I guess that when you get to be my age and have had a 40-year career in fundraising and non-profit work, you are entitled to look back and reflect. It’s nice to sit back and remember the good old days (which were not always so good), but if you don’t use those experiences to help guide today’s leaders – both lay and professional – then you have not completed the job.
I grew up in a Labor-Zionist household, was a member of Habonim, attended Habonim Camp Galil just outside Philadelphia and first traveled to Israel when I was 12 on a propeller airplane. My heroes were David Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan and the Davey Croll (my uncle who made Aliyah from Philadelphia in 1947). We sang songs about the Palmach and Hagannah and marveled at how Israel conquered both their enemies and the Negev by reclaiming the desert. Israel’s achievements both militarily and agriculturally gave us all a sense of pride. We were no longer the victims but the winners.
I took my first of many groups to Israel in 1985. Our itinerary always included a stop at a military base. We met the young men and women who showed us how to be strong. We cried at the graves of the fallen whose bravery allowed us to visit the Kotel (Wailing Wall) so we could cry again.
But Israel has changed as we in the Diaspora have changed. Last year I took two groups to Israel. As a result of the generosity of a St Paul resident named David Fishman, who provided funds for the education of Israel’s best and brightest, more than 70 scholars are contributing to Israel’s growth from law to business to politics and everything in-between. We traveled through the country listening to these amazing people. Their insights into today’s issues facing Israel and the rest of the world were absolutely amazing. No, we didn’t go to an army base and marvel at the Merkava Tanks, (although they are something special) we spent the time meeting with Israel’s new heroes. I believe that war will protect us but won’t get us to peace. The Fishman scholar who is the lead negotiator in peace negotiations is the new “Moshe Dayan” although his accomplishments are quiet, and away from the headlines so that meaningful dialogue can occur.
The second trip was with leading entrepreneurs from across the United States, many of them not Jewish. While we were sure to visit all the tourist and holy sites, the highlights were with the young Israeli entrepreneurs, the start-ups, and Facebook Israel. No, we did not go to the army base to marvel at the Merkava tanks but spent the time meeting the businessmen and women who are building Israel’s economy, one start-up at a time. I had dinner with a young man who spent years of his army service working on new technology and science to quietly continue Israel’s military advantages. To his credit, he used his knowledge to build a very successful company that is helping to drive Israel’s economy. He is one of the new heroes.
When we think of Israel today, we think about its scientific achievements and what they mean to the world. We think of the businessmen and women who are driving a successful economy and have the world’s leading companies like Intel doing business in Israel.
“Back in the day” our heroes were the pioneers who, like my uncle, drained swamps, and cultivated the Negev while defending the country. Deep down in my soul, they were and continue to be my heroes and gave me the koach (strength) to work most of my career raising money so that they had the resources to contribute to Israel’s outstanding and unique position in the world. I still remember the songs but trust me, no one wants to hear me sing.
I couldn’t be happier that our heroes of today are the “start-up nation” folks and the Fishman scholars, many of whom are the same people. I am delighted that a new generation of Jews in the Diaspora know Israel for its business and scientific contributions to the world. Their heroes are their heroes, not mine from the past. When a new generation of Jews in the Diaspora think of Israel they think about a new generation of achievers. When I took the businessmen and women to Israel, I was able to puff out my chest, not just because of the Patriot missile, but because of the many business and scientific contributions, Israel is contributing to our modern world.
“Back in the day” Israel was something special, today it’s even better.