Skip to main content

Author: AUFTAU

Israel at the Movies

Film critic Prof. Shmulik Duvdevani speaks on how Israeli cinema gets to the heart of Jewish history, identity and trauma

To start, can you describe your background and your role at TAU?


I teach Israeli cinema and documentary cinema at the TAU Steve Tisch School of Film and Television. I did all three of my degrees here at the University and have been teaching here for 30 years. It’s really been my second home, and I love the fresh perspectives my students bring in all of our discussions. Some have gone on to become film critics like me, and some are now filmmakers including an Ophir Award winner (Erez Tadmor) and an Oscar winner (Guy Nativ)!


In my time at TAU I’ve published two books: First Person Camera about personal documentaries between the two intifadas; and very recently The First Modernists about Israeli documentaries of the 1960s-70s. Additionally, I’ve written film reviews for the newspaper YNet for the past 24 years, which I believe makes my column the longest-running film column in Israel.


Can you talk a bit about the Israeli film industry?


One thing I am very excited about is how many newcomers there are in the industry since the early 2000s. In the last 20 years Israeli cinema has given stronger voices to the many different communities that make up our society. Just in recent years we had Late Marriage that was in Georgian, we had Yana’s Friends in Russian, we had Baba Joon in Persian, and we had Sandstorm in Arabic. There are ultra-Orthodox filmmakers including women like Rama Burshtein and even Palestinian directors such as Taufik Abu Wael (a TAU alum himself).


“Since the beginning, our cinema has dealt with what defines Israeli identity, or with the difficulty of defining it.”


Since the beginning, our cinema has dealt with what defines Israeli identity, or with the difficulty of defining it. We have so many populations and viewpoints which are foreign or even diametrically opposed to each other, especially in the last year. We cannot even agree on our physical borders. I think Israeli cinema gives form and shape to these myriad stories by exploring the often-conflicting histories and traumas of different Israeli groups.

Dir. Avi Nesher’s “Image of Victory” highlights the opposing narratives inherent to the story of Israel’s beginning. (Screenshot: Amit Yasur)


What are some specifics of Israeli trauma in film?


One of the biggest themes we grapple with is the line between victim and perpetrator. Jews have been victims for so many years that conceiving of ourselves as aggressors creates cognitive dissonance. One common way we see this is through the Israeli soldier on screen. For example, right around the second Intifada (2000-2005) was the first time Israeli soldiers were being accused of war crimes in real time. In those few years three Lebanon War films were made in which Israeli soldiers are invading another country—but their perspectives remain those of traumatized victims. They can only see part of the reality. These films had widespread impact both in Israel and abroad; two were nominated for Oscars.


We also see how each time we experience a collective trauma, it is reflected implicitly in much of our cinema. After the Rabin assassination, there wasn’t a narrative piece about the event for 20 years. But for all of those 20 years, films repeatedly featured themes of missing or dead fathers and the effect of that absence on families. We saw symbolically how Rabin was a father figure for the country and how profoundly we all felt his loss.

“Waltz With Bashir” is one of three films that deal with trauma and guilt from the Lebanon War. (Art: Bridgit Folman Film Gang)


What are some films that you feel exemplify the Israeli trauma experience?


Take a film like Waltz With Bashir. This is a film that could only be made in Israel. It’s a filmmaker looking back at the trauma of his military service and using his artistic tools to both explore it and go through a therapeutic process while dealing with perspectives that the Israeli film industry is uniquely concerned by: memory, guilt, accountability, national narratives and private narratives.


Another is Legend of Destruction about the destruction of the Second Temple and the exile of the Jewish People from the Land of Israel. Put into the context of the political turmoil we were experiencing up until October 7th, I think we can see how we are in certain ways right back where we were 2000 years ago. October 7th was something like the destruction of the temple in that it was a disaster that tapped into our most basic collective trauma.


Finally, Image of Victory about the War of Independence depicts how the Israeli and Palestinian narratives cannot really be separated. Its message is that you can’t tell one without the other, even though we have tried many times.

The Second Temple burns in Dir. Gidi Dar’s “Legend of Destruction”. (Art: David Polonsky and Michael Faust)


Do you expect the current war to be portrayed differently on film from previous wars? Do you think it will affect the way the Israeli experience is shown on film going forward?

Of course I am not a prophet, but yes, I think Israeli cinema is going to change, drastically. This trauma was like nothing we have ever witnessed—we cannot go back to telling the same old stories and dealing with the same old conflicts. I think it will continue to resonate for a long time because it sparks our oldest existential fears as Jews and Israelis. In 50 years, my son is going to tell his grandchildren exactly where he was on October 7th.


And since this situation is ongoing, we’re experiencing a national trauma that is perhaps entirely unique to our state—we’re all experiencing the losses from both the attack and the war, we’re all experiencing the helplessness of the hostage situation, and most of us have had to run to shelters in the last months. So Israeli filmmakers will have to completely rethink how they deal with the aesthetics, ethics, and narratives of trauma. I think, unlike with the Rabin assassination, they will have to deal with the event very, very explicitly and directly. I don’t think it will be many years before we start seeing narrative films about it.

Future films may deal with the current violence very explicitly. (Screenshot: “Image of Victory”, Amit Yasur)


What are your thoughts on the documentaries being made about the Oct. 7 tragedies?


I’ve actually already started teaching one of them in my Current Israeli Documentary class, Nova. That one came out vey quickly, but I know for a fact that there are many, many more on the way.


“I believe that whether people want to see it or not, the imagery both in documentaries and narrative cinema is going to be extremely graphic going forward.”


What is unique about Nova is the way it actually uses found footage that was shot by survivors and victims—and the terrorists themselves on GoPros attached to their bodies. So in some cases you are “in the body” of a terrorist! In other scenes you are running or huddled in hiding with other people. One striking phenomenon is that even while hiding, people are speaking quietly to their phones as if they understand that they must provide this type of live coverage of their own survival attempt; or as they run they take out their phones and film the carnage around them. As a viewer you start to ask yourself, why do we have the impulse to use technology this way?


