Let’s Focus on the Positive

Tomorrow, the twelfth of the Hebrew month of Heshvan, marks the eighteenth anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Large memorial services are scheduled to take place this week in Israel and across the Jewish world.

Since that dreadful day, Rabin’s assassination and the changes within Israeli society that preceded it continue to raise concerns and self-flagellation. It’s the thing to do this week, look at what is wrong with Israel, quote recent surveys that show a distancing from the democratic ethos, and examine with anxiety the rise of a new, spoiled generation of Israelis–less patriotic, less committed, and less Zionist. Looking at ourselves and evaluating our society isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s actually a sign of a strong, self-confident society, but it is easier to focus on what is wrong, and practice one of Israelis’ favorite pastimes– complaining. However, or better said, davka, on these days I would like to emphasize the positive:

Every year, right after the Jewish High Holidays and before the winter, our JCC Association Boarding Pass trips (JCC trips for JCC members, planned through JCC Association) reach peak season, with six groups visiting Israel in October/November alone. Joining these groups for part of their itinerary allows me to look at Israel and our society through a fresh set of glasses.

This past week I had the pleasure of joining one of our groups that was visiting Israeli aerospace industries, globally recognized as leaders in military and commercial aerospace technology. During the 3D presentation, I couldn’t help but feel great pride in one of the many fields at which Israel excels. Through Boarding Pass, I see Israel from a whole new perspective. Visiting Israel’s top industries, meeting with Israel’s scientist and scholars, witnessing Israel’s contributions to the world, and even discussing Israel’s challenges, offers me a new way to understand and appreciate Israel, with its complexities and wonders.

How many of us in Israel really appreciate the quiet, almost secret humanitarian and medical aid Israel is providing to Syrian civilians during the terrible civil war just across our borders? Since the beginning of the war, over 300 Syrian citizens were treated, free of charge, with hardly any PR, in Israeli hospitals and by Israeli medical teams. It’s much easier to complain about the holdup in the peace talks rather than to appreciate the day to day efforts to bridge the gaps and reach out beyond politics, as human beings.

Many of us in Israel complain about the brain drain, about the decline in national science and math scores, and about the status and condition of our schools. But do we remember to appreciate that Israel has the highest ratio of university degrees to population in the world? That Israel produces more scientific papers per capita than any other nation by a large margin? And that Israel leads the world in patents for medical equipment? Just last week it was announced that two US-Israeli citizens Arieh Warshel and Michael Levitt, together with Austrian-American scientist Martin Karplus, were awarded the Nobel Prize for their groundbreaking research in field of chemistry.

Warshel , born in Kibbutz Sde Nahum, who studied at the Technion and the Weizmann Institute, is a US and Israeli citizen. Levitt is an American-Israeli professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine who has also held positions at the Weizmann Institute for many years (and whose wife still lives in Rehovot, Israel).

Even before these two new Nobel Prize laureates, Israel had more Nobel laureates per capita than any other country in the world. The fact that Israeli scientist are doing so well shouldn’t surprise us, since Israel scientific research institutions are ranked third in the world.

Just yesterday, it was announced that Facebook is buying Onavo, an Israeli mobile analytics startup for an estimated $150-200 million. This is Facebook’s third and biggest acquisition in Israel, which will lead to the opening of a development center in Israel. This recent acquisition follows Google’s acquisition in June of Waze, the Israeli navigation app and traffic report start-up, with almost 50 million users, for $1.3 billion. There must be a reason why giants like Google and Facebook decide to buy Israeli startups, invest in Israel, open R&D centers in Israel and so forth. After all, after the US, Israel has more NASDAQ listed companies than any other country. More than all of Europe, India, China and Japan combined.

Maybe we should from time to time allow ourselves to be tourists in our own country. I believe that recognizing the positive, without ignoring needed corrections, allows us to concentrate on getting better and better, moving forward with pride to truly be a Light unto the Nations.

Leah Garber, Vice President, JCC Association Israel Office
leah@jcca.org

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