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Building Friendship with Israel is difficult… but worth it.

Tags: Living Israel, Arts and Culture, Advocacy, Jewish Unity

By Vitor Pinheiro

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“A journey of a thousand miles, begins with a single step…” Every traveler knows this, and everyone trying to make friends in a new country should be prepared for the first step knowing that the journey will be long.

2010 was a terrible year in my life. In Portugal we faced a difficult period after the financial bank crisis. I was an International Sales Manager at the leading Industrial Fashion group. From one day to the next, just like that, I lost my job. My second part-time job as a MBA teacher also came to a sudden end with the financial hit in the private sector. We have a saying, “misery enjoys company,” which pretty much describes where I was at in life. There I was unemployed, with plenty of time to think.

Here, I was given the opportunity to re-invent myself. That, and I could travel.

I had traveled to many countries, but even I knew, from my small village, I would need to think big. Big and outside of the box. As they say in Brazil, I would need to “parachute myself to the crocodiles.” I needed external motivation. I searched online for my answer.

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I googled the top ranked entrepreneurial cities in the world. And from there I created my personalized list of inspiration and travel: San Paulo in Brazil, Tel Aviv in Israel, and Zurich in Switzerland.

I made a plan, long before I packed my suitcase. I would need to make friends in my future countries of travel. When it came to Israel, I was nervous. While I had 119 Facebook friends, I rarely chatted with anyone or commented on posts. Since I have family in San Paulo and Zurich and had worked in both places, the friendships seemed easier, and with less translation. But I still wanted to make my way to Israel and make my friends, face to face.

It would end up being one of the most important trips of my life.

Not many people recall this, but in the XV century Portugal was a global village and world power. We were surrounded by enemies and had a 300 year alliance between Templar Knights and Jews. The Golden Age of Portugal ended when the Spanish Inquisition invaded, with the authorization of the Pope, executing 800 people in Lisbon. I felt that if I could understand this about my past, I could better understand my present and better yet, my future. This was part of my fascination and interest in visiting the Promised Land. My hope was to find the things we had in common.

The Israel I knew was a puzzle of pieces put together by the international media. When I visited the country and met the people, my perspective was completely different. Sometimes the reality build up by media and social networks are just fragments of what life really is about.

The international media promotes hate towards Israel, and the Israeli Government retaliates using media for it’s own agenda. It seems like a cycle that never ends. It seemed that the success stories were not being promoted for the world to see, giving people the chance to share the positive and great things Israel has contributed to.

Visiting Israel was a wonderful surprise. It is a great place where I met and made great friends and I will certainly return one day for holidays or to explore some business opportunities.

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Google Campus in Tel Aviv

I could spend hours detailing the positives things I saw in Tel Aviv; the good moments I had with the Israeli family I shared an apartment with in Petah Tikva; the incredible motivation entrepreneurs have during our meetings at SoSa, Samurai House or Google Campus every time there is a public seminar.

A story that I learned in Sao Paulo came to my mind one day when I was having a coffee in Jaffa looking to the sunset over the sea, which summarizes my own conclusion of my journey to Israel.

Brazilians joke a bit with the Amazonian Indians, with humor they accuse them of being primitive, lacking intellectual abilities to understand the modern world. So once in a public seminar in a university in Sao Paulo, one of the speakers joked about the Amazonian Indians stating that they are so stupid because every time they do a movement forward, they swing with their leg back before swinging forward. He added that they do it every time there is something important in their life. Everyone laughed.

There was an Amazonian Indian sitting in the middle of the audience. He raised his hand to speak. For over a half hour the speaker ignored him, but he was forced to let him speak. The Amazonian Indian said the following:

“I just wanted to share my opinion with you since you might be wrong about us. It is true that in every important movement in life before we do the movement forward, we first do one movement back. This movement is crucial for us. We do it in important moments like hunting, war, dancing and public speaking. We do it because we need to be reminded every time, that the reason why we are here is because of our ancestors existence, of what they did in the past for us. We need to remember these moments in our life, so that we appreciate the present. It is really a present given to us from the past. And everything we do in the present should be done with the intention to care about the future, to build the right future, a better world. Someone in the future will do the same for us, remembering what we do now in the present for them.

He continued, “For us it is important for our survival that we know where we came from, where we are and where we going. By understanding our past, present and future, we will survive as a culture and we will succeed.”

This can apply to all countries, cultures and religions in the world.

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Modern Art Museum Tel Aviv

This story came to me again in Israel because of long hours wandering in the streets of Tel Aviv seeing so many streets, buildings and even ambulances named after someone. And while that is the past, on the same streets, you can see so many people enjoying life, so many new projects and the entrepreneurial communities. In my opinion this is why Israel will survive. Much like the story, Israel knows its past, present and future. Its people are aware of it.

In 2010, I thought that core of Israeli entrepreneurship had to do with their need for survival. In 2015 I believe it has more to do with love towards a particular place, the promised land. There is a need to make sure a better world is being built and despite being surrounded by enemies, Israel can be a part of the global economy. The country can take a break for Shabbat to connect with friends and family, but still work hard and make change.

What still shocks me, is how a country so strong can still lose the battle to negative images. How the Israeli government is not able to create a better communication strategy to combat the lies and distortion. Perhaps bad news really does sell more newspapers. For me it is evident that in order to really know Israel you can not rely on the press or social media. That is not real friendship.

Building friendships with Israel is difficult, but is worth it, every journey in life is worth it too as long as we know our road map.

To add a bit of humor I would also say, that in life we also don’t need many friends only the right ones.

So to my friends and those reading this around the world, I highly recommend you visit Israel and see the people and the places for yourself.

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Vitor Pinheiro is a former university lecturer and international sales manager for the largest fashion group in Portugal and leading Swiss trading company. He is currently focused on his two start-ups in Basel, Switzerland: www.swissconnection.eu and www.shoemakersportugal.com



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