Israel’s 60th through a different lens

Your neighbors and colleagues may not know it, but it’s their celebration too.It was just another night in Jerusalem. I was having dinner last month with a visiting group from the Beachwood, Ohio Chamber of Commerce. We were into our …

Your neighbors and colleagues may not know it, but it’s their celebration too.It was just another night in Jerusalem. I was having dinner last month with a visiting group from the Beachwood, Ohio Chamber of Commerce.

We were into our first course and some wine, and discussing Israel’s perception among Americans and how Beachwood’s efforts to woo Israeli startups to open US offices in their fair city dovetails nicely into our efforts at ISRAEL21c to inform people around the world about the ‘other’ Israel that they don’t read or see about on the news.

Suddenly, all eyes turned as into the restaurant walked former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan followed closely by CNN founder Ted Turner. They’re the head of the United Nations Foundation whose mandate is to build public-private partnerships that address the world’s most pressing problems. And they evidently decided to take some time out from those pressing issues for a meal in one of Jerusalem’s finest eateries.

A couple of days later, I spoke to another delegation of Houston, Texas congressmen and councilmen here on their first trip to Israel – same restaurant, but no Turner or Annan this time… but the same fascinated interest in the innovations and technology coming out of Israel.

Earlier that day, I brought a group of American Jewish Community Center directors from around the US to visit NDS – the leading global supplier of open end-to-end digital pay-TV solutions for the secure delivery of entertainment and information to television set-top boxes and IP devices. The company’s offices at the Har Hotzvim high tech park in Jerusalem would put some Silicon Valley establishments to shame, and the visitors were duly dazzled by the far-reaching technology emanating from this Israeli hotbed of innovation.

What do all these vignettes have in common? First, they’re all part of the wildly diverse reality of Israel in the 21st century. And second – and this is the crux of the matter – hardly anybody knows about it!

With Israel’s 60th birthday year forthcoming, all the big guns are coming out with their versions of how the country’s tumultuous 60 years should be commemorated. Undoubtedly, most celebrations in Jewish communities around the world will deservedly focus on the amazing center – religiously, culturally and historically – that Israel has become for the Jewish people.

But what does Israel mean to everyone else, like those people (both Jewish and non-Jewish) who don’t feel that pride in the blue and white, or get goosebumps when they hear ‘Hatikva’?

Unfortunately, most people who only get their views and ideas about Israel from what they see and read in the news, are seeing Israel with tunnel vision glasses. What those glasses show them is a country at war, a place of concrete, walls and tanks, and people either wearing the green helmets of the army or the black hats of the haredim. And more than that, it’s a country that has absolutely no relevance to their lives whatsoever.

We all know that this isn’t an accurate portrayal of Israel and its people. Between the beaches, the high tech centers and the thriving night spots in Tel Aviv, Israel is a kaleidoscope of diversity. But much more than that, due to the steady stream of scientific research, medical devices and high tech innovations coming out of the country’s thriving business community, Israel is actually very relevant to everyone’s lives.

There’s the usual litany of products we use every day that have Israeli footprints on them – you’ve probably received viral emails listing them… the Centrino chip, AOL instant messenger, etc.. but it really is true. And it’s incumbent on the people who care deeply about Israel to let the world know about these accomplishments… accomplishments that are enabling people to live better, safer, healthier and fuller lives.

So as we prepare to celebrate Israel’s 60th, and as our chests puff out with pride as we look back on the wars won, the challenges overcome, and the Zionist dream fulfilled, let’s also look at how we can recruit our neighbors, our colleagues and our friends to join in on the celebrations. Because they might not know it yet, but it’s their celebration too.

I’d like to take this chance to thank all of ISRAEL21c’s board, staff, contributors, readers and supporters who have helped to make our site the leading reference for Israel in the 21st century that’s available anywhere. It’s been an amazing five years, and as I move on to other challenges, I’m confident that the organization and the website will have an even greater impact in helping to reshape the image of Israel in the world.

(Originally appeared in The Persistence of Vision: Israel at 60)