So I think this type of technology is going to be a major part of the aesthetics of upcoming documentaries. We have so much footage especially from GoPros, I think this new experience of being “attached to a body” will be a main feature of these films. I also believe that whether people want to see it or not, the imagery both in documentaries and narrative cinema is going to be extremely graphic going forward.

For “Nova”, Dir. Dan Pe’er collected chilling first-person and selfie videos recovered from victims, survivors and terrorists at the music festival.


Have you changed your film classes to focus more around the war?


After October 7th I changed around my whole curriculum to focus on more current Israeli society, and after some debate I decided to begin with this documentary of the events at the Nova music festival. It turned out to spark a very meaningful class discussion. But I did need to consider how my students would react to certain images in ways I haven’t before. There are scenes that wouldn’t have had a negative impact a year ago that are now received very differently.


Do you think the drive to create documentaries stems from a desire for the world to see what we went through or from a need to work through it ourselves?


The answer is, of course, both. I imagine that people will want to make films about their own experiences. However I also think it is essential that people abroad see these films. Seeing how deeply anti-Zionism and antisemitism have taken root around the world and most strongly at elite academic institutions was a trauma in itself. Every single Harvard student and faculty member who has repeated violent chants and allowed hatred to go unchallenged should have to watch every film that comes out about the atrocities. They need to be shown that there is something rotten in the way they think that caused them to react the way they did. They should have to face head-on exactly what it is they are supporting.


“Every single Harvard student and faculty member who has repeated violent chants and allowed hatred to go unchallenged should have to watch every film that comes out about the atrocities. They should have to face head-on exactly what they are supporting.”


For us here in Israel, though, we are all traumatized by the attacks. There is no doubt in my mind that the documentaries now and whatever cinema comes out in two or three years will have a profound effect on Israeli viewers and on Jewish viewers the world over.


Go Fish: Decline in Poleward-Moving Fish

How Does Global Warming Impact Fish Abundance?

An extensive international study led by researchers from Tel Aviv University found a decline in the abundance of marine fish species that rapidly move toward the poles to escape rising sea temperatures. The researchers explain that many animal species are currently moving toward cooler regions as a result of global warming, but the velocity of such range shifts varies immensely for different species. Examining thousands of populations from almost 150 fish species, the researchers show that contrary to the prevailing view, rapid range shifts coincide with widescale population declines. According to the study, on average, a poleward shift of 17km per year may result in a decline of 50% in the abundance of populations. The international study was led by Ph.D. student Shahar Chaikin and Prof. Jonathan Belmaker from the School of Zoology in the Wise Faculty of Life Sciences and the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History at Tel Aviv University. The paper was published in the leading scientific journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. For the first time, the new study correlated two global databases: (1) a database that tracks fish population size over time, and (2) a database that compiles range shift velocities among marine fishes. Altogether, 2,572 fish populations belonging to 146 species were studied, mostly from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in the Northern Hemisphere.   Left to right - Prof. Jonathan Belmaker  Shahar Chaikin Left to right – Prof. Jonathan Belmaker and Shahar Chaikin

Off the Hook

Prof. Belmaker explains: “We know that climate change causes animal species to move – northward, southward, upwards, or downwards – according to their location relative to cooler regions. In the mountains they climb upwards, in the oceans they dive deeper, in the Southern Hemisphere they move south toward Antarctica, and in the Northern Hemisphere, they move north toward the North Pole. In the present study we wanted to see what happens to species that move from one place to another: do they benefit by increased survivability, or are they in fact harmed by the shift – which was initially caused by greater vulnerability to climate change? We found that the faster fish shift toward the poles, the faster their abundance declines. Apparently, it is difficult for these populations to adapt to their new surroundings”.
PhD student Chaikin: “We found that species shifting their geographical range more rapidly towards the poles, are in fact more likely to lose their abundance (e.g. European seabass). Additional findings show differences between populations that are closer to or further from the poles – within the geographical range of a particular species. While it might have been assumed that populations closer to the cooler polar margins of the species range would be less affected by climate change, we found that the opposite is true: fast poleward range shifts of populations from higher latitudes resulted in a more rapid decline in abundance compared to equatorial populations of the same species”.
The researchers highlight that the new findings can and should guide environmental decisionmakers, by enabling a reevaluation of the conservation status of various species and populations. The study’s results suggest that populations exhibiting rapid poleward range shifts require close monitoring and careful management. Thus, for example, pressures that threaten their survival can be mitigated through measures like fishing limits. Prof. Belmaker: “The common belief is that rapid range shifts safeguard a species against local population decline. But in this study, we found that the opposite is true. Apparently, species rapidly shifting their range in search of cooler temperatures do so because they are more vulnerable to climate change, and consequently require special attention. Last year we published another study that focused on local fish species along Israel’s coastline, which resulted in similar findings: species that move towards deeper and cooler habitats in the face of rising water temperatures exhibit declining populations. In the next stage of our research, we intend to investigate this causal relationship in additional marine species, other than fish”.  

Do Green Environments Help Heart Patients Live Longer?

Grass Is Greener, Lives Are Longer: Nature’s Impact on Heart Patients’ Health.

In a long-term study, unprecedented in its kind and scope, researchers from Tel Aviv University examined the association between a greener environment, which is most likely saturated with vegetation, and the mortality rate of coronary heart patients after undergoing bypass surgery – which is considered a traumatic event from both the physical and mental aspects. The study, which was carried out on thousands of patients who live all over the State of Israel and followed them over more than 10 years, found that the survival rate of bypass surgery heart patients who live in greener areas is significantly greater than those whose living environment is devoid of greenery. The study was conducted by Ph.D. student Maya Sadeh under the guidance of Prof. Rachel Dankner from the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine at the School of Public Health in the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences and Prof. Alexandra Chudnovsky from the Porter School of Environment and Earth Sciences at TAU. Also participating: Nir Fulman, also from the Porter School, Nirit Agay and Arnona Ziv from the Gertner Institute for Epidemiology Research at Sheba Medical Center, Ilan Levy from the Ministry of Environmental Protection, and Prof. Michael Brauer from the University of British Columbia in Canada. The research was carried out with the support of the Environment and Health Fund and the Israel Science Foundation and was published in the prestigious journal Epidemiology.

