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Celebrating Israel's 69th Birthday: Yom Ha'Atzmaut 2017

Contemporary Wisdom from Israel’s Economic Success

A Sermon by Rabbi Ranon Teller

Yom Ha’atzma’oot 2017, Israel’s 69th Birthday

Some Material based on a Book Review by CH Saroop


This week, the state of Texas became the 18th state in our nation to pass a bipartisan bill combating the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement House Bill (HB 89). Here’s what that means – the state of Texas has funds that it invests in a variety of companies. The state of Texas is prohibited from investing in companies that engage in a boycott of Israeli products. The bill also requires all companies who contract with the state of Texas to certify that they don’t participate in BDS efforts. Back in March, the bill passed with overwhelming support through the Texas Senate with a vote - 25-4. This week, the bill passed unanimously through the House - with a 131-0 vote. How about that? One way to read this event is that the state of Texas along with 17 other states, is affirming the value of the state Israel. They are acknowledging Israel’s positive contribution to the global economy and the global community. This is a big deal and serious affirmation.

The global economic community is recognizing Israel as a member of the global economy by law, but also it's being recognized by investors. With a population of about eight million people, Israel has over 6,000 startups. It attracts more venture capital per person than any other country in the world. Israel is catching up with Silicon Valley as a hi-tech global leader. Investments in Israel used to be counted in the millions of dollars, not it’s billions of dollars.

When I was in Israel in February, I noticed that every car I drove in had a sensor beeping on the dashboard. I asked one of my taxi drivers about it – in Hebrew, because I like practicing my Hebrew when I’m in Israel. He explained that this piece of radar technology is a requirement for all new cars on the road. He says,  “it’s called Mobeelie!” It sits on the dashboard, and it scans the road for potential dangers. If you don’t brake fast enough or you wander into another lane, it sets off a sensor and starts beeping. “What’s it called?” I asked again. “Mobeelie,” he said. I looked on the sensor and it said, in English, Mobile Eye.

Mobile Eye is an Israeli start-up company using Israeli technology. It was founded by Amnon Shashua and Ziv Aviram. In 2015, an American company announced that it would be using Mobile Eye technology in its self-driving features – what company? Tesla. Mobile Eye has gone public, and now, in the past few months, it was announced that Intel, the American company, is acquiring Mobile Eye for a large sum of money -- 15.3 billion dollars. Mobile Eye technology is going to be the core technology for self-driving cars.

Investments like these are pouring into Israel and Israeli companies – from America, China, Japan ... Warren Buffet! If Israel has Warren Buffet's attention, we’re in good shape. Over 90 Israeli companies are listed in the NASDAQ, which is more than all European companies combined. The land of milk and honey is now the land of hi-tech and entrepreneurship.

So, what are all these investors seeing in Israel? It’s not just the products; it’s not just the technology. The investment world is picking up cultural proclivities in Israel that are well suited for a hi-tech, start up economy. When Warren Buffet researches a potential investment, he’s not just looking at the data and the projections. He’s looking at the leadership, the values, the ethos, and the culture of the company. He and other billion dollar investors are looking at Israel, and they’re seeing something special. This uniqueness, this excellence, these skills are lifting Israel’s status in the world. This is a serious paradigm shift for Zionism - from kibbutz to hi-tech and from Moshav to Nasdaq. Israel’s economic success - from hi tech to start ups, desalination to offshore drilling - is redefining and re-energizing contemporary Zionism.

A while back, in 2009, a book came out called Start-Up Nation, the Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle. The author analyzes the success and presents the proclivities and uniqueness of Israeli culture that have allowed Israel to succeed in the modern global economy. These lessons explain the success of Israeli start-ups, but then can also help us in our lives – in our businesses, and non-profits, and in our lives. Here are a few lessons from Israel’s success in honor of Yom Ha’atzmaut - Israel’s 69th birthday.

1. Venture with courage and don’t be afraid to fail. Israeli culture has a cultural tolerance for what Israelis call “constructive failure” or intelligent failures. True innovation isn’t possible without being able to tolerate failure. In the Israeli army, the success or failure of a mission is secondary to the lessons learned from the mission. You have to fail to succeed. Basketball - Who is the all time leader in shots missed? Koby Bryant. 5 time NBA champion, 18 time NBA allstar, 2 time scoring champion. Kobe Bryant also missed the most shots of any player in history. NFL leader of incomplete passes? Brett Favre. MLB leader in outs made – strike outs, pop flies, - Pete Rose. The greatest players miss the most. In our workspaces, in our home, in our lives, let’s learn to tolerate failure and learn from our successes and our mistakes.

2. Every person is infinitely valuable. Corporate America is top-down; the boss is always right. The boss is untouchable. The underling is less valuable. In the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the top army generals don’t have free reign. When top generals aren’t performing, the army unit can throw them out! It’s not about rank. It’s not about status. It's about performance. The book describes an Israeli perspective on the failure of the Second Lebanon War: "One of the problems of the Second Lebanon War was the exaggerated adherence of senior officers to the chief of staff's decisions. There is no question that the final word rests with the chief of staff, and once decisions have been made, all must demonstrate complete commitment to their implementation. However, it is the senior officer's job to argue with the chief of staff when they feel he is wrong, and this should be done assertively on the basis of professional truth as they see it. There wasn’t enough arguing with the top down orders. There wasn’t enough insubordination. The hi-tech world is flattening hierarchies and places value on all employees. That’s a paradigm shift worth considering for ourselves in our non-profits, in our communities and in our families.

3. Diversity. Israel is home to more than seventy different nationalities and cultures. Immigrant societies have to work hard to succeed. Immigrant societies are naturally mobile and flexible. One Israeli contrasted Israel to other the classic European counties. “In France,” he said, “if you are from a very established family, and you work in an established company, and you have a big office and perks and all that, would you get up and leave and risk everything to create something new? You wouldn't. You're too comfortable. But if you're an immigrant in a new place, and you're poor or you were once rich and your family was stripped of its wealth - then you have drive. You don't see what you've got to lose; you see what you could win. That's the attitude we have here in Israel- across the entire population. Let’s learn to follow Israel’s lead to celebrate diversity and allow all of our voices to be heard and encourage all of our talents to shine.

As we celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut this week, let’s renew our pride in the land flowing with milk and honey – surging with innovation, venture capital, technology, and entrepreneurial energy. The two great Jewish communities of the 21st century are here in America and over there in Israel. Let us learn from each other. Let’s bask in each other’s success and learn from each other’s mistakes. And we always remember and pray, that we remain one people with one heart – am echad im lev echad.