|Science majors from Yeshiva College and Stern College for Women get hands-on experience in Israel.|
This summer, Cornell senior Peninah Feldman of Teaneck assisted with experiments on wheat and barley at an Israeli research institute. Two other township residents, Yeshiva University students Gilad Barach and Akiva Goldstein, worked in labs at Bar-Ilan University.
How did these budding scientists land research internships in Israel?
In Feldman’s case, it started with a Jewish Standard cover story last fall featuring a Q&A with Cornell graduate Joshua D. Klein, who works for the Israel Ministry of Agriculture’s Unit for Agriculture According to the Torah. Annette and Richard Feldman forwarded the article to their daughter, a 2008 Ma’ayanot graduate majoring in agricultural sciences.
“I saw that Josh had gone to Cornell and was doing Torah agriculture, and I emailed him because I’m thinking about aliyah and I wanted to hear about the cooperative extension system in Israel,” Peninah Feldman said.
Klein invited her to stop by his lab, in the Institute of Plant Sciences at the governmental Volcani Center-Agricultural Research Organization, when she came to visit her younger sister, who was studying in Israel that winter. The meeting resulted in an invitation for Feldman to become, as Klein put it, “a full-fledged Ivy League washer of dishes and hewer of barley plants” for six weeks during the summer.
Actually, she worked on two Volcani projects, one of which was growing Judean Desert plants hydroponically under conditions that enhance the concentration of their naturally occurring medicinal compounds.
The other was a drought-resistance trial on wheat and barley varieties. “We used seed treatments such as hormones and hormone blockers that are supposed to induce susceptibility or tolerance to drought conditions,” she said, pointing out that drought resistance is valuable not just in rain-starved Israel but in many other areas of the world where Israel shares its agricultural know-how.
“I’ve also been on trips with the lab, visiting etrog groves in the center of the country, as well as mango orchards, which was very cool for me,” Feldman said. She also went to vineyards and helped with an experiment on grapes.
The overall experience not only gave her a chance to learn scientific terms in Hebrew, but gave her a glimpse into job prospects in Israel. After graduate school, she hopes to work in farmer education and consulting.
Barach and Goldstein were part of a more organized program. They were among 43 undergraduate science majors from Yeshiva College and Stern College for Women participating in the university’s second annual Summer Science Research Internship Program in cooperation with Bar-Ilan University.
For seven weeks, the students were housed at YU’s Jerusalem campus and bused to the Tel Aviv-area university to work in the Institute for Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials and the Gonda Brain Research Center, among other Bar-Ilan labs.
“The internship program is a fantastic opportunity for our undergraduate students with a strong background in the sciences to experience the nurturing, interdisciplinary research environment and to develop their basic research skills,” said Dr. Raji Viswanathan, associate dean of academic affairs and the project coordinator at Yeshiva College.
“It is also important to us that, as they grow, the students understand the special relationship that exists between scientific excellence and the religious values shared by both Yeshiva University and Bar-Ilan,” Viswanathan said.
In addition to the two Teaneck residents, participants included North Jerseyans Yosef Hoffman of Bergenfield and Jonathan Lubat of Englewood.
Goldstein, now entering his third year at YU in pre-engineering as part of a joint program with Columbia University, carried out computer engineering research with Dr. Osnat Keren at Bar-Ilan.
“I worked on two projects – encoder and decoder information systems – and on testing prototypes,” Goldstein said. “In respect to engineering principles, Dr. Keren taught me certain computer programs I didn’t know before.”
The son of Harris and Elisheva Goldstein had spent two years studying in Israel, “but it was nice to see the collegiate and professional environments in Israel.” He had plenty of time to explore the cultural aspects, too. “We were in Bar-Ilan from 9 to 5, and the rest of the day was ours,” he said.
Barach, 22, the son of David Barach and Judy Saden-Barach, worked in physics research at YU last summer. This summer, he interned in Prof. Yuval Garini’s nanobiophysics lab. “I was working on the smaller phase of a later larger-phase experiment making DNA more visible under the microscope so we can track its movement,” he said.
“I’ve become more familiar with an area of scientific research I wouldn’t have otherwise, because Bar-Ilan’s department is bigger and broader than YU’s. And I also got a different view of Israel and its science culture,” he added.
He and mathematics major, Uri Carl, also from Teaneck, are set to perform advanced undergraduate-level research at YU this academic year, funded by the Henry Kressel Research Scholarship. Five Kressel Scholars each will receive a stipend of $7,500 along with research-support expenses.