Unique Study Involving 3,128 Heart Patients

Prof. Dankner: “The current study was based on a database we built at the Gertner Institute about 20 years ago for another study: 3,128 heart patients who underwent bypass surgery in seven medical centers in Israel, from Haifa to Beer Sheva, between the years 2004-2007. Using data from the Ministry of the Interior Affairs we found that 1,442 (46%) of them died of various causes by the year 2021. In this study, we wanted to examine to what extent (if at all) the life expectancy of heart patients after surgery is associated with the amount of green vegetation in their residential area”. For the study, the researchers cross-referenced the patients’ residential address data with data from NASA’s Landsat satellites, which photograph the Earth and can locate the color green with a very high resolution and within a range of up to 30×30 meters from the residential address – which allows identification of vegetation even within urban areas.

Nature’s Health Check

The researchers worked to accurately account for the amount of greenery in a radius of up to 300m around the address of each patient and placed this figure against the dates of death or survival of the patients over 14 years from the date of surgery. They performed a detailed statistical analysis of the data, including adjustments for a variety of variables, such as age, sex, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, urgency of the hospitalization (elective, semi-elective, or emergency surgery), living in the periphery/center, air pollution, and living distance from the Mediterranean Sea. About 90% of the research participants lived in urban areas, 80% in the coastal plain from the center to Haifa, 15% in the Jerusalem area, and 5% in the southern Beer Sheva area. Maya Sadeh: “We divided the residential addresses of the patients into three groups, according to the amount of vegetation in their surroundings, and found a clear significant association between a green environment and the survival of the patients – that is, how many years they continued to live after the operation. The results revealed that during the mean time of 12 years following the operation, the risk of mortality for those who lived in a very green environment was lower on average by 7% compared to those who lived in a non-green environment. We also found that the beneficial relationship is more pronounced among women, who made up 23% of the cohort, and were older at the time of the surgery (69.5 years old on average) compared to men (63.8 years )”.  
The researchers conclude: “In this study, we examined the survival of coronary heart patients after undergoing bypass surgery, and found that living in a greener environment is associated with better chances of survival. We hypothesize that there are a variety of reasons for this: in a green environment, people breathe cleaner air and engage in more physical activity, the atmosphere may be calmer, and the quality of life is better overall. The research findings may be particularly relevant to the current period in Israel: implying that exposure to a green environment may be a beneficial factor in recovering from trauma”.

TAU Receives $12.67M Grant for Medical Simulation Center

The Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at Tel Aviv University Receives a $12.67 Million Grant from the Helmsley Charitable Trust to Create a Medical Simulation Training Center.

TEL AVIV, Israel & NEW YORK—A $12.67 million lead grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust will support the creation of the Helmsley Medical Simulation Center (“Center”) at the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at Tel Aviv University. The Center will provide student training for a new generation of skilled, experienced, and compassionate medical, dental, and healthcare professionals. The skills learned through simulation trainings will lead to increased patient safety and improved health outcomes. The grant will be used to plan, build, equip, and begin operating the Center in an existing building on Tel Aviv University’s campus. The term “medical education” encompasses many goals, but its key challenge is to teach medical professionals the clinical expertise and communication skills they need to successfully treat patients while managing complex interactions with patients, families, and team members. Managing these sensitive interactions appropriately is critical for ensuring high-quality care and patient safety. In addition, students must practice providing care without causing harm or putting patients at risk. Medical simulation training centers have thus become the standard of care worldwide and a synonym for excellence. The Center will be a dynamic and vibrant facility in use from morning to night by 1,400 medical and dental students, 3,000 MDs receiving continuing education at the Center for Continuing Medical Education at Tel Aviv University, and an additional 500 nursing students, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and more. With Israel facing an acute shortage of medical staff, the Center is a timely initiative, enabling the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences to expand medical training opportunities by revamping medical curricula, prioritizing critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and promoting a holistic patient care approach. The Center will provide comprehensive, high-quality, safe, and culturally sensitive educational services by employing state-of-the-art technologies in a teaching and research environment that is innovative and collaborative. Under the supervision of medical faculty members, the Center will include mock doctor-patient encounters featuring either life-like mannequins or actors as patients, and assessment that includes video-based feedback. Such activities will allow trainees to hone their communication and technical skills in a safe and controlled learning environment that is also dynamic and interactive. Such an environment can help improve student performance, engagement, and retention, ultimately leading to better outcomes for students and later for patients. The Center will implement extended and virtual reality technology, as well as extensive multimedia platforms, with a strong research component.  
“We support the people of Israel, and we are committed to supporting Israel’s world-class healthcare services,” said Sandor Frankel, a Trustee of The Helmsley Charitable Trust.
  “The Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at Tel Aviv University is a powerhouse of teaching and research in medicine and the health sciences, and we recognize the impact the University will have through providing state-of-the-art medical training for a new generation of students, physicians, nurses, occupational therapists, and other health professionals.” Helmsley aims to expand healthcare services so that everyone in Israel has access to quality healthcare no matter where they live, strengthen Israel’s contributions to basic scientific, technological, and medical research, and promote global understanding and appreciation of Israel and its people. Previous grants from Helmsley have supported Tel Aviv University’s research on nanomedicines for personalized “theranostics” for cancer, cardiovascular, and inflammatory diseases, and research on advanced communications technology. Tel Aviv University President, Prof. Ariel Porat, said, “We are deeply grateful for this vote of confidence by the Helmsley Charitable Trust in our medical faculty, which is the largest and leading one in Israel and among the most advanced in the world. With the visionary Helmsley gift, we will be able to build a major facility that is comprehensive, collaborative and innovative, and that will bring our medical training to new heights for the benefit of the Israeli people.”  
Prof. Karen Avraham, Dean of the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, commented: “Our remarkable team has worked tirelessly in the recent months to bring this dream to reality, Inspired by our former Dean, Prof. Ehud Grossman. At a time when medical and health care is on the verge of transformations in AI and gene and cell therapy, providing competency and compassion remains a priority.”

