The Final Frontier

Tags: Community, Inclusion, Science and Technology

By Ira Caplan

The eighth annual World Autism Awareness Day is April 2, 2016 - the observance of which continues throughout the month.

"Space. the Final Frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise…"

Such a stirring beginning; every time I hear it, my imagination buckles up for another uncanny adventure and wild, new angle on Earth and civilization. I feel the same is true with Israel, and specifically, two significant organizations in "Innovation Nation" that recently began to voyage together.

As you're surfing Israel Forever's online playground already, you need no introduction. The second is a company in Misgav Industrial Park - Ecommunity - now a national, fully compliant electronics recycling enterprise whose workforce is comprised primarily of people with special needs.

Ecommunity has grown over the years from a 5 person, part-time workshop to a 60 full-time + 14 staff and 135+ part-time employees across Israel, and growing. It collaborates with 2000+ sponsors, including a host of multinational corporations, the IDF and several government ministries. It played key roles in Israel's new e-waste law activated March 1; its corporation partners with the European Recycling Platform, as authorized by the Ministry of Environmental Protection. EcoArt resells creatively refurbished computer gear and gifts and EcoTunes provides music therapy. But back to Star Trek and the ever iconic Mr. Spock.

Some of you Trekkies may recall a "First Generation", Jan. '67 episode called "The Squire of Gothos".

The Enterprise encounters an all-powerful, mysterious, mischievous being named Trelane who traps the ship and crew, won't let them go and though quite communicative and interactive, won't say why. Moreover, his amusement with the captain and crews' stark discontent fuels his testing their every physical, emotional and psychological response through a series of historical scenarios (replete with elaborate attire) he produces from thin air - again, not saying why. Spock is the one crew member not rattled by Trelane, eventually winning the captor's disconcert for a single moment with sheer composure, at which time he states calmly, "I object to you. I object to intellect without discipline. I object to power without constructive purpose."

What’s the tie-in with Israel, IFF, and Ecommunity? Excellent question.

Ecommunity's Founder and CEO Dani Kogan created the company following inspiration he drew from his young autistic son. He wondered of the world in which his son will grow up, the limited collective understanding around his condition and certainly limited work opportunities. Dani's son helped him find a new angle - instead of limitations, he saw his son's strengths. It was then that Dani realized the affinity and collective priority inherent in recycling electronics.

This kind of detailed work with circuitry is generally therapeutic for people with autism and many other special needs. Because unmanaged metals are toxic to our air and water, they can't simply be discarded or land-filled; they must be either refurbished or properly dismantled.

The decent wage, sense of purpose and favorable association of environmental work restore the individual's dignity and develop skills, yielding professional inclusivity with the multifaceted socio educational message now prioritized among top international Jewish organizations. Intellect. Discipline. Constructive purpose. And, as is trackable from Ecommunity's dynamic growth…Power. Everything on Spock's list.

Israel Forever displays a matching portfolio: From my first IFF Social Media Mingle in Jerusalem, I encountered a new traction and comfort in the technology internet whirlwind and unnerving social media buzz of 10 years plus. When the hardware, software and content are all continually changing, each often driven by agendas neither always visible nor noble, and with schedules tight, how can one possibly navigate the evolutionary storm?

Guided by Israel Forever's dynamic program design, innovative vision, and its participants’ diverse backgrounds and core values, I watched the chaos largely resolve into cogency, all within an overarching framework around Israel and engagement. Many of Israel's adversaries might use social media for all kinds of inauthentic and unfounded banter; they may be numerous, organized and/or determined, but we keep a significant advantage - reality! (I admit it; I'm totally biased. I view Israel's position on the international political-economic landscape as seriously rooted in reality).

When virtual reality is based in (rather than a denial of) actual reality, the dissonance goes way down. As Israel is the birthplace of so much of modern technology, how ironic that anti-Israel posts on the Internet wouldn't exist without the technology that Israel created in the first place?

This parallels my primary admiration for IFF: they implement these tools with care, to accentuate and complement humanity, as well as Judaism: Intellect. Discipline. Constructive purpose. And Power. I think the comfort I have with IFF’s programs and virtual realities flows from its employing technology only where its a full asset to our lives, never as an unmanaged liability. Yep, you guessed it - same S.O.P. as Ecommunity. Technology, seen and managed properly, is an extraordinary asset: Financial. Environmental. Social. Do you think Spock would agree?

A glance of reveals that diagnoses are increasing and with them, the need for understanding and cogent response. It's troubling; it is. We don't fully understand it and we don't have all the answers for it, when both are sorely needed. A 2006 Harvard study estimates the lifetime caretaking costs of an individual with autism at $3 million per person. Yet Judaism’s age old adage stands composed, like Spock, unrattled amidst the chaos. It states calmly, "The solution is given before the problem."

Individuals with autism and other similar conditions tend to cope not so perfectly with over-stimulation, with abruptly changing and/or unpredictable environments. They require familiarity, stability and high affinity relationships with those who understand and respect them and their needs. Of course, we all need this. We just have a different threshold, one considered "normal", which we all know is, uh...what?

Maybe persons with autism and other disabilities are reminding us of the essentials for navigating the storm we’re in - where the technology, the content and the agendas driving both move in any given direction at any given time.

Dani Kogan, CEO and Founder of eCommunity

Dani and his son, and so many like them, have already given us the answer: At times of utmost change, recognize and hold to what has always endured. Israel's ancient roots and modern re-emergence shine forth with historical continuity.

Environmental values, well rooted, provide continuity. Collaboration, partnership, and calculating for the needs of others provide continuity. And the technology itself, with all family members, friends and members of society involved, can also support well-being and inter-generational continuity: All of these together are an Enterprise, one that can ride out the storm and reach what is ultimately important: the future toward which the Matrixial advancements are heading. The advancements are incredible; they are dazzling and often disquieting.

I think people with autism and other special needs evoke such distinct compassion at least because they remind us to listen to ourselves and each other at key times, distilling out the real needs and solutions in life's complicated situations. It's becoming increasingly easy to lose sight of reality, and increasingly valuable (and soothing) to stand tall, hold our ground and speak a calm, clear truth.

Here’s how “The Squire of Gothos” ends in 60 seconds: Kirk and Spock isolate one of Trelane’s power devices, a mirror, which Kirk then shatters in a duel. As Trelane’s childish whims become more evident, Kirk plays off of them until Trelane’s emotions pique. Eventually, just as Kirk is caught and about to be killed, Trelane's Energy Being "parents" show up, end his games and release everyone, revealing this all-powerful being to be only a whining child, playing with intergalactic toys for which, they own, he is not yet ready.

In observance of World Autism Awareness Day, I am extremely honored to work with Israel Forever and Ecommunity, each well positioned, holding its ground, standing tall and helping us all be more ready for the amazing "intergalactic toys" that we are finding in our hands.



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Tags: Community, Inclusion, Science and Technology