Israel’s footprint in New Jersey continues to grow with the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Rutgers and Tel Aviv (TAU) universities, which will establish the Israeli educational institution as part of the Innovation and Technology Hub under construction in New Brunswick.
The memorandum of understanding was signed November 17 in Israel by Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway and TAU President Ariel Porat. Governor Phil Murphy joined virtually via Zoom.
The signing came as part of a fourth successful economic trip to Israel by the nonprofit economic development organization Choose New Jersey, which included initiatives, meetings and agreements to bolster economic ties, cultivate further investment opportunities and deepen cultural connections between the state and Israel.
“We are a top trading partner of Israel in the Northeast and beyond,” said Mark Levenson, New Jersey Israel Commission co-chair, who was among its members on the trip. ”It’s very important to have lots of foreign direct investment, and New Jersey and Israel do $1.33 billion in trade annually.”
The Hub is scheduled to open in 2024 as a 10-story, 550,000-square-foot, $665 million complex on Albany Street, across from the New Jersey Transit/Amtrak station.
It was previously announced that Rutgers, Princeton University, Hackensack Meridian Health and RWJBarnabas will all be housed together at the facility, and other tenants are being sought.
The 17-member New Jersey business delegation to Israel also included New Jersey City University (NJCU), New Jersey Innovation Institute and Rutgers. The delegation held meetings with industry leaders and entrepreneurs—including representatives of logistics, life sciences, technology, financial services industries and others seeking growth opportunities in New Jersey.
Levenson, a West Orange resident, said during the trip NJCU signed a letter of intent with the Port of Ashdod, which will help bring startup companies to the Jersey City educational institution and potential pilot programs and other opportunities at New Jersey ports. Among the November 15 signatories was NJCU President Dr. Sue Henderson.
Levenson said it was particularly significant that Holloway flew to Israel to sign the memorandum in person because it marked the first time in the university’s 255-year history that a Rutgers president had visited Israel in an official capacity. After the signing ceremony he and Porat walked the campus together.
“These are massive signature projects that are really game-changing agreements,” said Levenson in a phone conversation with The Jewish Link. “It really shows we are leading the nation in terms of a relationship with Israel.”
NJ-Israel Commission Executive Director Andrew Gross told the Jewish Link the deal between TAU and Rutgers is the culmination of four years of planning that began when Murphy first visited Israel shortly after becoming governor and struck up a relationship with the previous TAU president.
“Tel Aviv University is one of the great universities of the world that will partner with Rutgers, another globally renowned university, to conduct research and collaborate on subject areas and make and publish discoveries together,” said Gross. “This agreement essentially establishes a branch of Tel Aviv University in New Jersey.”
The universities will form a research grant program providing seed funding for up to five research projects across disciplines. Each project will have one principal investigator from Rutgers and another from TAU who will be chosen by a selection committee.
“When we walked the campus with president Porat and Holloway, we saw not only the research and other developments there, but also that its campus reflects the diversity of Israel,” said Gross. “We saw students from all walks of life—Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze. To see this diverse student body living and studying together was very inspirational.”
He said that the collaboration could potentially be worth millions of dollars in federal research grants and other opportunities.
Levenson said the two universities had already established a relationship over 2020 and into the beginning of this year, including diverse monthly symposiums between professors on such subjects as COVID-19, security, gene therapy, nano material and ancient and modern identities in Yemen.
Among a host of other meetings the delegation held during its Israel excursion was a visit to Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) to tour its Advanced Technology Park and discuss additional partnership opportunities, building on the partnership announced in March between BGU and the New Jersey Institute of Technology to create a world-class Institute for Future Technologies in New Jersey that will offer dual degrees and new research opportunities.
Choose New Jersey and Rutgers University’s Office for Research also met with Israeli food and food tech companies to discuss New Jersey’s innovation ecosystem and investment opportunities. Tnuva, an Israeli global kosher food manufacturer whose American headquarters is in New Jersey, also launched a collaboration in March with the Rutgers University Food Innovation Center.
”Choose New Jersey has been a strong proponent for the Israel trade relationship for no other reason than it makes good sense for New Jersey and good sense for Israel,” said Levenson. “We share so many values. The state has one of the largest Jewish populations in the country, the fourth largest native Israeli population, and a lot of Israeli companies are located in New Jersey.”
In a prepared statement, Jose Lozano, President & CEO of Choose New Jersey, said, “New Jersey and Israel have a truly special relationship, and Choose New Jersey was proud to lead another delegation to Israel to further strengthen ties and forge new partnerships.”