Start-up Nation

Today I went to a start up event at the Tel Aviv University, in order to check out the scene that this famous book talks about.

I can’t say that I was too impressed about the quality of the start-ups I encountered (more social networks, more content sharing, more data mining) aside from the biotech ones (those I just don’t have any brain capacity to process).

Start-ups & Politics
The interesting part of the event for me was the lecture of Erel Margalit, who is a new member of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. He is “a high-tech and social entrepreneur turned politician who founded one of Israel’s leading venture capital funds, Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP).”

He had a refreshing view-point about incorporating the arab and ultra-orthodox sector into the labor market, giving some interesting examples of the type of low-tech insourcing that is happening with these guys. I really appreciated the inclusive attitude and his ideas about how to think about politics from a view point targeting opportunities instead of setting one part of the population against another, which is the most common (and useless) approach around here. I am very interested to see what can venture capitalist manage to do in politics. I shall remain optimistic.

Israeli start-ups abroad
The next panel on global innovation, highlighted the following points about israeli start-ups:
1. They are very good with disruptive technologies
2. They are good with exporting companies but not so good at becoming global companies
3. Key difficulties: being able to structure themselves to scale up and have good processes, also learn from others rather than try to reinvent the wheel every time
4. Key needs: professional management and marketing skills. hmmmmmmmmm…. (!!!! who can tell an opportunity here?!)

The Chilean Invasion
I was impressed to encounter the over-motivated Chilean delegation, exploring Israel’s innovative vibe and looking to bring the lessons back to their country. This is something the Brazilians definitely need to learn from.

A personal care discovery
After taking a nap during a very boring lecture about biotech clinical trials, I suddenly woke up when I heard “cosmetics” (a very useful feminine trigger). The nice gentleman from MIT suddenly started talking about something useful: a new shampoo they developed, called Frizz, that substitutes silicon based solutions for frizzy hair. Now, I have to try this!! Anyone coming down from America to help the poor victims of Rio de Janeiro’s humidity???

I guess this day was quite the productive one indeed. More to come..

Apples from the Desert

Living the high-paced stressful modern day capitalism, we often forget those “small” things in life that are the actual source of happiness and stability – old friendships, human kindness, family ties.
This is one of the reasons why I like going back to my country, where real people with real problems and real loves remind me who I really am, where I come from, and what really matters.

After 5 years of promises, I decided to make the two hour trip (long distance in Israel terms) to visit my longtime (12+ years) school friend, Blondy, in the desert city, Be’er Sheva. My previous encounters with Be’er Sheva were limited to 30 minutes stops on the way to Eilat, Israel’s most southern point and main tourist destination. I was therefore curious to get to know the place better and see how my friends’ life looks like.

start point
On the way
My destination: Be’er Sheva

Blondy and hubby made me feel at home, and we caught up on life and work. Blondy and hubby are a typical Israeli young couple. Recent college graduates. She works as an administrative manager at a nursing home and he is a management trainee at one of the main national banks. Both are doing great. It was interesting to discuss Israeli working culture and see how work problems and management of people are still universal. However, the best thing by far about The Blondies was their cat, Khatulish, a modern cat, who follows all the global trends. He even plays games through his personal pet app on the tablet. I believe that Khatulish is more technologically advanced than me in that. Blondy was commenting about the difficulty that some of her older colleagues are having in learning how to use the PC. I think she should consider using Khatulish as a technical trainer.

Khatulish analysis the situation
Khatulish charges in…
Oh no.. the fish are not real. Must try again!

Given that most people think the entire country is one big desert, one most clarify that the main difference between Be’er Sheva and any other middle class city in Israel is that it has some bedwin presence and if you drive a few kilometers away, you pass all the apartment buildings and shopping malls, and arrived to vast unused sandy plains, dotted with trees and some military bases.

Beer Sheva is also a university town, housing the Ben Gurion University. It is named after Israel’s first prime minister David Ben Gurion who was a big patriot with crazy white hair and a believer in bringing bloom to the wilderness and to his death lived in a cabin in the Negev desert (currently a museum at Kibuttz Sde Boker). As a university town, BS has a vibrance and friendliness about it. There are many bars and restaurants with cool atmosphere, good prices and friendly service. I went to of those bars, called HaSifriya ( The Library), where the waiters all wore nerdy glasses and suspenders and looked liked New York hipsters from Williamsburg. We ate burgers (Blondy and hubby), and typical israeli food (me) to the sounds of Lady Gaga concert playing on the plasma TV, while chatting with our friendly hipster bartender. Yet another example of global trends with local flavor. I like seeing so many of those around the world.

