On any given day in Tel Aviv, as I sit at a café on Ben Gurion Boulevard, I am acutely aware that I am surrounded by the start-up superstars, the serial entrepeneurs and the creative dreamers who are all making a serious impact in the world. Together we sip our coffees, look out at this tiny but abundant strip of land before us, and dream up ideas, businesses and plans in order to make our contribution. The tradition of the Israeli psyche, perhaps less known but in my eyes one of the most appealing factors for moving to Israel, is to create solutions where there seemingly are none – it is this mentality which has made the desert bloom.
I recently read an article from the New York Times entitled the Moral Bucket List, which described qualities inherent in the character of those people who we consider to be “deeply good”. The writer suggests:
“Character is defined by how deeply rooted you are. Have you developed deep connections that hold you up in times of challenge and push you toward the good? In the realm of the intellect, a person of character has achieved a settled philosophy about fundamental things. In the realm of emotion, she is embedded in a web of unconditional loves. In the realm of action, she is committed to tasks that can’t be completed in a single lifetime.”
This is a lofty compliment, but one that I feel embodies the attitude of so many people I have encountered here in Israel. These Israelis – some sabras, others new arrivals – face a great deal of criticism for a conflict still unresolved, as the situation on ground remains perpetually volatile, with no view of resolution in sight. Nevertheless, they seek to better themselves, develop the communities around them, and dedicate themselves to causes beyond themselves. As Australians we can appreciate our national character is not defined by our government; the character of a nation flourishes at ground level. Israel’s policy toward social justice is as it was when the State was built; despite the ignorance and neglect of past leadership, it still exists at the very core of the State. Every day there are countless organisations, businesses, groups and communities gathering to conjure ideas of how to resolve the issues of this country, as well as the world at large.
The examples are countless and come from across the spectrum of causes. I bring you some recent ones – though, I assure you, there are many more. After 15 years of work, last month a project was completed that converted Israel’s largest landfill site into an ecological park three times the size of New York’s Central Park. The garbage which once accumulated at Ariel Sharon Park in central Israel was reported to be able to fill Azrieli Towers (yes, all three) more than 25 times. A few weeks ago, the city of Tel Aviv played host to the Tikkun Olam Makeathon (TOM) in which community experts, programmers and engineers gathered for 72 hours (day and night) to come up with creative ways and products to assist people living with disabilities. And, in news perhaps a little closer to home, Israeli start up Takadu is gaining popularity in Australia after saving Yarra Valley Water almost 3,000 megalitres of water over the past three years through the use of its groundbreaking technology.
And as I always keep one eye looking toward peace, I could name a plethora of organisations dedicated to peace-making. But war is ever-present, and as I write this now my thoughts are directed toward the commemoration of Yom Hazikaron. This Tuesday night, a ceremony will be hosted in Tel Aviv by Combatants for Peace in cooperation with The Parents Circle, an organization which brings together Israeli and Palestinian parents whose children have fallen during war. This ceremony is now in its 10th year, and has become a widely-supported gathering which promotes the importance of achieving a peaceful solution to the current conflict. We learn from the Parents Circle that those who have suffered the most throughout this history of violence are able to come to the table and talk about bringing an end to the cycle of bloodshed, then the rest of us should certainly be able to. I felt privileged to be able to sit with these parents during the tumultuous days of Tzuk Eitan last July as they gathered nightly by the Cinematec to share readings, stories and support one another in the name of peace, as many more children were sent off to war.
Shortly after I moved to Israel I became involved with a forward-looking enterprise, established amid the growing international trend of socially aware and socially active businesses. The Beyond Family Office opened in late 2014, with the aim of becoming the central place in Israel for impact investment. With close ties to Small Giants in Australia which is headed by Danny Almagor, Board member of Stand Up, the Beyond Family Office is now promoting social consciousness among investors here and abroad.
I now belong to a society that has a proud history of achievement, of a people that have long been instrincally attracted to making the impossible become possible. I am surrounded by pockets of brilliant minds ready for action, already in action, who are creating the spaces you should be watching (or, in my audacity, even joining). I am learning from those ‘deeply good’ people around me to keep gazing out to the landscape before us – perhaps with fear, but more than anything with optimism, enthusiasm and a blazing heart that will continue to propel us into action, to be as effective as we can in this world.
A heartfelt Yom Haazmaut sameach, from one of the new Israelis, who knows that the future is looking bright for Israel.