About the Helmsley Charitable Trust

The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust aspires to improve lives by supporting exceptional efforts in the U.S. and around the world in health and select place-based initiatives. Since beginning active grantmaking in 2008, Helmsley has committed $4.5 billion for a wide range of charitable purposes, including over $605 million for projects in Israel. For more information on Helmsley and its programs, visit

About Tel Aviv University

Tel Aviv University (TAU) – Israel’s largest and most comprehensive institution of higher learning – is home to over 30,000 students studying in nine faculties and over 125 schools and departments across the spectrum of sciences, humanities, and the arts. Situated in Israel’s cultural, financial, and technological capital, TAU shares Tel Aviv’s unshakable spirit of openness and innovation – and boasts a campus life as dynamic and pluralistic as the metropolis itself. Tel Aviv the city and Tel Aviv the university are one and the same – a thriving Mediterranean center of diversity and discovery.

Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron: Eco-Tech ‘Nobel’ in Electrical Engineering

Congratulations to Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron on receiving the IEEE Medal, the ‘Nobel Prize’ of Electrical Engineering for Eco-Technologies.

Tel Aviv University applauds and congratulates Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron from the Fleischman Faculty of Engineering for winning the 2024 IEEE Medal for Environmental and Safety Technologies, for her outstanding “contributions to sensing of the environment using wireless communication networks”. IEEE, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, established in 1884, is the world’s largest international professional association, with about 450,000 members worldwide. IEEE strives to advance technological innovation and entrepreneurship for the benefit of humanity, and the IEEE Medal is regarded by electrical engineering researchers as the ‘Nobel Prize’ in their field. Prof. Messer-Yaron explains that her research addresses two of today’s greatest scientific and technological challenges: climate change and its implications for life on Earth and processing big data in AI systems. She adds that the first challenge necessitates close monitoring of precipitation and other climatic phenomena in any place inhabited by humans and that today the presence of people is highly correlated with the existence of wireless communication networks.  
“The technology we developed enables processing and analyzing the big data collected by these existing communication networks for other purposes. Specifically, it uses changes in signal intensity to monitor meteorological phenomena in general and precipitation in particular. This is a breakthrough in monitoring climate change and the ways to address it”, says Prof. Messer-Yaron.
  Prof. Messer-Yaron’s original research enables using the existing coverage of cellular networks to monitor weather and precipitation – eliminating the need to install separate infrastructures of weather radars and locally designated stations that would be sufficiently widespread to provide reliable measures. Prof. Messer-Yaron first presented her novel idea in the leading scientific journal Science, and a 2009 study demonstrated that it can also be used to predict flash floods. For these achievements, Prof. Messer-Yaron and her co-researchers received the Best Inventor Award from WIPO – the World Intellectual Property Organization. In recent years, following Prof. Messer-Yaron’s work, research on opportunistic environmental sensing has grown significantly.  
Prof. Messer-Yaron: “I am thrilled to receive the IEEE Medal, and very pleased that my work is being recognized. I see great importance in utilizing existing technologies for the benefit of humankind and wish to thank my colleagues and students at TAU and in other research groups for their contribution to advancing this concept. Current challenges have generated considerable interest worldwide in this sustainable technology, including the establishment of a cohort of over 100 researchers working to implement it with EU funding, an initiative for promoting it in Africa, and more”.

Breaking the MedTech Glass Ceiling

An alumna of TAU’s program for young women entrepreneurs is developing a device that could revolutionize heart disease treatment.

