Trip Blog: Day Two

December 31st, 2013

Allison Tenenbaum, Assistant Director, U.S. Programs, Project Interchange, is in Israel with AJC’s Project Interchange Seminar for California Student Leaders, and is blogging about the delegation’s experiences.

Day Two:

“Free your mind, and the rest will follow.”

It seems most appropriate to start with the end of the day. Mika Sade, a young, energetic, Israeli singer, started out this evening’s reception by sharing her aspirations for peace and acceptance through her passion (and talent!) for music. Joined together at the Heseg House, a Tel-Aviv based community center for current and former lone soldiers, the students heard first-hand what Project Interchange tells participants from the very beginning. Come to Israel with an open mind. A greater understanding will follow, though, there are no promises it will be easy to understand.

Earlier in the day, the delegation of California student leaders heard from former Member of Knesset Einat Wilf. Dr. Wilf highlighted pertinent characteristics needed to understand Israeli society. She began with Herzl’s idea of Zionism, to Israel as an immigrant society, to the definition of a Jewish and democratic state, concluded by what she deemed as the existential regional threat to Israel’s existence. Within her framework, she defined the difference between religious and secular Jews, Israeli and Diaspora Jews, tradition and modernity. The confusion begins.

We heard from Professor Asher Susser, who shared his insights on Israel’s strategic environment, highlighting a new perspective on the understanding of social media and the Arab Spring; we spoke with international students at Tel Aviv University, learning the vast and confusing nature of left, center and right wing political movements; and we learned about StarTAU, the entrepreneurship center of the university, founded by our entrepreneurial-spirited speaker himself, Oren Simianan. One major theme was beginning to resonate.

As I mentioned, Herzl’s idea of Zionism-defined by Einat Wilf as a modern political movement for establishing a Jewish homeland-was just that, an idea. It was a movement. It was a risk. To take a risk is to attempt success; to take a risk is to chance failure. Herzl’s call to collectively mobilize and create Israel was the beginning of the Israeli people’s entrepreneurial mindset.

This leads to another concept: chutzpah. Weakly defined as a sort of audacious courage-whether positive or negative-that is inherent in the entrepreneurial mindset. Chutzpah, to me, is positive. It’s being on the front lines of the summer 2011 housing protest, like Yuval Bdolah, now CEO of Re-Lod Project, or taking what many would consider a setback, a “disability,” and creating a success, like Moran Samuel, whose powerful and inspirational story proves that anything is possible with a positive outlook.

We’re just skimming the surface of the complexities apparent in Israeli society. Tomorrow, we leave Tel Aviv and head North. These complex issues have been defined, will be redefined, and then redefined again.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Project Interchange.