Technion Meets New York

Many are forecasting that the new educational venture between Technion – Israel Institute of Technology and Cornell University will be ‘game-changing’ for technology in New York City. Long a hub of finance, commerce, fashion, and education, New York has been edged out by San Francisco and Boston as the hub of American high-tech enterprise. But with a robust consumer market and offices from top global firms, New York has the potential to leapfrog its smaller counterparts.

The question had long remained, however, which institutions could do for New York what Stanford and Berkeley did for the Silicon Valley and Harvard and MIT did for Boston. New York needed a center of education and innovation that could spawn new start-ups and ensure a critical mass of talent to for high-tech firms.

With the offer of free land on Roosevelt Island on which to build a campus and 100 million dollars in infrastructural investments from the city government, New York set off a bidding war in 2010 between ambitious universities seeking a foothold in New York and the chance to make a name for themselves as the go-to institutions for high-tech. They each drafted and submitted proposals for the campus they envisioned for America’s biggest metropolis.

The question was what each could each offer – and how fast could they offer it to the city that is in a perennial rush to get ahead.

When Cornell and Technion stepped forward with a bold, collaborative proposal for a new campus, replete with 2 million square-feet of new space for learning and launching tech ventures, they brought themselves shoulder-to-shoulder with Stanford, the early favorite. Stanford eventually withdrew its bid (apparently discontented about its negotiations with New York’s city government).

Within an hour of Stanford’s withdrawal, generating some speculation about the timing, Cornell announced that it had received a 350 million dollar donation to underwrite the first stage of development. Its plans for a new tech campus with Technion were quickly secured and soon thereafter made official.

While pundits have largely focused on the implications of the forthcoming, massive center of technology for innovation and a shift toward East Coast ventures in America, fewer have reflected on its implications for Israeli businesses, American-Israeli relations, and the chance for American Jews to learn about Israel.

This is the first time, as far as I am aware, that an Israeli institution will help administer a university campus within the United States. In place of the handful of Israeli professors present at many American universities will be dozens of Israeli entrepreneurs, professors, and thought-leaders at a center that one of Israel’s flagship institutions is co-directing.

For American Jews, this could mean an entirely new way to connect with Israeli culture, art, technology – and most of all people. The majority of American Jews who have never visited Israel can now get a taste of its culture without having to get on a plane. Such ease of access may create a point of entry or a first step for many Americans on the path to greater engagement with Israel.

The new campus could also lead to an influx of hip, young Israelis, who could become de facto representatives to the American Jewish community. Instead of engaging with Israel abstractly as an idea, American Jewish professionals could work, live, spend time with, and hopefully build community with Israelis who set up shop on the new campus. Israeli culture could be brought to life for American Jews through relationships, rather than being limited (as it too often is) to theoretical discussions about politics, peoplehood, and policy.

American Jews could learn about the country where so many of their coreligionists live simply by going to work or school. Synagogues, too, might reap benefits from new Jewish immigrants, bringing their own flavor of Israeli Judaism to American institutions.

The new campus is also likely to create new ties between American and Israeli technology firms. Israel already is a leader in per-capita patents and venture capital – and is attracting American firms to its shores. (Just this week, Google opened a new Tel Aviv office in search of fresh ideas and high-tech visionaries.) The new campus could enable Israeli firms to scale up, bringing successful products to the far larger American marketplace even more quickly than they already do. In turn, this could lead to more investment by American companies and venture capitalists in Israel and a positive cycle of growth for Israeli firms.

Lastly, the new campus could significantly improve American perceptions of Israel, which are often framed by newscasts rather than personal interaction. Sharing of Israel’s intellectual and social capital will only be to the benefit of a country that has so much to give culturally, but which is too often associated with conflict rather than contribution. By showing, rather than telling, of Israel’s forward-looking culture of entrepreneurship, it can refresh perceptions of Israel and re-frame conversations about Israel in more productive ways.

It would seem that the new Cornell-Technion campus is itself in many ways a large-scale start-up, with the potential to transform New York and the American high-tech scene. But its contributions to Israeli-American relations and relations between Jews from the two largest Jewish communities in the world should not be understated. If successful, it is a venture that could ready the soil for a bounty of learning and collaboration.

