An Ode to the Israeli Spirit

Tags: Inspiration and Hope, Israel Engagement, Startups, Arts and Culture, Science and Technology, People and Society

By Judith Bergman

In China, Brazil and many other places, business entrepreneurs study the Israeli startup spirit and the Israeli attitude toward business - and life. They travel here to see it for themselves.

"Before we came to Israel, we were told about the startup spirit in Israel, but this is a case where seeing is truly believing," Amy, an executive in a Chinese pharmaceutical firm, told The Times of Israel. "To us, the attitude that one is allowed to fail and still be a thriving member of the business community is very unique. The social sanctions and even ostracism on 'losing face' is very deeply embedded in Chinese culture. In Israel, you don't have that - and in fact rising from failure is seen as heroic."

Rising from failure is, in fact, deeply ingrained in Israeli culture. Israelis are not quitters and we can be very stubborn when we have to be. You do not survive in our neighborhood unless you have a spirit of tremendous and defiant persistence. And we have bucket loads. "Losing face," which is also a predominant trait of North Europeans, simply does not exist here. Failure is just another word for obstacle.

While our region is awash with bad news and terrible forecasts, Israel thrives and continues to grow on so many levels. The Israeli spirit is a restless and ambitious one and it never settles.

That is why the security challenges that this neighborhood comes with, despite everything, will never manage to bring Israelis down. In fact, while Israel still has the image of being an unsafe place in the minds of many abroad, the truth is that Israel is one of the safest places to live and visit, certainly far safer than most European countries today.

Europeans used to take their freedom of movement for granted, enjoying near-perfect tranquility while their televisions showed bombs blowing up buses and cafés in Israeli cities. Now they have to deal with a very high and real terror threat in their own cities. The difference is that nearly a decade and a half after 9/11, their societies are still not properly geared toward dealing with such threats, whereas Israel has decades of experience and is teaching other nations how to deal with terrorism.

What is the secret behind the indomitable Israeli spirit?

Naturally, it is a combination of many factors, but one of the most salient and unique features of Israeli society is the special ethos of familiarity which can be so incomprehensible, even annoying, to people who do not live here.

Israelis have very strong family ties, but those ties do not only exist within the actual family. There is a familiarity even between strangers, an underlying ethos of camaraderie and sense that at some level, we are all family, which manifests itself on a daily basis in every aspect of Israeli society. You could say that those invisible borders that serve to separate people in other societies do not exist here, at least not in the same way.

You are never truly alone in Israel and that is why complete strangers will tell you, even berate you, for not covering your child's sensitive ears with a warm hat in March. They will comment entirely uninvited that the picture you just took will never come out, because you took it from the wrong angle. They might also come up to you as you sit with your husband and children in the mall and tell you how happy you all look and that they like it. They will drive you to the nearest supermarket, when you are brand new to the city on a late Friday afternoon and do not have a clue where you are, and they will drive you home again when you come out and still do not know how to make your way home. I know, because all those things happened to me.

It is this knowledge that you are not alone, coupled with the very high levels of trust that exist in Israel - paradoxically alongside sometimes staggering levels corruption at other levels of Israeli society - that fuel the Israeli spirit. "No man is an island" may be an old cliché, but Israeli society has made it a cornerstone of its existence.

This is no coincidence. It stems from thousands of years of Judaism, practiced as a collectivity and built upon the foundations of family and community, which Judaism hold so dearly.

A lone Jew, without a minyan, cannot properly practice his Judaism. You need people.

This wisdom is something that Israelis have appropriated and continue to value. That is why the Israeli birth rate is soaring, while in Europe and elsewhere it is below replacement level.

As Israelis, we know that underneath it all -- the security situation, our political squabbles, the shouting, the religious and political divisions and all the other problems -- we are family. Our fellow Israeli's success is our success and Israel's success. This is the key to understanding the Israeli spirit.

Judith Bergman is a writer and political analyst living in Israel. Judith holds degrees in International Relations (The London School of Economics and Political Science) and law.

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Tags: Inspiration and Hope, Israel Engagement, Startups, Arts and Culture, Science and Technology, People and Society