Israel’s reputation as “Startup Nation” is well-deserved, but its tech industry suffers from a lack of gender diversity. Hoping to bring in a wealth of untapped potential, Tel Aviv University’s Entrepreneurship Center created a semester-long hands-on workshop for women to help bring their startup ideas to fruition with the help of experienced mentors. One such project is Symbiosis CM, founded by student-and-mentor team Dr. Shira Burg and Varda Badet, which is creating a medical device that personalizes treatment of heart disease. The startup has raised $1.9M as of last year and won a number of competitions and grants including the Deep Tech Track of the Coller Startup Competition and a grant from the Israeli Innovation Authority. The Problem  Originally trained as a veterinarian, Shira Burg worked for seven years alongside a small animal cardiologist in Israel, doing catheter procedures on dogs with congenital heart valve disease. There, she learned that one of the most common heart diseases, mitral valve disease, is difficult to treat because valve replacements are not fitted to individual heart sizes and replacement surgeries are invasive and costly. The disease occurs in aged dogs—and aged humans—in almost exactly the same way. During this period, she began working with a surgeon who was attempting to create a mitral valve prosthetic, but discovered just how much heart anatomies differ from person to person. “You can’t take something rigid and standard and expect it to fit every heart,” she says. “I realized that though we have personalized medicine in many fields such as drugs, diet, and genetics, we don’t have much personalization for medical devices. I saw an opening there for an improved mitral valve solution.”  
Shira Burg: “I realized that though we have personalized medicine in many fields such as drugs, diet, and genetics, we don’t have much personalization for medical devices. I saw an opening there.”
  Burg decided to pursue a PhD in cardiac electrophysiology at TAU’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at the lab of Prof. Bernard Attali. There, she continued to think about her idea for a better mitral valve device. In 2020, she heard about a new workshop, Yazamiyot, for female graduate students at TAU’s Entrepreneurship Center. “I realized that if I could get accepted, I might be able to do something with my idea.” After a rigorous application process involving three separate interviews, Burg was one of 30 women admitted to the first course. The Course  Yazamiyot, meaning “female entrepreneurs”, is an accelerator program targeting women master’s and PhD students. Participants work in small groups over one semester to establish a startup initiative in a supportive and empowering environment and are mentored through the process by successful women with industry experience. Burg’s mentor, TAU alumna Varda Badet, would go on to become her business partner. “With Varda, something just stuck. We had a connection,” Burg says. Badet came from the finance sector, having served as the EVP at Bank Leumi for Risk Management during her many years in the field. Hoping to share her knowledge and connections, she took some courses to become a mentor at the Entrepreneurship Center. “There I found Shira, a very special entrepreneur. Every unsolved problem, she investigates and explores until it is solved. She is very motivated and ambitious, and I could see she was someone I wanted to work with.”  
Yair Sakov: “At Tel Aviv University, we feel it is our responsibility to help drive change within society. Our mission at the Center is to empower students to come up with solutions to global challenges.”
  During the semester, participants were brought face to face with the market realities that would determine whether their ideas were commercially feasible. They were taught how to inform themselves on target demographics and competitors, present their ideas to experts and the public, build a team, and more. They also heard from industry experts, from whom they could ask advice on their individual projects, and successful female entrepreneurs. Yair Sakov, founder and managing director of the TAU Entrepreneurship Center, says: “At Tel Aviv University, we feel it is our responsibility to help drive change within our society. Our mission at the Center is to empower students to come up with solutions to global challenges by helping them develop an entrepreneurial mindset and by giving them tools and resources. In particular, we aim to uplift underrepresented communities, including women, who are still marginalized in the startup ecosystem. The Yazamiyot program was created to address that gender gap, and nearly every cohort since its inception has contributed to the establishment of new woman-led startups.” Burg credits the workshop with giving her the tools to make her idea for a personalized heart valve device a reality, but says the most important thing she gained was her connection with Badet. Aside from teaching necessary business finance skills, Badet brought in resources in the form of her many industry connections and financial backing. “As a mentor, you must believe in your entrepreneur completely and be ready to stick out the tough process with them. This product is worth that perseverance because it could save so many lives,” says Badet. The Company  There is indeed great life-saving potential in addressing the lack of effective mitral valve disease solutions: in the US alone about 70% of the 4 million patients with the condition are unable to get proper treatment. Additionally, hospitals pay about $40 billion a year in treatment costs, with over 90% rehospitalization rates due to heart failure. Many companies have tried to address the problem, but their products are not widely approved and do not fit more than 20% of heart anatomies. In a novel move, Symbiosis CM is developing a docking system that allows for real-time valve adjustment per an individual’s heart structure and minimally invasive procedures to treat the disease. The system is compatible with valves already on the market, making it accessible and opening the door to collaboration with other companies. The startup team already has a working prototype in preclinical trials on lab models.   A sample image of the heart valve docking system created by Symbiosis CM Burg happily notes that her original plan to develop a solution for dogs, ideated during her time as a veterinarian, may one day also become reality: the product is small enough to work on animals as well as people. The management side of things is also on track for success: Burg and Badet recently brought on a new CEO, Amir Weisberg, who has behind him 35 years of entrepreneurial experience, three exits in the medical field and an IPO on NASDAQ. “He was actually retired when we approached him, but after we presented to him, he decided to come out of retirement and sign on full-time to the company,” says Burg. The Need for Women in Industry  Both Burg and Badet note that the Yazamiyot course is essential because of the difficulties of succeeding in the startup industry as a woman. Says Burg, “It’s a male-dominated world. We need to say it out loud. Especially in the spaces where I work, in the medical field and cardiology, it’s mostly men. When I came to specialists and investors, they would see a young woman and decide before I started speaking that I wasn’t to be taken seriously. That is why it is so important to push more women into entrepreneurship in general: so that people no longer question what we’re doing there.” Adds Badet, “it makes me so glad to see and to help more women break into entrepreneurship.”  
Shira Burg: “In Israel, female entrepreneurship is an unpolished diamond.”
  “Israel has many undiscovered talents,” says Burg. “Female entrepreneurship, especially, is an unpolished diamond. If we expand programs such as Yazamiyot, amazing things will come from it.” About the Entrepreneurship Center  Four the last four years, Tel Aviv University’s Entrepreneurship Center has provided students from across campus with the knowledge, tools, strategies and opportunities to create business and social ventures. It connects them with alumni, industry, government agencies and NGOs to generate and develop the next world-changing ideas. Over the Center’s first years of operations, it has achieved the following:   · 100 entrepreneurship courses, events and programs · 12,000 student participants · 92 startups ·$155 million in VC capital ·190 top industry mentors, most of them TAU alumni By gradually expanding activities, the Center expects its to reach 4,500 students per year by 2029.    

Social Workers on the Frontlines

A trauma-focused course offers support and extra training to social workers treating Oct. 7 survivors.

Nearly everyone across Israel has been affected by the brutalities of October 7, whether directly or indirectly. Social workers, though very experienced working with traumatized and disadvantaged populations, found themselves overwhelmed in the face of such monumental horror. To help social workers provide the best service while also protecting their own mental health, Tel Aviv University’s Bob Shapell School of Social Work initiated a six-week online course for working with acute trauma and PTSD. The course is now in its fifth round, with 5 more rounds planned in the next few months, but is still having trouble keeping up with demand. “When we first published the course, 10 times more people than we had space for signed up,” says Dr. Julia Gouzman, the course organizer. “There is a pressing need for this resource, which has received philanthropic support from the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago.” Uncharted Waters of Oct. 7 Trauma  The idea for a training program came from the numerous testimonies of social workers feeling unprepared for the magnitude of the crisis. Some did not work with trauma victims before the Israel-Hamas war, while those that had felt the tools and models they’d used previously were not adequate to address the specific needs and hardships they were now treating. “During this time, a lot of us were winging it in our work, since there was simply no way to prepare for what we were facing. Much of what we did was based mainly on intuition,” explains Tal Magal, a course graduate who has been working with evacuees from the Gaza border at a hotel since the beginning of the war. She has been a social worker for about 22 years and works with at-risk children.  
Tal Magal:“Though I work with trauma regularly, in this case I felt like I needed some kind of anchor to get my mind in order.”