About the Author
Joshua Stanton is Rabbi of East End Temple in Manhattan and a Senior Fellow at CLAL - The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. He serves on the Board of Governors of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, which liaises on behalf of Jewish communities worldwide with the Vatican and other international religious bodies. Josh was is in the 2015 - 2016 cohort of Germanacos Fellows and part of the inaugural group of Sinai and Synapses Fellows from 2013 - 2015. Previously, Josh served as Associate Rabbi at Congregation B'nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, New Jersey and before that as Associate Director of the Center for Global Judaism at Hebrew College and Director of Communications for the Coexist Foundation. He is a Founding Editor Emeritus of the Journal of Inter-Religious Studies, a publication that has enabled inter-religious studies to grow into an academic field of its own. He writes for the Huffington Post and Times of Israel. Josh was one of just six finalists worldwide for the $100,000 Coexist Prize and was additionally highlighted by the Coexist Forum as "one of the foremost Jewish and interreligious bloggers in the world." In 2011, the Huffington Post named him one of the "best Jewish voices on Twitter." The Huffington Post also selected two organizations he helped found as exemplary of those which effectively "have taken their positive interfaith message online." He authored one of "15 Blogs from 2015 that Show How Faith Can Be a Force For Good." Josh has been the recipient of numerous leadership awards, including the Bridge-Builders Leadership Award from the Interfaith Youth Core, the Associates of Jewish Homes and Services for the Aging’s Annette W. and Herbert H. Lichterman Outstanding Programming Award, the Volunteer Hero Award of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, the W. MacLean Johnson Fellowship for Action, the Wiener Education Fellowship, and the Hyman P. Moldover Scholarship for Jewish Communal Service. Josh's work was highlighted in chapter of the official report and proceedings of the UNESCO Chairs for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue. A sought-after speaker, Josh has given presentations, speeches, and convocations at seminaries, non-profit organizations, and religious groups across the United States and beyond. Last winter, Josh presented about the next generation of religious leadership at the Holy See's 50th Anniversary celebration of Nostra Aetate at the United Nations. The prior spring, Josh spoke about social media and interfaith dialogue at an international conference on faith and reconciliation in Kosovo (his one third there). He has also spoken at the Pentagon about religious diversity in March 2013; given a presentation about the prevalence of hate crimes against houses of worship during a White House conference in July 2011 and a follow-up presentation at the White House on the potential for Dharmic communities to enhance religious pluralism nationally in April 2012; an address at the 2010 Eighth Annual Doha Conference, sponsored by the Foreign Ministry of Qatar and the Doha International Center for Interfaith Dialogue; and a Closing Address at the Tripartite Forum on Interfaith Cooperation at the United Nations in November 2009. Josh has had articles and interviews featured in newspapers, radio and television broadcasts, academic journals, publications, and blogs in ten languages. These include the Associated Press, National Geographic, Washington Post, German National Radio, Swedish National Radio, The Permanent Observer Mission from the Holy See to the United Nations, public radio's Interfaith Voices, the BBC, Vox, the The Daily Beast, The Sydney Herald, JTA, and the blog of the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards. Josh has contributed to edited volumes, including Flourishing in the Later Years: Jewish Pastoral Insights on Senior Pastoral Care, Lights in the Forest: Rabbis Respond to Twelve Essential Questions, Sacred Encounter: Jewish Perspectives on Sexuality, and Seven Days, Many Voices: Insights into the Biblical Story of Creation. Likewise, he has been co-author of a number of academic articles for publications as diverse as Religious Education, Long-Term Living, The Gerontologist, and the Journal of Inter-Religious Studies (a publication he co-founded). Prior to entering rabbinical school, Josh served as an Assistant to the Director of the European Youth Campaign at the Council of Europe and co-Founded Lessons of a Lifetime, a program that improves inter-generational relations through the recording of ethical wills. An alumnus of Amherst College, Josh graduated magna cum laude with majors in history, economics, and Spanish, as well as a certificate in Practical French Language from Université Marc Bloch in Strasbourg, France.