in community life.
When Small Means Big
ust as agricultural advances allowed Israel to bloom
his direction of a 1996 defensive strike that killed two yoUng
during the early years following statehood in 1948,
Dearborn brothers by mistake in South Lebanon.
new technology with a 21st-century flair should lift
Peres is a former defense, foreign and finance minister.
the Jewish state to dramatic new heights.
He's more dovish in dealing with the Palestinians than I am,
Israel's fight against terror — whether suicide blasts, road-
but we agree that the future of the Jewish homeland hinges
side bombs or the threat of nuclear attacks — will be a key
on achieving technological superiority.
Peres grew up in Belarus, where my family roots also run.
At the core of Israel's unconventional fighting strategy is
He and his family made aliyah when he was 11, in 1934. He
nanotechnology. This frontier, about three years away, will
was a farmer and a shepherd on Kibbutz Alumot before the
enable soldiers to be outfitted in gear so tough, it will repel
world of politics drew him in at age 16.
bullets and control body temperature.
He is still committed to the land but now focused on its
It's not just the stuff of science fiction.
security, which propels his interest in nanotechnology. Israel
I listened intently on Monday as Israeli
must master this new-age science before Iran goes nuclear,
statesman Shimon Peres, at a parlor meeting
Peres warned. To dawdle is risky.
at the Max M. Fisher Federation Building in
Most Israelis concur. So it is that Hebrew University,
Bloomfield Township, explained the nano, a
Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and five other univer-
Greek word for "one billionth." A nanome-
sities are prospecting for more security-conscious ways to
ter is one billionth of a meter. This was the
third time Peres and I have met face-to face
I wondered if it could apply to commerce and medicine.
in the last five years.
Peres introduced the parlor group to nan-
As Peres put it: "We can see the beginning of an entirely
otechnology four hours before he was to
new system of material, of strategies, of technologies that are
receive the Seeds of Peace John P. Wallach
unmatched in size and power.
Peacemaker Award in Dearborn from the
"We can build a computer that is the size of a head of a
local Seeds chapter. The annual award memorializes the
pin. We can build material 100 times stronger than steel. We
founder of a conflict-resolution camping experience
will have new medicine, the size of a hair, that will
for Israeli and Arab teens as well as youth from other
enter your body and check its function, including
comprehending the occurrence of cancer."
Peres — former prime minister, current chairman
But what's the cost? Can't the economically
of Israel's Labor Party and longtime member of
depressed state delay frontier science?
Knesset — moved effortlessly from talking politics to
"We don't have time," Peres said. "The competi-
talking technology. Science is in perpetual flux,
tion is growing. We feel Japan, for example, is build-
thanks to discoveries and changing dogma, he said.
ing a new, breakthrough economy out of nano."
Nanotechnology harnesses wild atoms and lets you
snap together these fundamental building blocks of
Dream Meets Reality
nature easily, inexpensively and within the laws of
The catch lies in Peres' dream of Jewish federations in
physics. It describes research where the characteristic
America creating a $300-$500 million endowment to
dimensions are less than about 1,000 nanometers.
help fund and manage nanotechnology in Israel. "We
The idea, according to the Scotland-based Institute
want to build a new level of cooperation," he said.
of Nanotechnology, not only is to continue comput-
He first pitched the dream endowment at the 2003
er hardware upgrades, but also prompt a new genera-
General Assembly of the United Jewish
tion of products that are cleaner, stronger, lighter and
Communities, the umbrella agency for North
America's federations. With so many communal and
Peres called this revolutionary development "the
overseas needs already confronting federations in a
counterpart of the nuclear bomb."
weak economy, I can't fathom any federation signing on.
"This will be the Weapon against terror," he said.
But Peres, who wants Israel to be "a scientific state par
Imagine not only soldiers in space-age uniforms, but also
excellence," will press on, as always. "Twenty-five years ago, I
unconventional technology capable of sensing and destroying
think they gave me the job of building an atomic option for
Israel because nobody thought it was possible," he said.
"In previous wars," Peres said, "we were fighting armies and
Mark Davidoff, COO of the Jewish Federation of
nations and airplanes and bombs. Now, though, we are - fac-
Metropolitan Detroit, confirmed my suspicion about the
ing a global danger without knowing where it is coming from
dream endowment. "It would be a tall order today for federa-
— or where it is going."
tions or the federation system to invest in such a program,"
I have no reason to doubt him.
he told me after Peres' briefing. "It is more likely that this
type of initiative will appeal to individuals and foundations
Shepherd To Statesman
that have a history in supporting technological initiatives."
A freedom fighter under David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first
The hour-long briefing touched on Peres' vision for a two-
prime minister, Peres, 80, has humble roots, but twice served
state solution to the Mideast conflict and Detroit Jewry's stal-
as prime minister. He shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994
wart role in Israel's rise from the ashes of World War II.
for the Oslo Accords, which broke apart amid 38 months of
What intrigued me most, though, was the huge potential
payoff from something so tiny — namely, nanotechnology.
He's disliked by right-wing Jews for his willingness to give
"We cannot postpone science because nobody will wait
up land for peace, and by many in the local Arab American
for us," Peres said in closing. "And we cannot postpone
community for what they call his war-mongering, including