Innovation Gives Us the Edge

runyan_josh_otThe people at the BASF Corporation — “We don’t make a lot of the products you buy. We make a lot of the products you buy better” — were really on to something when they came up with their tagline. In two sentences, not only did they sum up their business, but they tapped into a powerful truism: Innovations, from the mundane to the revolutionary, make the world a more interesting place to call home.

Just ask Adam Gladstone.

The Pikesville native and former baseball umpire now is a member of the newest profession to hit the sport: Major League Baseball instant replay adviser. That’s not his exact title of course; the position is so innovative, it doesn’t even have a name yet.

As you’ll read in the pages of this week’s JT, there was Gladstone — on employ with the Orioles — at Boston’s Fenway Park on April 19, when O’s right fielder Nelson Cruz was called out at first base after hitting a groundball to third. Gladstone, however, saw things a little bit differently and in the space of less than a minute had advised manager Buck Showalter to challenge the ump’s call. The call was reversed, Cruz stayed on base, and the Orioles scored a run.

Were it not for the foresight of baseball execs to institute this innovation to the game — for years, coaches in the National Football League have been able to challenge the judgment of officials on the field — America’s favorite pastime would’ve remained in what some would say is an unfair world.

Innovation is also at play in the budding career of 9-year-old swimming star Alan Cherches, the subject of our cover story. It seems that the Owings Mills JCC prodigy, who has broken many of local Olympian Michael Phelps’ 8-and-under records, began life in the water deathly afraid of it. His immigrant parents persisted in introducing their then-toddler son to the sport, but a grandfather had the foresight to bribe the young lad. The offer of pizza apparently worked, and today, Cherches employs an innovation of his own: Whenever he swims, he imagines that a shark is after him. That little bit of intentional misdirection, he says, can be credited with at least one recent victory.

But innovation needn’t be appreciated on the level of a singular person or even in the realm of something as inconsequential as a baseball game. This week, Jewish communities around the world commemorated what 66 years ago was little more than an innovation. At its founding, the young State of Israel was an aberration, a country so small but with a mission so large — it would be, its founders hoped, the modern-day homeland for Jewish people the world over — that most rational people were confident of its impending failure.

Today, Israel is still around, remaining an aberration, whether in terms of the special standard the rest of the world holds it to or to which its own citizens hold themselves. It is by no means perfect, standing far from the ideal that Zionists of both the religious and secular camps attached to it. But still, the country remains.

Ultimately, the power to innovate is what makes us human. Innovation is the Almighty’s way of stacking the deck, so to speak, in our favor. For Jews who differ on how to approach the modern Israeli state, at the very least it’s fitting to be grateful that it’s there.


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