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August 2, 2013

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PAGE 14A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, AUGUST 2, 2013 I Laying bare the facts about world of gay Israel Filmmaker Michael Lucas (center) walks and talks with a same-sex family in his docu- mentry, 'Israel Undressed: Gay Men in the Promised Land." about Israel is in papers like The New York Times, about the conflict between Israel and its neighbors." Lucas says that ever since he became an Israeli citizen in 2009, he has wanted to show a different side of Israeli life. "The majority of movies that get placed in festivals are about this problematic side of Israel, the occupation." A movie like "Undressing Israel," which shows the country in a favorable light, "is practically impossible to get into film festivals It's all about very far-left gay politics--the people on the festival boards don't want to show Israel in a positive light at all." Ironically, Lucas' co- director of "Undressing Israel" is Yariv Mozer, the director of one of those films show- ing "the problematic side." His 2012 documentary, "The Invisible Men," about the difficulties gay Palestinian men face on both sides of the border, also premiered locally at this year's QFest. It is rare to see someone from the world of pornog- raphy make the leap to the other side of the MPAA rat- ings--after Ron Jeremy, 3Yaci Lords and Jenna Jameson, the list thins out consider- ably--but this is not the first time Lucas has redefined himself. The Moscow native graduated from the Moscow State Law Academy in 1994, and went on to open a success- ful travel business in Russia before, he says, pressure from the Russian mafia led him to close his company and move to Europe, where he first en- tered the world of gay porn. (His passion for the travel industry remains unabated: He cites another reason for making "Undressing Israel:" "to show the gay community that Israel is awonderful place for a vacation because it is so gay-friendly and so beauti- ful.'.') Lucas says he has 10ng been driven to show his sup- By Greg Salisbury Jewish Exponent PHILADELPHIA--Michael Lucas had a coming-out party on July 14. That afternoon saw the Philadelphia premiere of the gay porn icon's first foray into mainstream film, "Undressing Israel: Gay Men in the Promised Land," which was screened as part of QFest, Philaleiphia's LGBT-themed film festival. The .documentary, de- spite its suggestive title, is a straightforward affair (no one undresses), as Lucas takes viewers from Tel Aviv nightlife to openly gay members of the Israel Defense Forces to same- sex weddings. The 41-year-old Lucas, a Moscow native and Israeli citizen who makes his home in New York, says he made the film because people outside Israel have little to no idea how gay-friendly and progressive the atmosphere is there. "The 0nly information people get Publication Date: August 30, 2013 Advertising Deadline: August 21, 2013 port for Israel. As both a Jew and an openly gay teenager and young adult in Moscow, where both homophobia and anti-Semitism ran rampant, he says, he understood the importance of having a place where he belonged, where be would not be insulted and discriminated against for who he was That background has com- pelled him to speakhis mind on matters of importance to him. He has taken advantage of the platform his porn career has provided him to advocate against unprotected sex and drug use in the gay community; to wage a suc- cessful campaign in 2011 to get the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in New York to cancel an Israel Apartheid Week event that was to be held on its premises'; and to write columns for publications like Huffington Post, The Advo- cate and Pink News. When asked why Israel has become one of the standar.d- bearing nations for LGBT equality, Lucas doesn't hesi- tate with his answer. "When it comes to Israeli society, I think that because the Jews were persecuted for so many years, it resonates with them. It is easy to explain there that discrimination is discrimina- tion, whether it's by ethnic backgrounds or sexual ori- entation." Elad Strohmeyer has a very similar take on the is- sue. Strohmeyer, the deputy consul general to the Consul- ate General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region, which sponsored the Israeli films' screenings at QFest, believes his country's polyglot popu- lation has made its society an accepting one by neces- sity. "I think that the fict that Israel is friendly for the gay community is because we are a country of many differ- ent groups," says Strohmeyer, who is openly gay. "We under- stand that there are different cultures and we need to coex- istwith them. Israel is an open society, a democracy where people are free to express their voices. What better way to do that than in artistic media?" Strohmeyer is quick to add that things are not perfect in Israel, which is why, he says, the country's LGBT Task Force is working hard to im- prove the rights