Jews, Startups, Cooking

On Sunday, we launched into the history and culture of the Startup Nation. The day began with a tour of the old city of Tel Aviv. Our guide, Asher, covered the history of Tel Aviv through the lens of modern startup culture, a bit anachronistic, but it gave us a sense of our place in history. Most people think Israel started in 1948. Anyone with a little history knows that Theodor Herzl formulated zionism around 1900. However, I did not know that Jews in Israel began to modernize in the 1860s. They left the walled communities they lived in and began to build European style, industrialized cities. This had nothing to do with Zionism – bringing diaspora jews into Israel – instead, it was simple modernization, led by orthodox Jews already living in the Holy Land.

Walking through the Boys School in Neve Tzedek

After the history lesson, we jumped into the modern era with a talk on Israeli startup culture. We got an overview of The Startup Nation, a book detailing the secret sauce behind Israel’s success in the tech scene. Israel has the most startups per capita in the World and is second only to the US and Canada in Nasdaq startups, in absolute terms. The talks were saturated with patriotism and soaked with self aggrandizement; quotes and platitudes abounded. I appreciate having an optimistic and positive attitude, however I hope that the next 10 months are not a propaganda group think exercise in Israeli exceptionalism. Luckily, Israelis are a practical people and know how to get results. Practicality is a necessity when you are hated by millions of people around you.

Our South African lecturer

After the tech startup lecture we learned about international business etiquette. Our speaker was a hilarious South African woman, who missed the last 20 years of political correctness. Her talk was three hours long but to sum it up in one sentence: Asians care about honor, Americans care about results, Africans and Arabs care about relationships, and Israelis say what they mean. When confronted by an Israeli in the wild, appear large and make a lot of noise, this will cause them to respect you.

Sitting around listening to speakers all day had us a bit anxious. Good thing the organizers know what they’re doing because we finished with an Israeli cooking class. Our class was taught by a gay Israeli chef who had travelled through the USA so much I thought he was American. He insisted that he was born and raised in Israel which he proved by coming up behind you and saying, “What is this? What are you doing?”

On Monday, we will dive into three sectors of the Israeli tech scene: Cyber Security, Financial Technology, and Medical Technology. We will visit three different startups as well as a venture capital firm. It should be an interesting day.

Written on October 27, 2014