water out of thin air, and is being used to save lives in developing nations and disaster situations.
- Food infestation (frogs): Ex. 7:25–8:15
GrainPro makes GrainPro Cocoons, a bag providing a simple and cheap way for African and Asian farmers to keep their grain market-fresh, thereby helping to prevent populations from starving.
- Health risks (lice): Ex. 8:16-19
MeMed has addressed the issue of antibiotic misuse by developing a new kind of diagnostic test, ImmunoXpert, aimed at determining whether an infection is viral or bacterial. Making this determination helps health providers treat the problem more effectively.
- Animal welfare (wild animals): Ex. 8:20-32
Leading the “clean meat” revolution, Supermeat produces lab-grown meat that is safer to consume, better for the environment and eliminates animal cruelty and suffering.
- Food contamination (diseased livestock): Ex. 9:1–7
Bactusense gives real-time identification and analysis of bacteria in food processing plants, water systems, hospitals and more with the potential to save millions of lives lost to bacterial contamination every year.
- Illness (boils): Ex. 9:8–12
Zebra Medical Vision has developed technology which has revolutionized medical diagnostics by “looking” at symptoms and identifying diseases. It currently is able to detect diseases such as breast cancer, vertebral fractures, osteoporosis, fatty liver, aneurysms, and brain bleeds.
- Environmental destruction (hail): Ex. 9:13–35
HARBO Technologies tackles ocean oil spills using an easy-to-use “floatie” solution that can contain an oil spill in less than one hour.
- Crop infestation (locusts): Ex. 10:1–20
BioBee specializes in breeding beneficial insects, mites and pollinating bumblebees and sterile male Mediterranean fruit flies to help control pests without pesticides or fear of chemical residues.
- Visual impairment (darkness): Ex. 10:21–29
CorNeat Vision has developed an implanted medical device and procedure that enables patients suffering from corneal blindness and injury to regain their sight.
- Infant mortality (death of firstborn): Ex. 11:1–12:36
Embrace is the world’s first MRI machine especially for the NICU. Scans of newborn preterm babies can identify any brain injury that might affect their development and lead to early intervention.
The Passover seder is a reminder of the quote by George Santayana, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We look backwards in order to remember where we came from, never forgetting to move forward with the courage, thoughtfulness and conviction of our ancestors. This Passover may we collectively learn these past lessons. May we individually do our part in remedying modern plagues facing humanity. And may future generations know better health, safer food and sustainable water supplies. That is true freedom. That is Passover.
Rabbi Baruch HaLevi, D.Min,is the CEO and co-founder of welaunch, a US-based non-profit introducing Israeli technology startups to corporations, investors and research partners as a platform for economic development, Jewish community engagement and Israel innovation education. For more information visit www.welaunch.org or email Baruch at Baruch@welaunch.org.