Kelly Ashwal, another course participant, also describes how emotionally demanding those first weeks were. Ashwal works at Beilinson Hospital, which treated direct survivors of the Oct. 7 attack including soldiers and Nova partygoers. “We started getting in helicopter after helicopter of people. Those first visits with the injured were so hard—I felt it in my body, horrible headaches and stomach aches.” She describes how she had to walk many people through the shock of grief and severe panic attacks. There are also Holocaust survivors in long-term care at the hospital whom she helped through flashbacks brought on by news of the violence. “We all had lots of questions about how best to approach those affected,” says Ashwal. “I was trying my best to handle each individual case properly, so when I saw the ad for the TAU course, I thought it sounded perfect for my needs.” Both women recount how glad they were to receive news that a course was opening. Magal: “Though I work with trauma regularly, in this case I felt like I needed some kind of anchor to get my mind in order.” Anchoring in Tools and Methods The course’s main foci include emergency trauma treatments, long-term PTSD prevention, resilience and growth, trauma in children, and self-preservation for social workers themselves. After each class, the participants receive the materials so they can revisit them at any time. Says Magal, “The fact that the course was structured for those like me in the thick of things was the reason I was able to attend. It was on Zoom, it wasn’t a huge time commitment, and it didn’t require extra preparation. It let me continue with my work at the hotel and in my regular work. That’s so important because time is precious right now. There were a couple times I attended from right at the hotel–I felt the information was so important I couldn’t miss it.” Both Ashwal and Magal say the course gave them solid ground to stand on. “We learned breathing exercises and how to ground ourselves in our physical space,” says Ashwal. “I use that all the time now both for myself and my patients. I received tools I didn’t have for helping parents speak with their kids, as well as for emotionally protecting myself. Though the work still affects me, with the help of the course I feel much more capable of doing my job.”  
Kelly Ashwal: “Though the work still affects me, with the help of the course I feel much more capable of doing my job.”

Magal adds that the program sharpened the tools she had and gave her confidence in her methods. It also gave her the ability to help patients out of the trauma mindset so they can start looking forward to the future and taking control of their lives. Says Chair of the Shapell School’s Unit for Continuing Education and Training, Dr. Lia Levin: “Making available basic tools for working with trauma is of utmost importance for the resilience of all the country’s residents. At the same time, it is also the realization of basic values that guide us at Tel Aviv University–uncompromising professionalism and contribution to the community.”

Moving Forward

With four course cycles completed, the program has received high praise from participants. “We’ve had many requests to open a follow-up program to deepen and expand the subject matter,” says Dr. Gouzman. “I am very proud to be at the head of a program that meets such a huge need. I am constantly moved by the feedback from participants.”  
Dr. Julia Gouzman: “I am very proud to be at the head of a program that meets such a huge need. I am constantly moved by the feedback from participants.”
  Magal says, “I have no doubt that I’ll continue to use what I learned in the course even after all of this ends, both because I work with trauma day to day, but also because in Israel there’s always a risk of other disasters. Israeli social workers will be better off when they’re equipped to help out immediately when they are needed. We need this knowledge because Israel is our home, and this is the reality we face.”

TAU’s Inside Woman at the UN

Gender and Law Professor Daphna Hacker speaks on women, war, and her experience at the UN.

One devastating aspect of the current war has been the world’s hesitance to speak up about the gendered violence which took place on October 7th. TAU’s own Prof. Daphna Hacker is a member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and was in Geneva when the war began. Prof. Hacker teaches and researches Law and Gender at the Buchmann Faculty of Law and Entin Faculty of Humanities and is one of Israel’s foremost experts on gender. TAU sat down with her to hear her perspectives on working at the UN, its response to the current war, and the gendered aspects of warfare.   Please be advised this interview contains discussion of heavy topics including gendered and antisemitic violence.    How has your experience at CEDAW been so far, especially as an Israeli?  We’re 23 people, right now 22 women and one man. It’s the most diverse, strongly feminist group that I’ve ever been part of. The first year was really exciting and I was so impressed by everyone’s professionalism. But the last session I attended was just after October 7th, and that was rough and disappointing. They decided to issue a statement. Even though protocol is for members not to be involved in decisions about their home countries, they asked me at a certain point to gather information especially about the sexual violence. In the end they issued this half-page, horribly embarrassing statement that didn’t even say “Hamas” once. I have to admit, I was really surprised by the outcome. Until then I didn’t feel that this was a terribly politicized committee, but I discovered there were underlying political motives that I hadn’t noticed before. It was really a challenge, especially being far from home at such a time. I did not attend the following session that took place in February to give myself space from that experience and to be with my students. In May, though, I’ll have to go back and face them again. Can you elaborate on the attitude toward Israel and the Jewish people at the UN?  Placing what happened in CEDAW in broader context of the reaction of feminist organizations, of UN organizations, of left-wing organizations in the States and other Western countries, it seems that for many, it is very hard to perceive Israel as the victim. Israel is a flourishing country with an allegedly strong army. So people are not able to recognize that this time we were facing a murderous terrorist organization that did atrocities. There is simply so much ignorance and disinformation.  
“I didn’t feel until now that being Israeli at the UN was an issue – on the contrary, Israel is known to be very good on gender equality and our experts are well-respected.”

Beyond that, I did see instances of antisemitism at the UN, for example comments about Jews and money that no one blinked at. However I didn’t feel until now that being Israeli was actually an issue – on the contrary, Israel is known to be very good on gender equality and our experts are well-respected. I am actually the fourth Israeli that has held a UN position on gender.

Can you speak a bit about women’s participation in the current war effort, and in wars in Israel in the past? Is this time different in any way?