Hipster Bartender
Hummus, Falafel and Kava. What else does one need in life?

The coolest thing I discovered about Beer Sheva was that it used to be a Turkish stop point during the Ottoman rule. Someone got the right mind just a few years ago and they are now restoring the old town, and creating an interesting leisure area of galleries, cafes and nice restaurants, all done in the beautiful ancient style full of arcs and internal courtyards with quaint gardens. I can’t believe someone has not thought about this earlier but also cannot wait to see the area in a few years. In the meantime, the houses already restored look gorgeous. Wish I had money to invest… I love seeing growth opportunities that also bring beauty to this world.

Cool commercial for instant coffee. It says: “He doesn’t have a pretentious foreign name. He is simply delicious”

On my back on the train, aside from the normal update of local politics, I got an interesting advice on real estate from a phone conversation I overheard.

“Trust me, Tel Aviv is the best place for real estate investment. You buy a 1 bedroom apartment for 1.1 million shekels (~$300k) and can rent it out for 5k shekels a month. You will make money every month. Israel is the only place where people still care about buying housing. The rest of the world simply rents. Worst case, you can live there afterwards as it will be in great location”‘.

Sounds like the guy spent too much time in Manhattan, or Rio, or Moscow, or London, etc.,…

Psychology of Israeli Airport Security or the Price I Pay for my Honesty..

In my 10 years of flying in and out of Israel, I have come to practically memorize the script of the security personnel as well as the appropriate responses to their queries.

On my way to Madrid airport, I was already feeling I will have some troubles with the standard questions, now that I have Brazil added to the life story I will have to tell them.

One line of questioning I hate the most is the one where they try to establish loyalty to the country through asking leading questions about one’s jewish identity. They see I was born in Russia, and then ask me when have I immigrated to Israel, how have I learned Hebrew, etc. Then they moved to my parents, and where do they live, imploring about their connection to the local Jewish community. At this stage, I normally get really annoyed, ask if I can show them my Israeli ID that states I am Jewish and they normally leave me alone.

Not this time. The lovely agent, Ziv, continued asking me more and more questions about my parents and if they celebrate holidays, keep any mitzvot (“hmm, no? Me neither”). After his disappointment with my negative responses, he moved to my personal practices and lack of follow up with the ways of the Torah at my exile in Brazil. As I once again proved to be a failure of jew, despite all of his sympathy, I was then sent down to the dungeon of personal security search, where a bunch of 20 somethings in uniforms, gladly searched every millimeter of my personal belongings, scanning every item I had individually in the bomb detection machine. I was getting really pissed off, and they were getting nervous when I kept asking why I was flagged, especially when they found my Israeli ID and were told I was not asked for it during initial screening. They also detected some very suspicious substance in my luggage – guava jam- and decided for security purposes to pack it in a special box, along with some chocolates. To be sent separately from my suitcase.

After this circus finished, I demanded to see the supervisor, a wish they finally granted, I assume because they felt bad. After all, I was one of their peoples (this is also the reason why I felt so aggrevated at the first place. Had this been USA, I would have silently accepted, attributing to American idiocity of politically correct random searches).

The supervisor, a handsome, well educated man, named Rimon ( parmogranade!!!), arrived shortly after. We had an adult conversation after which he apologized for my bad experience and time wasted, thanked me for my honesty and hinted at the fact that I was completely right at my assessment. He asked me when I was coming again, and told me to ask for him personally. I was still very pissed off but at least I felt that he honestly cared, especially when I mentioned that I plan to avoid flying El Al in the future, from concern of this to be happening again. We silently agreed that next time I should be smarter and say I celebrate Passover. I liked this Rimon guy. He gave me some hope about customer service in my country.
As I was finally being personally escorted to the fully boarded plane, I heard my companion’s walkie-talkie saying in a harsh tone: “who is the person who handled that girl?”.
Someone is gonna get heard really bad…

Lessons learned: don’t fly El Al. If you have to fly El Al, since your only other option is Aeroflot or something along those lines, have all of your facts ready to explain why you love Israel, the jewish people, anything jewish, and how this also applies to your relatives, friends or anyone you come to close contact with. Otherwise, be ready to take the chance of spending an hour or more in a room, with a bunch of suspecious looking people people while three strangers are touching all of your stuff.