of its LGBT community. Lucas is aware that he will beaken to task by certain factions for presenting a subjective view of Israel, one that does not give equal time to those issues continuing to face the gay community, and he is fine with that. But he has no patience for people who say his film is "pinkwashing," a term that is used as a way to accuse Israel of using its gay, friendly culture to "cover up" what critics see as the ongoing oppression of Palestinians. He expresses bemusement about what he calls a bogus concept created from "false ideas." "It doesn't happen often," he says, "but people have asked me, 'Why didn't you show the occupation?' I answer, if you made a movie about the occupation, would you also talk about gay rights? No, you wouldn't, because that would be strange.', Despite the increased scrutiny that comes with being part of the mainstream documentarian community, Lucas plans to continue chronicling gay communities. "I have already made a second documentary, which is about the gay com- munity in Russia," he says. "I lived in Russia half my life and I wanted to show what an evil country it is. They hate Jews, ethnic minorities, religious minorities, sexual minorities--they even hate each other." And, he adds confidently, he won't have to work anywhere near as hard to get this film shown as he had to for "Undressing Israel." "Trust me--this one will be accepted by all of the gay film festivals. Everyone agrees that what is going on there is very bad." Heart of gold TEL AVIV--Heart tissue sustains irreparable damage in the wake of a heart attack. Because cells in the heart can- not multiply and the cardiac muscle contains few stem cells, the tissue is unable to repair itself--it becomes fibrotic and cannot contract properly. In their search for innova- tive methods to restore heart function, scientists have been exploring cardiac "patches" that could be transplanted into the body to replace dam- aged heart tissue. Now, in his Tissfie Engineering and Re- generative Medicine Labora- tory, Dr. Tal Dvir and his Ph.D. student Michal Shevach of Tel Aviv University's Department of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology and the Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, together with their colleagues, are lit- erally setting a gold standard in cardiac tissue engineering. To meet one of the biggest challenges in the development of cardiac patches--ensuring that engineered tissue can mimic the heart's coordinated electrical system, which con- trols heartbeat and rhythm-- they integrated cardiac cells with nanofibers made of gold particles to form functional engineered tissues. Their goal is to optimize electrical signaling between cells. Gold has been found to increase the connectivity of biomaterials, explains Dvir. With the addition of the gold particles, cardiac tissues con- tract much faster and stronger as a whole, he reports, mak- ing them more viable for transplants. The researchwas recently published in the Jour- nal of Materials Chemistry B. On their surface, heart cells contain proteins that are responsible for transferring electrical signals. But the process of tissue engineering itself leads to the loss of these proteins. And while the cells will start to produce them again naturally, says Dvir, they take time to develop--time, which a patient may not have. Gold nanofibers can fill the role of electrical connectors until the cells are able to produce their own connectors once more. New tissues are created by placing cells taken from pa- tients or animals onto a three- dimensional scaffolding made of biomaterials--any matter or surface that interacts with biological systems--which organize the cells into the proper formation as they grow Dvir and his team used various chemical and physical processes to integrate gold nanoparticles into their scaf- folds. The Cells then interacted with each other through these gold nanoparticles. The researchers used a scanning electron micro- scope and various measures of electrical activity in order to observe the nanoparticles on the fibers and check con- ductivity. Cells placed on the gold-embedded scaffolding had significantly stronger contractions compared to those on a scaffolding without gold. Importantly, the cells contracted in unison, dem- onstrating effective electrical signaling between them. Because 50 percent of heart attack victims die within five years of their initial attack, new treatment options are sorely needed. A function- ing, transplantable tissue could not only sae lives, but improve a patient's quality of life overall. Having demonstrated the electrical signaling capability of these gold infused cardiac patches, Dvir will next evalu- ate their potential to improve function after heart attack through pre-clinical tests in the lab and, eventually, clini- cal trials with patients. He says that the ideal method would be to use a patient's own cells when building the new tissue, therefore avoiding the risk of rejection. 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