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Visitors to the Otto Weidt Workshop for the Blind Museum in Berlin would need to be blind not to notice Haim Hoffmann—or rather, his weird beard—as he asks them to leave their backpacks at the reception desk. “It’s called the ‘Three-day Freestyle,’” joked Hoffman, the museum’s shift manager. Hoffman should know. He’s the German champion for the “Imperial Beard,” in which a sizable mustache-beard arches upward. He’ll be defending the bronze medal at the 2017 World Beard and Mustache Championships (WBMC) in Austin, Texas, from Sept. 1-3. Bryan Nelson, the organizer of this year’s WBMC, counts at least a handful of “Members of the Tribe” among the record-high 700 contestants.

Israel stands to generate large profits from its burgeoning medical cannabis industry after a joint committee of the country’s Health and Finance ministries Aug. 13 approved a measure allowing for international exports of the plant. The state could reportedly earn up to $4 billion annually in revenue from medical cannabis exportation. Saul Kaye, CEO of the iCAN: Israel-Cannabis organization, told JNS.org the Israeli government’s move “will significantly increase investment as well as entrepreneurship” in the cannabis technology sector and that “numerous jobs will be created throughout the country.”

Seventy future IDF soldiers—more than half of them women—immigrated to Israel from North America this week, arriving on an El Al Airlines flight chartered by the Nefesh B’Nefesh aliyah agency. “I realized that if [IDF soldiers] felt [Israel] was my home, and I felt it was my home, then shouldn’t it be my duty to protect it too?” said Sophie Stillman of Hopkins, Minn., one of the future soldiers arriving on the aliyah flight Aug. 15.

One of the strongest sources of support for Israel has been found among evangelical Christians in the U.S. Yet today, evangelical Christian millennials, like the rest of their generation, are becoming less religiously observant, which Christian leaders fear may eventually erode support in their community for the Jewish state. In order to counter this trend, Christian leaders are taking a page from the Jewish playbook by launching 10-day trips to Israel for college-age adults. 

A rapidly aging population and increased environmental risks have led cancer to overtake heart disease as the leading cause of death in parts of the Western world. Researchers remain a long way from eradicating cancer, but several new treatments may offer hope. On the cutting edge of cancer research in Israel is the Weizmann Institute’s Prof. Yosef Yarden, whose findings have laid the foundation for the creation of new cancer treatments such as immunotherapy, which uses the body’s immune system to help fight cancer. “The new generation of immunotherapy antibodies are in fact biological molecules and the body naturally uses them, so they come with very mild side effects. The future is very much in immunotherapy,” Yarden told JNS.org.

“Becoming Israeli,” an anthology edited by Akiva Gersh, narrates the inspiring and challenging sides of immigrating to Israel. The book unites the writing of 40 bloggers “whose words take readers on an adventure that evokes a wide range of emotions, from frustration to inspiration, from confusion to deep pride,” Gersh said. At the book’s recent launch event, Gersh sat on a panel with contributing authors who reflected on their unique reasons for making aliyah, the paradoxes of life in Israel and the vision of bringing Jews back to their ancestral homeland.

Bex Zank, who was recently part of an LGBTQ Birthright Israel trip, recounted what many participants called the first time they could be exactly who they are. The group sat around a campfire, sharing their coming-out stories. As Zank began to cry, describing coming out on Instagram while riding a camel, a group of new friends linked arms in support. Since 2000, Birthright has provided free 10-day trips to Israel for nearly 600,000 Jews ages 18-26. Niche Birthright trips like the LGBTQ trip ensure that all eligible participants feel they have a place in the often transformative experience of discovering Israel.

Mayim Bialik, a star on the CBS hit sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” launched a witty new video campaign this week for SodaStream, succeeding actress Scarlett Johansson as the official pitchwoman for the Israeli beverage carbonation company. In an interview with JNS.org, Bialik praised SodaStream—which employs both Israeli and Palestinian workers—for embodying “diversity, coexistence and peace.” The company’s former headquarters were situated beyond Israel’s pre-1967 lines, making SodaStream a target of the BDS movement. “As so many people in Israel know, people from different religions, ethnicities and nationalities can work together in peace and harmony despite what the media wants us to believe,” Bialik said.

The latest innovator from Israel’s “start-up nation” to score an international breakthrough is seeking to make the exchange and creation of digital currencies accessible to the masses. The Tel Aviv-based Bancor Foundation start-up recently raised $153 million on the Ethereum digital currency network, in a record-setting initial coin offering. “As the world moves into its next era of geopolitical organization, and cryptocurrencies improve in adoption, security and stability, we can imagine a new financial world order which is based on algorithmically ensured balance rather than politics,” Galia Benartzi, Bancor’s co-founder, told JNS.org.