Despite all of this crap, I still love my country. I guess that El Al isn’t so bad either. They had Rimon, then the flight attendants were super nice and friendly. They gave me hummus on the plane, convinced me to eat my meal and asked 3 times if I am sure that I don’t want my pita bread. Much better than the Iberia robot jail wardens I encountered on the flight from Rio to Madrid. One always have to look at the bright side in life.

A bit about my homeland – Israel

I try generally avoid politics at all costs, as these types of discussions don’t really lead anywhere. I am also kind of traitor of my country, I left behind and give nothing to. I do, still keep very close to heart the fact that the only country that gave me citizenship and a right to live there forever, was Israel and I get very saddened by the waves of hatred against my country and people all over the world.

I saw this very good piece that sums very nicely my own point of view, and the point of view of many of my countrymen.

What Are we Struggling Against?

This is a question we ask a lot – “who are we struggling against?” We asked this question in Moscow and Kiev, Warsaw and Krakow, New-York and Los-Angeles. We are about to ask it in Baku and Berlin, Sidney and London, Dublin and (and this will be amazing) Istanbul. We ask it again and again and we hear a lot of answers – and all of them wrong.

“Palestinians” say some, forgetting the entire saga of Arab-Israeli wars before or after 1967. “Arabs”, say others, forgetting both the big Arab minority living in peace in Israel, the friendship with Jordan going long before the peace agreement of ’94 and the rising tension with the very non-Arab leadership in Iran. “Islam” say some, unaware that this is one of the official religions in Israel, that Israel has worm relations with many Muslim countries and that Judaism allows religious Jews to pray in a mosque.

Many answers, all wrong. Maybe because the question is wrong also. You see, we don’t fight a “who” but a “what”. We fight against an idea, a very simple idea – Israel shouldn’t be. It’s old, older than Israel itself, and during the long years of its existence it wore different clothes. Long ago it was wearing the jacket of the Palestinian nationalism, which was replaced by the Arab nationalism since the 50′s. Then it wore something more religious – like the clothing of the Iranian ayatollahs or the Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Cairo. Recently it wears the jeans and t-shirts of Berkeley and London students. “Israel shouldn’t be” they all said and they all still say.

But we are here. We are here because here is our home. We are here, knowing that we are not aliens, not foreigners, not a new wave of some colonialist crusade – we didn’t come here, we returned. Came back. And this is a major difference.

And so, while players and banners on the other side change during the years, their message remains the same. “Israel shouldn’t be”. But we say something else. We say that we are here to remain, that we will stand firm and hold our ground, that we were exiled once and there will not be another time.

We are home. This is the only thing that is not open to discussion.

And this is what we are struggling against.

A Special Day

I generally try to abstain from writing about political topics but I could not resist this time. Today was one of those days when I felt especially proud of my country and the spirit of the Israeli people. Today was the day of Gilad Shalit’s was release.

When I first found out a few days ago that he is going to be released, I couldn’t believe it. We all grew up with the memory of Ron Arad, the navigator that was captured in the 1980’s, whose body was never recovered and who is presumed to be dead but without confirmation. When Israelis hear the name Ron Arad, the first association is probably “lachofesh nolad” – born to be free. His name is also associated with the constant national anxiety and infinite negotiations with terrorists to find out about his fate. “We would never know for sure” is in the national psych.

I am so happy Gilad will not be the next Ron Arad. His nearly five years in captivity tore the nation apart and I was so happy to see my people getting together as one nation to rejoice over Gilad’s return home. I almost cried when I saw everyone’s posts on Facebook this morning – showing happiness and solidarity and relief of this unbelievable return. It was also incredible, to be reminded about the unique emphasis that the jewish people put over the sanctity of life. Of course, politicians will try to take credit and take advantage of this achievement, but this does not take away from the sense of relief I think we all feel as a nation, knowing that our son is home.  I am also amazed by Gilad’s parents who never gave up and kept everyone on top of this issue. They are a major reason why his return became reality. Indeed – a victory of the human spirit.

I hope things only improve from now on.