Theoretically, Bernard Moerdler could come back to his parents’ house in Fair Lawn rather than remain in Israel during a frightening war.
After all, he’s not an Israeli citizen — not yet — and his fall semester at Bar-Ilan University’s International School was postponed until at least December 5 from its intended start date of October 18. The school is providing assistance to students who’ve returned, or will be returning, to their home countries.
But leaving is the furthest thing from Mr. Moerdler’s mind.
“I don’t think it’s right to run away from a fight — it is kind of what they want us to do,” he said, referring to Hamas. “This is a war against terrorism, and I’m not going to be terrorized. And most of all I want to help. I can do more on the ground here than I can anywhere else.”
The 22-year-old Fair Lawn High School graduate is involved in an assortment of projects that will help Israel through this traumatic period.
Hezbollah has been firing rockets from Lebanon at kibbutzim in northern Israel. Mr. Moerdler has been working to get the security coordinators there the equipment they desperately need.
His parents, Mark and Galina, who made aliyah about three years ago and split their time between Jerusalem and Fair Lawn, are helping. His father just returned with suitcases full of items soldiers had requested, and his mother is helping to prepare food for them.
“My mom came from the Soviet Union, and my grandmother used to say she’s Jewish above all else. I was always imbued with that,” Mr. Moerdler said. “We always went to the Salute to Israel parade, and my parents were involved in AIPAC and NORPAC,” political action groups advocating for Israel in Congress. “Every year, we’d go to Israel once at a minimum.”
He has two older sisters. Zahava, the family’s oldest child, a graduate of Yeshivat Frisch in Paramus, lives in northern Israel and is expecting her third child. “It’s very nerve-wracking for her now, as you can imagine.” Mr. Moerdler said. “She has lots of friends she’s lost in the south.
“My other sister, Esther, is still in the United States; she is an art curator in New York.”
The other project to which Mr. Moerdler devotes much time and effort is the Bernie News Network (https://bernie.news). The name of this intelligence-based, 24/7 online news service comes from the pet name Mr. Moerdler’s parents gave him years ago because of his fascination with news.
“I started the program after the Trump-Clinton campaign in 2016,” he said. “I was tired of the fact that the media had a bunch of biases and you had to go through tons of articles to actually get any information.”
Today, BNN’s focus is the Middle East. “Instead of long articles, we publish timely and accurate news items containing information straight from the sources, with no opinion or fluff on top of that.” The sources he’s in touch with regularly, he said, come from both Gaza and Israel. “The mainstream media publishes maybe a quarter of what’s public, and there’s so much more,” he explained.
Mr. Moerdler has quite a few credits to his name that are rare for someone of his age. For example, he has won congressional kudos not once, but twice.
The first happened while he was still in high school, serving as vice president of the Jewish Student Union, president of the Engineering Club, and copresident of the Aviation Club.
He and his best friend, Daniel Mezhiborsky, designed and built the first full-scale Boeing 787 flight simulator using 3D printing, laser cutting, and woodworking. The project was presented at a July 2019 ceremony attended by Rep. Josh Gottheimer’s staff and news crews. (Mr. Gottheimer is the Democrat who represents New Jersey’s Fifth District in Congress, which includes Fair Lawn.)
“The congressman’s team awarded us for the achievement, and we later donated the simulator to the school,” he said.
During his 2019-2020 gap year in Israel, at Migdal HaTorah in Modi’in, covid sent him home for some time, and he teamed up again with his best friend in a volunteer project at Congregation Darchei Noam that produced well over 8,000 face shields for first responders.
“For our contributions, we were awarded the Hometown Hero award by Congressman Gottheimer and even had a holiday declared by Mayor Kurt Peluso called Fair Lawn Face Shields Day,” Mr. Moerdler said.
He received his first computer when he was 4 years old and already was working as a beta tester for Microsoft R&D in the summer of 2016. By the time he got to Israel after high school, he had gained a reputation in computer science.
It’s a small world, and an ever smaller one in the Jewish state. A rabbi at Mr. Moerdler’s gap-year yeshiva introduced his gifted student from Fair Lawn to Professor Doron Gerber from Bar-Ilan University’s Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences. Dr. Gerber is a researcher in micro fluidics and nanotechnology.
Dr. Gerber invited Mr. Moerdler to work with his master’s students on solving a problem: they’d developed a way to test up to 16 different types of cancer treatments and determine the most promising course for any individual patient, but sifting through the massive amount of data took months and they wanted to produce results in three days.
Mr. Moerdler applied artificial intelligence to the task and successfully shortened the process from months to minutes. He is the lead author of a paper describing his method in the Journal of Diagnostics, titled “PTOLEMI: Personalized Cancer Treatment through Machine Learning-Enabled Image Analysis of Microfluidic Assays.”
This potential breakthrough in point-of-care cancer diagnostics won him an invitation to remain in Israel after his gap year to study at Bar-Ilan University’s International School.
“I went home for a short time in the summer and came back as soon as I could, and it’s been great ever since,” Mr. Moerdler said.
He is now completing a bachelor of science degree in the AI aspects of computational biology and plans to go on for a master’s degree in computer science.
As if that’s not enough, Mr. Moerdler is also engaged to be married next July 3, with a wedding venue in Rehovot already booked.
His bride-to-be, whom he met at Bar-Ilan, is an Israeli woman with family in Ukraine. After Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022, Mr. Moerdler created Ukraine Siren Alerts as a tool to help alert citizens of sirens in the country. The program received international acclaim and was covered by European and Israeli news organizations.
Mr. Moerdler said he fully intends to become an official Israeli; he’s just waiting until closer to the wedding to take full advantage of the governmental benefits offered to new immigrants.
Having explained why someone from a comfortable Bergen County suburb would willingly remain in a country at war, Mr. Moerdler has a message for folks back home who may be wondering what they can do to help from afar.
“This conflict has brought the Jewish people closer together than we’ve ever been, because we have to unite to deal with the threats all around us,” he said.
“It’s beautiful to see support coming from the United States and other countries, and I think that should continue. There are tons of aid programs to contribute to. Soldiers need lots of things, not just tactical gear. My friends in the army tell me they would love items like blankets because it’s cold in the desert. So please donate money to organizations that have those aid lines set up. And if you’re thinking of coming here, volunteers are needed for United Hatzalah and other organizations,” he added.
“We have to be united and continue working together and helping each other.”