Each tour of Israel that Birthright-Taglit offers young Diaspora Jews free of
charge features a long list of important religious and political
At the Western Wall, participants learn about Judaism and the
Temple that was once at its center; at the desert fortress of Masada they are
taught of the terrible sacrifices made by its ancient occupants; and at
Independence Hall in Tel Aviv they see where the Jewish state was
established.RELATED:Demand for Birthright-Taglit hits new high in N. America
But now a new and unexpected stop with no historical or
religious relevance has been added to the list: Ra’anana, one of the main hubs
of Israel’s hi-tech industry.
Thousands of Birthright participants
gathered on Tuesday night at an auditorium in the upper-middle class suburb of
Tel Aviv for the group’s semi-annual Mega-event. Earlier in the day, Birthright
groups visited nearby software companies like Amdocs, HP and Microsoft to learn
about the Silicon Wadi, Israel’s equivalent of the Silicon Valley. Participants
met with management and heard lectures.
“Over the past few days we’ve
connected participants with hi-tech companies in Ra’anana and Herzliya,”
explained Birthright Director Gidi Mark. “We wanted to show Jewish university
graduates from around the world the opportunities we have
Incorporating Israel’s hi-tech companies into Birthright tours aims
to connect participants not only to the country’s past and present, but to its
The initiative comes following the success of Start-Up Nation, a
book by Dan Senor and Saul Singer that chronicled the “The Story of Israel’s
Economic Miracle” and became a best-seller.
It also dovetails with the
decade-long efforts by government bodies, especially the Foreign Ministry, to
rebrand Israel as a hi-tech superpower, not just as a country of conflict and
“We have lots of hi-tech companies here,”
Ra’anana Mayor Nahum Hofree said at the Megaevent. “It’s something in the
Ra’anana DNA I guess. Part of it is the number of Jewish immigrants we have
living here who bring with them knowledge, energy and capital.”
it’s true that Israel’s economy has made remarkable strides forward over the
past two decades, critics of Start-Up Nation say the wealth created by the
hi-tech business is unevenly distributed and concentrated in a relatively small
area in Tel Aviv and its northern suburbs.
Ra’anana’s mayor, however,
isn’t worried Birthright participants might be given an overly positive image of
Israel’s economy from visiting his town.
“First we have to bring them
here and show Birthright participants that we’re a normal country with parks and
hi-tech industries and so on,” Hofree said. “But if you took them to Carmiel,” a
peripheral city in the north with a lower standard of living, “they’d feel just
as strongly about their experience.”
Back at the Megaevent, a group of
Birthright participants from the Bay area spoke about their visit earlier in the
Linsey Sandrew, 26, was not overly impressed. As a former employee
of Utopy, an Israeli-owned hi-tech company based in the Silicon Valley that
makes software for call centers, she was already familiar with Israel’s hi-tech
industry long before she came.
“It wasn’t that interesting,” she said.
“I’d rather have been hiking somewhere.”
Elyse Braverman, 26, however,
said she learned lessons that might be applicable to the digital E-card business
she wants to launch.
“I actually enjoyed it,” she said. “I think it was
nice to get an Israeli perspective of entrepreneurship and of the Israeli
venture ecosystem. It was relevant to what I was doing.”
For Josh Constine
, 25, the tour was like a day at the office. As a journalist for Inside
Facebook, an independent news source based in the Silicon Valley covering the
social network’s growth and development, Constine
was uniquely qualified to
judge the merit of the outing.
“It was interesting seeing someone in
power give a high-level view of why Israel is important to the hi-tech scene and
how it relates to the Silicon Valley,” he said.
The Stanford graduate had
some criticism for the outing.
“Exposing Israel’s role in the hi-tech
industry is important, but to me it felt too focused on promoting corporations
rather than illuminating Israel’s small entrepreneurs who are making a real
impact,” he said.
“Israel is a source of innovation and lower cost
engineering talent,” he summed up, “it’s not India but it’s not Silicon Valley