When you wear the gender lens, you can’t help but see how so many things are tied to gender. This is an extraordinary war when it comes to gender, on multiple fronts. This is the first time that we have female combat soldiers taking such a prominent role. We had the all-female tank crews that saved kibbutzim. It’s also the first time the Israeli public has been exposed to women in Gaza as combat soldiers and doctors, and everyone seems to be okay with it. But on the flip side we have the Tatzpitaniot (female soldiers who keep watch over the border fence through cameras) saying they had warned the army about Hamas for months and nobody listened. And then we have the sexual violence on October 7. Never in Israeli history was the enemy for eight hours or more in civilian villages, free to do whatever they want. And of course, the hostages. Never in Israeli history have tens of women been taken. What are some ways the current war is affecting different genders differently?  One glaring gender issue was that women and children were the first hostages released. Because the Red Cross was not allowed by Hamas to see them, we didn’t know who should have been released first based on their medical condition. In a more humane version of this horribly inhumane situation, we would know who needs assistance, and it shouldn’t matter if they were a man or a woman. But Hamas will not even allow this very minimal gesture. Another issue is that when it comes to the war effort, there is no doubt that men bear the brunt of hardship. Combat soldiers are still majority male. Being in Gaza and risking their lives, and killing others, for weeks on end—we know the rates of PTSD, they are extremely high. At the same time, men are a majority at the policy- and peacemaking tables.  
“While gender is an important angle, we need to remember to acknowledge our common suffering as well.”
  But I actually feel that while gender is an important angle, we need to remember to acknowledge our common suffering as well. Talking only about “women and children” is detrimental for the future if we want a world in which we can pursue our biographies regardless of what body we were born in.

Can you speak about the gendered violence on October 7 and the world’s response to it?

International law has recognized rape as a weapon of war, as something done by an enemy against a nation. So, we know it is not a coincidence that Hamas raped and violated women. This was not one terrorist doing his horrible thing. Unfortunately documentation is so complicated because in all of the chaos, Israeli authorities did not gather forensic evidence of sexual violence in the moment. There was no precedent; we have no prior experience of war-related sexual violence on Israeli land. International bodies were in theory trying to be cautious about accuracy. But to not even condemn Hamas, and to leave out the gendered violence as part of a long list of undeniable atrocities in those first few weeks — to me, this is simply cruel antisemitism and anti-Israelism. We did more recently have a week-long visit by the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten. She listened and learned, and she has just submitted her report unequivocally acknowledging that sexual assaults were committed on October 7. That was a big accomplishment of Israeli feminists who insisted on her visit. Can you tell me a bit about your academic background? How long have you been at TAU, and what are your main research topics? How did you come to the gender studies field?  My first degree was in Law, and at the time we barely had Women’s Studies in Israeli academia. It only came onto my radar because I heard a lecture about feminism. That hour and a half changed my life. It was mind-blowing as a young woman to put words to so many things I had experienced.  
“Women’s studies only came onto my radar because I happened to hear a lecture about feminism. It was mind-blowing as a young woman to put words to so many things I had experienced.”
  After earning an MA in human rights law in the US, I arrived at TAU to do a PhD in Sociology. At that point I felt I’d found my intellectual home in the field of law and society. I specialize in feminist jurisprudence, family law and the sociology of family. What was the process of being appointed to CEDAW?   I have been committed to activism all my life. I was one of the founding members of “Women Lawyers for Social Justice” in Israel, and sat on other boards and committees for women’s equality. I always dreamed of taking my activism global by becoming a CEDAW member. Then one day, all of a sudden, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs called me up about just that! It felt like they’d read my mind. The process took a whole year. We made a video of me, and I went to New York to meet election officers who interviewed me about my goals for the committee. In the end 115 countries voted for me. How does CEDAW operate?  When a country ratifies an international convention, it takes upon itself the obligation to report to the relevant committee every few years. CEDAW’s main responsibility is to review reports regarding women’s rights from governments and NGOs on the ground. Countries send delegations of diplomats whom we question; we then write our own report with suggestions for the country. We are also authorized to hear individual complaints against governments who have authorized it. Of course, because participation is voluntary, CEDAW cannot enforce its recommendations. All we can do is hope a country cares about human rights enough, or is worried enough about international shaming, to listen to us. One accomplishment recently was our recommendation to Bahrain to change a law allowing a rapist to escape criminal charges by marrying his victim. Two weeks later they changed the law! Has your participation in the committee affected your views?  I’ve really learned the value of diplomacy and meeting countries and governments where they are. We are forging dialogues with these countries instead of imposing opinions that are totally foreign to certain cultures or are economically unrealistic.  
“The fact that women in disadvantaged or more oppressive countries may be able to access our livestreamed hearings and see that we try to hold their governments accountable can help offer empowerment.”
  Additionally, although I was aware of some of the harshest conditions for women in certain countries, learning about them so thoroughly has both helped me internalize and understand the importance of committees like CEDAW, whose sessions are livestreamed. We’ve spoken with African countries with high rates of child marriage and extremely low access to birth control, as well as China where there is very little free speech, and the fact that women in those countries may be able to access our hearings and see that we try to hold their governments accountable can help offer empowerment. Have there been any surprising discoveries about how the UN works?   It turns out the UN is in a horrible state financially to a degree that makes working difficult. This is partially because the prosperous countries who fund the UN do not want a strong treaty body to supervise human rights violations. When you have powerful countries that invade other countries (some of whom have blocked UN recognition of Hamas as a terrorist organization), that silence opposition, that call themselves democracies although they’re not, the whole world suffers. Economically weakening the apparatus that was built to prevent a third world war is one way to get away with human rights violations. So again, we can be cynical and think we shouldn’t bother with these international efforts, but at the same time, we can’t do without them. Forsaking our global connections when Israel is so small and in a hostile neighborhood can’t end well, and we’ve seen this with other countries too. Are you still doing research during these tough times?  Honestly, I feel that my research is what saved my sanity. Clinging to normalcy while making space for activism is so important for our mental health, and being at TAU has been a blessing. I get to meet smart and well-spoken students, and to pursue my intellectual interests. We are a tiny gender studies department, which is a bit of a challenge, but I feel I have everything I could ask for from a job here.  
“I feel that my research is what saved my sanity. Clinging to normalcy while making space for activism is so important for our mental health, and being at TAU has been a blessing.”
  That being said, I have not only been able to concentrate on my work in these difficult times: in an effort to expand knowledge of Middle East history and politics as well as paths forward, two colleagues and I created a “Day After the War” Forum. The Forum’s goal is to raise awareness in the Israeli public that overthrowing Hamas must be part of a broader multi-state political alliance with cooperative Western countries and moderate Arab countries. We hold public webinars from experts on Middle Eastern studies and conflict resolution, among other things. (The Hebrew site can be seen here.) Learning from these sessions has given me some hope for the future.

