Why I believe in Israel - comment

The standard labels of Israel as a technology hub (start-up nation) or a lone democracy in a hostile region, do not do justice to the full experience that I have had working in Israel as a proud Jew.

 NA LAGA’AT in performance. (photo credit: Courtesy)
NA LAGA’AT in performance.
(photo credit: Courtesy)

I am a fortunate man. 

Although my parents were both Holocaust survivors, my brother and I were born in New York City during the economic surge of the 1950s. My father started as a simple mechanic and years later was knighted by the King of Sweden for his business success. My mother went to college and graduate school and became a noted teacher of Slavic languages. Our family lived the American Dream after the horrors of the Shoah.

Although we visited family and friends in Israel many times during childhood and early adult years, it was only after my bioscience and medical studies at Stanford University and Harvard Medical School, and subsequent life sciences business activities, that I started spending real time in Israel in 2005 as an adult. This is when I began to truly understand the depth of character and strength of purpose of our people in our extraordinary, promised land.

The standard labels of Israel as a technology hub (start-up nation) or a lone democracy in a hostile region (canary in the mineshaft), do not do justice to the full experience that I have had working in, investing in, and celebrating in Israel as a proud Jew, with deep connections to our 3000-year heritage and our hopes and dreams for the future. 

The tragedies of the past, especially of the recent past for my family in Poland during World War II, have parallels in the struggles that many societies and countries have experienced throughout history. Suffering is not unique to the Jewish people. What is unique is the way we overcome past devastations.

Wheat Field in Israel (credit: EDI ISRAEL/FLASH90)Wheat Field in Israel (credit: EDI ISRAEL/FLASH90)
One of my first projects was to bring Israeli theater group "Na Laga’at" to perform in the US. The group’s entire cast comprises blind and deaf performers. They cannot hear or see yet they are able to perform and entertain every night. They do so skillfully, intelligently and in the most inspirational fashion. Those three weeks I spent with them were unforgettable. They resulted, not only in full sold-out house nightly, but also with unprecedented media coverage. 

Na Laga’at’s value is, indeed, in its inspirational message: we come from a place, they say, where people refuse to accept limitations. A place where creativity knows no boundaries. In this regard it is a significant mistake to look at Israel’s boundless creative spirit as only limited to science and technology. Israel’s creative spirit as a force for societal and social good is manifested in all walks of life, from lifestyle to the environment to entrepreneurship to the entertainment industry and beyond. Na Laga’at or “Please do Touch” in English, is one shining example, from many, of such creative triumph over personal and group adversity or limitations.

The Jewish people have always been a nation of gifted storytellers via the Torah and so much more. We have also been problem solvers. How is a nation of creative problem-solvers born? One obvious answer is out of its own history of persecution and strife. Necessity is the mother of all invention goes the cliché. 

A second possible answer is evolving a knowledge-based society as both a response to a stark lack of natural resources (especially water and energy – two fundamental problems that have been practically solved) and to the wars and boycotts and other existential challenges that have faced Israel since its beginnings. The Abraham Accords now provides us all with a powerful reminder as to the ultimate triumph of knowledge over natural resources. Of resilience and patience over insecurity and fear.

My first investment in Israel, in 2005, was in a company called Alpha Tau Medical that presented a revolutionary idea to eliminate solid cancer tumors. Sixteen years later, the company is about to begin curing and trading on the global stage and is winning respect and admiration from all who encounter it. Recently there was a very successful television docuseries in the United States called: Jerusalem: City of Faith and Fury. In my dreams I see the success of a company like Alpha Tau helping change the narrative to something like, “Jerusalem: City of Cancer Cure and More.”

The way our people have overcome this history of suffering and destruction and transformed it into the miracle of achievement and success impacting worldwide today, most especially as embodied in the vibrant, exciting, free State of Israel, is a unique phenomenon in human history. A story that inspires all who make a reasonable effort to know it and understand it and love it.

I am proud to be a part of this story and look forward to the future with great hope and abundant confidence.

Sending holiday wishes of joy and peace to all.

The writer is an active investor in Israeli life science and tech since 2005 and a well-known philanthropist. He is based in New York City.