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April 18, 2014     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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April 18, 2014

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PAGE 16A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, APRIL 18, 2014 P (ISRAEL21c)When a broken pelvis put Israeli farmer and inventor Gilad Woolf into a wheelchair for a few weeks, the bumpy ride wreaked havoc on his back, and he determined to improve wheelchair design with a suspension system to absorb shock. After his initial idea-- a hydraulic air cushion in the seat, like those in tractors --proved unsuccessful, he made the audacious decision to reinvent the wheel. The result of his efforts, with encouragement and financing from Israel's RAD BioMedAccelerator and a team of experts, is called SoftWheel. CEO Daniel Barel told IS- RAEL21c that SoftWheel is a breakthrough technology born of three years of R&D in collaboration with Ziv- Av Engineering Group, the same firm that designed the lightweight children's plas- tic wheelchair for Wheel- chairs of Hope-- only this time the company designed the wheels rather than the chair. No more bumpy rides The "Acrobat" wheel is now rolling off SoftWheel's Israeli assembly line. It fea- tures a selective suspension mechanism that kicks in when it detects an impact above a pre-set, changeable threshold. The high-tech product can be retrofitted to virtually any wheelchair. Next year, SoftWheel ex- pects to introduce a second wheel, "Fluent," the first- ever suspension technology designed specifically for urban bicycling. SoftWheel has a revolu- tionary suspension system. "Part of our strategy is to introduce our products where we can disrupt the market quickly: wheelchairs and bicycles -- especially city bikes, the fastest-grow- ing segment in the world for personal transportation," said Barel. Keeping riders in sus- pense SoftWheel relies on a patented suspension mecha- nism that remains static on standard floors or pave- ments. Encountering an obstacle (such as a curb or stair) causes the wheel's hub to shift symmetrically from the center, thereby absorb- ing the shock and cushion- ing the rider, as well as the vehicle, from the force of the impact. Then, the hub automatically shifts back to its central location until the next bump. "Why didn't anybody do this before?" Barel asked. "Because it's not as easy as it looks. We have six, and soon seven, patents protecting this technology. Everybody else tried to fine- tune current technology into a wheel. We literally had to reinvent the wheel and a brand-new technol- ogy for suspension. And we discovered it is not only suitable for wheelchairs but as a platform for anything that has wheels." As such, the next direc- tion for SoftWheel will be skyward. "We are looking at Soft- Wheel landing gear for aircraft, based on multiple requests from the industry here," said Barel. "They tell us that we have something they have been waiting for the past 60 years." 'An amazing opportunity' Barel joined SoftWheel about five months ago, upon returning to Israel after five years building up international businesses abroad. "When we decided to come home, I came across SoftWheel and it seemed like an amazing opportunity," he said. The company's seven- man core team includes two product specialists who are well-known in Israeli athletics. One is Dror Cohen, a former F16 fighter pilot paralyzed in a car accident. Cohen went on to become a 2004 Paralympic sailing gold medalist and one of the founders of Etgarim, a nonprofit that provides outdoor sports and activi- ties to physically challenged Israelis of all ages. The other is Neil O'Brian, an internationally award- The Acrobat can fit on any wheelchair. winning competitive cyclist who leads riding workshops at Israel's Wingate Insti- tute for bicycle instruc- tors, coaches Israeli biking teams and founded Neil's Wheels, the first indepen- dent bicycle wheel-building and bicycle service business in Israel. Filling an unmet need "The SoftWheel project gives an answer to a real unmet market need," said RAD BioMed Accelerator President and CEO David Zigdon. "We believe that a wheel that has its own in- ner suspension system for shock absorption is a game- changer in the industry." After "graduating" from the two-year accelerator program, the Tel Aviv- headquartered company built assembly lines in the Haifa area and at Ziv-Av Engineering outside of Tel Aviv. At a time when so much manufacturing is done off- shore in China, said Barel, "We're very proud that we make our product here in Israel." The technology could one day reach the automotive industry, but Barel said that will require up to 10 additional years of R&D. For now, the privately held SoftWheel is in the midst of a second fundraising round. Cnaan Liphshiz Holocaust survivors Agnes Horvath and Andras Szasz in front of one of Budapest's 2,000 yellow star houses, March 27, 2014. By Cnaan Liphshiz BUDAPEST, Hungary (JTA)-- In 1944, Andras Szasz's mother obtained an admittance slip to a Red Cross children's home that she hoped would save her 8-year-old son from the Hun- garian fascists then prowling Budapest in search of Jews to torture or kill. Szasz never made