BOSTON – Eight percent of Greater Boston Jews were born in Israel, according to a 2015 study by Brandeis University. In the technology hubs of Boston, Cambridge, and the Route 128 corridor, many of those Israelis are graduates of the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, ranked among the world’s top science and technology research universities.
“Boston has top-tier academic institutions – it also has a very deep tech culture and technology world, and if you look at what the Technion stands for, it is all the fields of the Boston region: medicine, computer science, all types of biotechnology,” said Michael Waxman-Lenz, who was installed in April as the acting CEO of the American Technion Society (ATS), a New York-based organization with an office in Newton that is dedicated to the growth of the Technion through a network of alumni and donors.
Waxman-Lenz visited Boston to speak to Technion supporters and community members on how the Technion can better partner with the dynamic local hub.
Already, several programs facilitate engagement between the Technion and MIT, which is fitting given that the Technion is often called the “MIT of Israel.” In 2012, the two universities established a joint post-doctoral fellowship that pays for six Technion doctorate graduates to study in Cambridge. Real estate and media magnate Mort Zuckerman also has established a $100 million STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fund to facilitate collaboration between researchers at MIT and seven Israeli universities, including the Technion.
Though the Technion benefits from global partnerships, it has struggled to retain its brightest stars after they go abroad, and an important part of ATS’s current $1.2 billion global campaign is centered around keeping top talent in Israel.
“You have these small institutions called MIT and Harvard and Northeastern, and a significant number of the faculty at Technion actually did their post-doc at one of those institutions,” said Waxman-Lenz. “So they come to Boston, they develop, big, deep roots at that time, and then the Technion has to do a really good job to attract them back to Haifa.”
Waxman-Lenz noted that a key goal is to build research labs on par with those of Harvard and MIT, because while many academics are willing to take the pay cut that comes with moving back to Haifa, they say they need top-notch work environments.
Waxman-Lenz, who grew up in Germany and later converted to Judaism, thinks the Technion has played a critical role in Israel’s overall success, which is why it is so important that it retain top talent. He also feels that supporting the Technion is a way to support Israel without wading into divisive politics.
“There are a lot of trends around the world that are not positive towards Israel – we are one of the nonpolitical institutions that contributes to the world our researchers that people have no doubt are doing good: it does strengthen the state of Israel,” he said. “There are people on both sides of the spectrum with very strong feelings: the good thing is they both have very strong feelings about the Technion as well … We are about the science, we are about what you can do for Israel, and what you can do for the world.”