Forward Thinking

Ancient and Modern Lessons for Obama

By Nathan Jeffay

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Barack Obama’s first engagement today was a visit to the Israel Museum with an agenda that was, as the Forward’s Nathan Guttman has noted, laden with significance. So what did he actually see?

He started in the Shrine of the Book, where he seemed genuinely fascinated by the Dead Sea Scrolls. Many of the documents relate to the particular belief of the strict separatist sect that authored them, but a good number also contain Biblical texts. It is these that Israel was keen for Obama to see, as these ancient manuscripts underscore the connection of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel.

The highlight of the Shrine of the Book visit appeared to be the viewing of the Isaiah Scroll, which was discovered in 1947. Dated to 125 BCE, it is believed to be the oldest manuscript of the Book of Isaiah in existence. The 54 columns contain all 66 chapters of the book, and the Hebrew text mostly matches the one in use today.

Aptly, for Obama’s visit to a troubled region, the manuscript is the oldest rendering of the famous prophecy: “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks: Nation shall not take up sword against nation; they shall never again know war.”

After viewing the Dead Sea Scrolls, a nod to Ancient Israel, he moved on to an exhibition assembled in his honor of seven blue-and-white technological inventions, a hat tip to modern Israel.

There was the car safety system Mobileye,, ElMindA’s Brain Network Activation that can track brain activity for medical purposes, MiniDesktop which enables computers to be controlled by brainwaves or facial movements, and a robot snake for rescue operations. He was shown a demonstration by a company that hopes to massively reduce pollution by tripling the travel range of electric vehicles. Phinergy has developed an aluminum-air battery designed for electric vehicles.

Obama seemed most intrigued by ReWalk, which gives disabled people who rely on wheelchairs to walk using an exoskeleton suit with motorized legs that power knee and hip movement. A disabled man wearing the suit told Obama how it has changed his life.

“Now I can stand, I can walk, I can do everything as normal,” he said, adding that he just completed a 10-kilometer walk in four hours. Obama said that the invention is “very inspiring.”

His final stop was a “robot waiter” designed by high school students. The nervous teenagers who developed it pushed a button and had it serve, of all the treats they could think of for the leader of the free world, a piece of matza, or in Rabbinic terminology, the Bread of Affliction. Obama nibbled a bit and said that it was tasty. Now that’s real diplomacy.


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