Prof. Ehud Gazit: Meitner-Humboldt Award Winner7

Congratulations to Prof. Ehud Gazit on receiving the esteemed Meitner-Humboldt Research Award.

Alexander von Humboldt Foundation of Germany has announced that it is awarding the Meitner-Humboldt Research Award for the year 2024 to Prof. Ehud Gazit of Tel Aviv University, in recognition of his extensive academic achievements. The award is bestowed upon eminent international researchers across diverse fields of study who have had a substantial impact on their respective domains and are anticipated to continue to achieve groundbreaking academic accomplishments in the future. Prof. Ehud Gazit is a world-renowned researcher in the fields of nanotechnology, biochemistry, and biophysics research. He is a full professor at both the Shmunis School for Biomedicine and Cancer Research in the Wise Faculty of Life Sciences and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in the Fleischman Faculty of Engineering. Additionally, he serves as the Chair of Biotechnology of Degenerative Diseases, as a member of the Tel Aviv University’s Executive Council, and as the founding director of the Blavatnik Center for Drug Discovery.  
Prof. Ehud Gazit: “I am grateful to receive international recognition for my academic research and support towards future endeavors. I would like to thank the members of the award committee and Prof. Klaus Jandt from the University of Jena in Germany for the nomination and selection. This is a profound honor for me.”
  Prof. Gazit is one of the most prolific inventors in the Israeli academy. He has registered over one hundred patents and led the transfer of technologies to companies in Israel and around the world. He has published nearly 400 peer-reviewed articles in top journals. His groundbreaking research has earned him numerous accolades in Israel and abroad, including the Kadar Family Award for Outstanding Research, the Landau Prize from the Mifal Hapayis national lottery, and the Rappaport Prize for Excellence in Biomedical Research. Prof. Gazit is a fellow of the UK’s Royal Society of Chemistry, a Member of the European Molecular Biology Organization, and a Foreign Member of the National Academy of Sciences, India. Recently, he was elected as a fellow in the US National Academy of Inventors, the highest recognition bestowed by the organization. The Meitner-Humboldt Research Award has been awarded since 1991 in collaboration between the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the Israeli Ministry of Science, Technology, and Space (MOST). It is named in memory of the Austrian nuclear physicist Lise Meitner and the German naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt.

Do Viruses Have Consciousness?

Bacteria-Targeting Viruses Adapt, Improving their Decision-Making.

Researchers from the Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research at Tel Aviv University have deciphered a novel complex decision-making process that helps viruses choose to turn nasty or stay friendly to their bacterial host. In a new paper, they describe how viruses co-opt a bacterial immune system, intended to combat viruses like themselves, in this decision-making process. The study was led by Polina Guler, a PhD student in Prof. Avigdor Eldar’s lab, in addition to other lab members, at the Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research, George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences. The paper was published in Nature Microbiology.  

All-You-Can-Eat Bacteriophage

  Bacteriophages, also known as phages, are types of viruses that infect bacteria and use the infected bacteria to replicate and spread. Even though the word ‘bacteriophage,’ meaning ‘bacteria devouring’ in ancient Greek, suggests destruction, many phages can adopt a “sleeping” mode, in which the virus incorporates itself into the bacterial genome. In fact, in this mode of action, the virus can even have a symbiotic relationship with the bacteria, and its genes can help its host prosper.     In general, Eldar explains that phages usually prefer to stay in the “sleeping”, dormant mode, in which the bacteria “cares” for their needs and helps them safely replicate. Previous research published by the Eldar lab has shown that the phages’ decision-making uses two kinds of information to decide whether to stay dormant or turn violent: the “health status” of their host and signals from outside indicating the presence of other phages around.    
“A phage can’t infect a cell already occupied by another phage. If the phage identifies that its host is compromised but also receives signals indicating the presence of other phages in the area, it opts to remain with its current host, hoping for recovery. If there is no outside signal, the phage ‘understands’ that there might be room for it in another host nearby and it’ll turn violent, replicate quickly, kill the host, and move on to the next target”, Eldar explains.

Death by Phage

  The new study deciphers the mechanism that enables the virus to make these decisions. “We discovered that in this process the phage actually uses a system that the bacteria developed to kill phages”, says Guler. If it does not sense a signal from other phages—indicating that it has a good chance of finding new hosts—the phage activates a mechanism that disables the defense system. “The phage switches to its violent mode, and with the defense system neutralized, it is able to replicate and kill its host”, describes Guler. “If the phage senses high concentrations of the signal, instead of disabling the defense system, it utilizes its defense activity in order to turn on its dormant mode”.     “The research revealed a new level of sophistication in this arms race between bacteria and viruses,” adds Eldar. Most bacterial defense systems against phages were studied in the context of viruses that are always violent. Far less is known about the mechanisms of attacks and interaction with viruses that have a dormant mode. “The bacteria also have an interest in keeping the virus in the dormant mode, first and foremost to prevent their own death, and also because the genes of the dormant phage might even contribute to bacterial functions,” says Eldar.     “This finding is important for several reasons. One reason is that some bacteria, such as those causing the cholera disease in humans, become more violent if they carry dormant phages inside them – the main toxins that harm us are actually encoded by the phage genome,” explains Eldar. “Another reason is that phages can potentially serve as replacements to antibiotics against pathogenic bacteria. Finally, phage research may lead to better understanding of viruses in general and many human-infecting viruses can also alternate between dormant and violent modes”.


Tok Corporate Centre, Level 1,
459 Toorak Road, Toorak VIC 3142
Phone: +61 3 9296 2065
Email: [email protected]

New South Wales

Level 22, Westfield Tower 2, 101 Grafton Street, Bondi Junction NSW 2022
Phone: +61 418 465 556
Email: [email protected]

Western Australia

P O Box 36, Claremont,
WA  6010
Phone: :+61 411 223 550
Email: [email protected]