it to the home. In the summer of 1944, he and his mother were forced to relocate to one of 2,000 yellow star houses, a network of apartments where nearly 200,000 Jews were held captive as they awaited deportation. Groups of about a dozen people were forced to share one room while an attendant guarded the entrance, permitting the occupants to leave only for brief periods in which they could buy certain goods. "The people who did this were all Hungarians," said Szasz, who escaped the house with his mother and survived the war in hiding. "I never even saw a German soldier up close." Seventy years later, Sza- sz's story and others like it are reaching new audiences thanks to a grassroots me- morial project born out of anger over what many see as the Hungarian govern- ment's attempt to whitewash the country's role in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust. The Yellow Star Houses Project aims to increase public awareness of Hun- gary's complicity with Nazi Germany through the sto- ries of those once held in the apartments. A team of volunteers has catalogued hundreds of personal ac- counts and compiled an on- line map of the 1,934 yellow star houses that once dotted the Hungarian capital. A series of public events are being planned around the houses this year, the 70th anniversary of Germany's invasion of Hungary. Despite the prominent role of Hungary's fascist gov- ernment in the annihilation of half a million Jews, the current government plans to remember the victims by unveiling a statue next month that some see as por- traying Hungary as a victim of German aggression. The memorial depicts an eagle attacking an angel. Though Hungarian of- ficials repeatedly have ac- knowledged their country's complicity under the war- time regime of pro-Nazi leader Miklos Horthy and his successor, Ferenc Sza- lasi, the government is insisting on the design as a way to remember all the Nazis' victims. That atti- tude has caused a rupture between Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government and Hungarian Jewry, whose leadership has accused the government of pandering to nationalist voters ahead of elections (held April 6). "Watching how Jews are being erased from the official Holocaust commemoration, we decided to provide an al- ternative," said Istvan Rev, the historian who is leading the Yellow Star Houses Project. Launched by the Central European University's Open Society Archives, a Buda- pest-based research institu- tion established by the Hun- garian Jewish philanthropist George Soros, the project is planning alternatives to the government's official memo- rial ceremonies. We want to "preserve the dignity of both the victim and survivors in spite of the maneuvering of the govern- ment," said Rev, the archive's director. The main activity is slated for June 21--Hungary's Long Night of Museums, when cultural institutions throw open their doors for hundreds of thousands of nocturnal visitors. Coinci- dentally, it is also the first day in 1944 when Jews were no longer allowed to live outside yellow star houses. The plan is to have Holo- caust survivors such as Szasz participate in remembrances in front of the 1,600 yellow star houses still standing. In addition, Rev's team has set up a website in English and Hungarian that shows each house on a map and encour- ages the public to provide information about them for an online archive. The team also has arranged for the filming of a documentary. Volunteers are busy as well placing yellow star stickers on the actual buildings in the hopes of eliciting testimo- nies from elderly people still living in the area and moti- vating the present tenants to participate in the alternative commemorations. Many activists say they would have preferred the gov- ernment do nothing rather than offend the memories of Holocaust survivors with some of its recent activities, such as appointing historian Maria Schmidt to head a $22 million Holocaust museum now under construction. Schmidt has said Nazism was no worse than Soviet communism, prompting Yad Vashem, Israel's national Ho- locaust memorial museum, and Mazsihisz, the umbrella group of Hungarian Jewry, to decline to cooperate with her museum. In January, the govern- ment appointed another con- troversial historian, Sandor Szakaly, to head the newly established Veritas His- torical Research Institute. Szakaly said in an interview that month that the 1941 deportation and subsequent murder of tens of thousands of Jews was an "action of the immigration authorities against illegal aliens." "Clearly this government is not qualified to com- memorate the Holocaust," said Karl Pfeifer, a prominent Jewish journalist who was raised in Budapest and now resides in Vienna. These and other contro- versial appointments-- not to mention the xenophobic rantings of the increasingly popular ultranationalist Job- bik party-- remind Agnes Horvath, 78, of dark periods. A Holocaust survivor and former yellow star home occupant, Horvath saw her mother die of lung injuries sustained during a savage beating by Hungarian fas- cists shortly after Hungary's liberation by the Red Army. "When I see this around me," Horvath said, "I feel like it's the 1930s again and I'm reminded that this could happen all over again."