Susan Salzberg was the first to spot her late father-in-law’s face—a face with a striking resemblance to that of her 22-year-old son. Since as many as 200,000 Jews passed through the Lodz Ghetto from 1939-1944, the Salzberg family hardly expected to see Lewis Salzberg among the images in “Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross,” an exhibit on display in Boston through July 30. Ross’s lens caught the pain and pathos of the Jews remanded to the Holocaust era’s second-largest ghetto after the Warsaw Ghetto.

As the so-called “Jewish Olympics” (the Maccabiah Games) kicked off this week in Israel, another Olympic-style Jewish event sought to ignite global Jewish leadership. From July 2-6, the 2017 Return on Investment (ROI) Summit in Jerusalem hosted more than 150 young Jewish leaders from 29 countries.

A newly published study may lend unprecedented insights into the wardrobe of Israel’s ancient kings. The study—headed by Tel Aviv University’s Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef and Dr. Naama Sukenik of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in collaboration with Bar-Ilan University—uncovered textiles colored with ancient plant dyes in Israel’s southern Timna Valley. The textiles were used during the time of Kings David and Solomon. “If we want to know what these kings wore, the only hints are in these textiles discovered in Timna,” Ben-Yosef told JNS.org.

The new leader of a pro-Israel program working on more than 120 North American college campuses is seeking to raise awareness about the Jewish state’s diversity. “Israel is often stereotyped, but every Israeli is unique and together, they are a diverse people,” said Michelle Rojas-Tal, the newly appointed director of the Israel Fellows program, a joint initiative of The Jewish Agency for Israel and Hillel International. “As someone who grew up in an interfaith family in inner-city New York, I genuinely relate to Israelis and the Israeli story. As a Jew, I am inspired to help other young people appreciate and build the connections they have to Israel.”

Driving into Timna Park, a nature reserve bounded by majestic, red-tinged craggy hills, it’s easy to feel the awe and serenity that’s the hallmark of any desert experience. Drive 20 minutes south, and you’ll arrive at the brash Red Sea resort town of Eilat, where water sports and shopping are the order of the day. Timna is less than 10 minutes by car from the new Ilan and Assaf Ramon Airport that’s scheduled to open next spring near Eilat, in what is expected to be a game-changer for southern Israel’s tourism scene.

The recent discovery of a previously invisible inscription on the back of an ancient pottery shard, that was on display at Jerusalem’s Israel Museum for over 50 years, has prompted Tel Aviv University researchers to consider what other hidden inscriptions may have been discarded during archaeological digs, before the availability of high-tech imaging, writes JNS.org's Adam Abrams.

During the 20th Maccabiah Games next month, about 7,000 Jewish athletes from 80 countries will descend upon the Holy Land to join 2,500 Israeli athletes in the Olympic-style competition. Held every four years, the Jewish multi-sport competition is the world’s third-largest sporting event. From July 4-18, the Maccabiah Games will have the added significance of coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the reunification of this year’s host city, Jerusalem. “The Maccabiah is the one place that Jews from all over the world can come together and bond, and there’s no better place to do so than Jerusalem,” Maccabiah Chairman Amir Peled told JNS.org.

Following the recent 50th anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification, the city is going through a renewal of multiculturalism underscoring the richness of its diversity. The Israel Festival, which celebrates this transformation through music and art, runs through June 18 at the Jerusalem Theatre and other local venues. Through its avant-garde fusion of music, theater and dance, the festival offers an innovative and interdisciplinary platform to widen the conversation about global cultural landscapes. 

Rapid population and economic growth has prompted the Israeli government to revolutionize the country’s infrastructure and transportation systems to accommodate a flourishing citizenry. The average annual growth rate of Israel’s population from 1990-2017 has been 2.25 percent, “among the highest rate of population growth in the Western world,” said Prof. Yoram Shiftan, head of transportation research at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology. During the same period, Israel’s GDP averaged a 4.9-percent annual increase. These figures are directly reflected by parallel growth in transport activity, including in the number of vehicles on roads, cargo passing through seaports, air travelers and railway commuters.

Amid the city of Be’er Sheva’s rise as the so-called “opportunity capital of Israel,” the Lauder Center for Employment has sought to boost the Negev desert region’s job market, countering the trend of young professionals abandoning southern Israel for better employment prospects. In late May, the center hosted a conference matching employers with social organizations representing job-seekers from overlooked population sectors. “If we don’t take care of the people in the Negev, our Bedouin neighbors or those from the religious communities, for example, the employment model of the Negev won’t work,” said Bella Alexandrov, CEO of Tor HaMidbar, which works to develop Israel’s geo-social periphery.

As debates about “fake news” continue to rage worldwide, a Mideast-focused watchdog group is taking its quest to hold the media accountable to a new language. CAMERA has hired Syrian-born researcher Ahed al-Hendi to spearhead the organization’s new Arabic-language media department. Hendi spent 40 days in a Syrian prison in 2006 for co-founding a pro-democracy group known as Syrian Youth for Justice. “By encouraging news organizations to engage in objective, unbiased reporting about Israel, it could help the free people of the Middle East to debunk all the theories that their ruling regimes use to oppress them,” Hendi said.