On his visit to Congregation Machane Chodosh last week, venture fund manager Daniel Frankenstein noticed the memorial plaques on the synagogue’s wall, with names such as Walter, Siegfried, and Irmgard. “These are German names; my grandfather was Hans and my grandmother was Hildegard. We are Yekkes,” he said. He was hosted by one of a handful of its older German-born members, longtime shul president Herbert Jaffe.
But what brought them together at Machane Chodosh two weeks ago wasn’t so much their shared heritage as their passion for innovation. Jaffe is an engineer with inventions to his name, while Frankenstein is the co-founder of Janvest Technologies, a US-based micro-cap venture fund that invests exclusively in Israeli startups. “I have a front row seat to the most incredible technology ecosystem in the world.” Since his firm’s founding nearly a decade ago, Janvest provided funding towards Israeli start-ups that have enhanced cyber security, detected minerals in the ground, and expanded the tasks done by robots and drones. “Israeli entrepreneurs are raising more capital in the world than any other country, after the US and China,” he said.
Frankenstein then introduced two Israeli innovators and a humanitarian assistance nonprofit. Joe Taveras is the marketing specialist for Roboteam, makers of the Temi “personal robot.” Its inventor, Yossi Wolf, was inspired to create the three-foot-tall, 20-pound “information hub” on wheels when he observed how his grandmother’s hands were shaking and unable to hold a cup or a smartphone. Similar to Alexa and Google Voice, it is a walking encyclopedia that can also respond to commands such as “turn on the light” or “play a song,” and it can remind the user of appointments.
“It is also a smartphone hub, and you can charge them by attaching them to Temi,” said Taveras. “Now consider controlling this robot from thousands of miles away. It is an emotional experience. Taveras sought to demonstrate that families divided by geography can still do things together through Temi. He added that Temi is capable of teaching new languages to its users.
When an Israeli invention is not following its owners in their homes, another Janvest-funded venture is See Tree, a small drone that flies above large expanses of farmland, examines the health of trees, and makes recommendations. It was represented at Machane Chodosh by marketing director Farhana Rahman, a self-described “Muslim Zionist.” This smart drone saves time and labor for farmers by identifying which trees need special care on lands that extend over hundreds of acres. “The sensors pick up the health and productivity of the trees. Our team in Tel Aviv looks at this and then our agronomists go to the trees,” said Rahman.
The drone artificial intelligence can calculate a yield-per-tree map, from which growers could calculate how valuable it might be to replace trees or selectively thin them out. Based in Tel Aviv, the company has offices in California and Brazil. It represents a bridge between Israel’s agricultural legacy that made deserts bloom and drained swamps, with its present status as a leader in technological innovation.
Frankenstein’s final guest presenter was Seth Davis, Executive Director of IsraAID USA. The nongovernmental organization sends Israeli aid workers to assist in disaster relief across the world – in places such as earthquake-stricken Japan – as well as fighting Ebola in Sierra Leone and rebuilding after a typhoon in the Philippines. “We have served over two million people in 51 countries since 2001, and have focused on relief and rescue, medical missions, mental health trauma reduction, and safe water, amongst other knowledge-based solutions,” said Davis.
Frankenstein spoke of his own connection to Israel as a product of his student activism at UC-Berkeley. Shortly before 9/11, he ran for student government on the punny slogan, “He is no monster,” which resonated with his peers. After his election and the terrorist attack on the country, he noticed the ferocity of student protesters who smeared Israel as an aggressor. “I was on the student senate and president of my fraternity,” he said. “Israel was right in the mix. I found myself on the senate, with Israel as a huge issue.”
His pro-Israel activism was recognized by AIPAC, which invited Frankenstein to its policy conference in Washington, where he networked with hundreds of student leaders from across the country. He still keeps in touch with many of them, working on numerous pro-Israel initiatives. At the policy conference, he also met his wife Erielle Reshef. They split their time between the Bay Area, where he grew up, and Israel, which has become his second home.
Frankenstein invited the crowd at Machane Chodosh to attend the upcoming AIPAC Policy Conference on March 1, 2020, in Washington, noting how it changed his life in connecting him with fellow supporters, launching initiatives, and strengthening pro-Israel sentiments of Jewish communities across the country.
Rabbi Yossi Mendelson, the Rabbi of Congregation Machane Chodosh, thanked Frankenstein and AIPAC for its “good news conference” that tells the story of Israel that is “beyond the conflict and politics.”
By Sergey Kadinsky