Science, Israel, and Yeshiva University: Summer Reseach at the Bar-Ilan Program
Twenty-seven young undergraduate science students arrived in Bar Ilan on Tuesday July 23, 2015. These students, all participants in the 5th annual Yeshiva University-Bar Ilan summer research program, were eager to delve into a summer of exploration in many nuanced areas of science. Each year a group of Yeshiva University students pack up their bags and leave their homes in America to come to Israel to spend their summer working in a high-level research lab in Bar Ilan. For seven weeks the program participants boarded the bus early in the morning to make the trek from the dorms at Yeshiva University’s Gruss campus in Bayit Vagan, Jerusalem to Bar Ilan, located in Ramat Gan. This year, selected students were chosen for research in all areas of developing science. Students worked in labs ranging in topics from biology, chemistry and physics to psychology, computer science, and atmospheric science.
Day-to-day activities within the lab varied depending on each individual area of study. Elisheva Jacobov, a senior at SCW, worked in a psychology lab doing research on social anxiety disorder. Each day, Jacobov worked to read through personal accounts of patients with the disorder to try to ascertain if there was a difference in anxiety levels when patients interacted with close family versus strangers. Jacobov describes her experience in the lab as “enlightening” and truly “an incredible opportunity to be immersed in a high-level science lab while developing important Hebrew skills and a deep love of Israel.”
Outside of the daily lab work, students in the program were afforded many unique opportunities over the summer. Every Tuesday the program went on special trips throughout Israel to learn more about connections between science and the land. One particularly enjoyable trip was taken to the Volcani Center, the institute for plant sciences in Israel. While there, students were shown a video about how plants can be genetically engineered to grow with different colors and smells in order to make them more appealing to buyers. On a tour around the facility grounds they were shown a special area where studies are being done to genetically engineer some of the arbah minim (four species) used on Sukkot to make them easier to harvest and sell--a true Torah u’Maddah experience.
Additional trips included a trip to the Israeli Aerospace Industries and Sheba Hospital where they were shown the rehab facilities where many wounded soldiers come to recover from their life-altering injuries.
One truly special trip was taken to Tell es-Safi/Gath, the town where the biblical Goliath lived. At the site, students were given the chance to participate in the archeological dig, working to uncover details about the city from the time of Goliath. Dr. Jill Katz, an archeology professor at Stern College for Women and area supervisor at the site, gave the students a tour of the area. It was truly a special opportunity to learn both inside and outside the lab.
In addition to the weekly trips around Israel, students also participated in a weekly luncheon on the Bar Ilan campus where an array of different professors spoke about their areas of expertise. Prof. Shmaryahu Hoz, the senior advisor to the President of the University and the head of the renowned Bar Ilan Responsa Project, gave a particularly compelling presentation. Prof. Hoz explained the process of how computer programming is used to create the large search engine which enables people everywhere to pinpoint trends within the vast array of Jewish writings starting from tanach and continuing to the modern writings of today’s Rabbinic figures. Additionally, Prof. Hoz explained what plans they have to further expand the search engine by employing developing technology.
What students found most intriguing about the presentation was that Prof. Hoz has no formal training in Computer Science. He teaches Chemistry at the university and served as the head of the Department of Chemistry in the past. Benny Aivazi, a junior at YC, reflected on these luncheons saying, “it was an eye opener to see professors who were deeply involved in their areas of interest, even when those interests were far removed from their field of research.” Professors like Prof. Hoz served as role models for the students who wanted to see their paths in science merge with their Judaism.
The summer ended on a high note with a two-night science symposium where each student got a chance to present the work they had done over the summer. It was interesting for the students to see what their peers were working on the entire summer. Overall the students enjoyed a summer that embodied what it means to be a Jew working in a high tech lab in the State of Israel.