Meeting whiz kid Ben Lang

Ben Lang

When I first met Ben Lang, I didn’t take much notice. Apparently I should have. The 18-year-old returning immigrant has taken Israel’s hi-tech scene by storm, in the process being written about by no less than 22 publications in Israel and the U.S. – including this one from Abby Leichman on our sister site Israel21c.

As Abby writes, Ben began his entrepreneurial career just a few years after his bar mitzvah. He created a site to help students find and share class notes; opened his own eBay business; and started a blog for budding young entrepreneurs. He was almost sued by The New York Times for making a website called, which explained how to read The Times for free after the paper erected a formidable pay wall.

His latest project is a co-venture with another young Israeli, Nir Kouris. The site, called Innovation Israel – similar to EpicLaunch, his previous blog for entrepreneurs – is a community for startups, entrepreneurs and investors, with of course an Israeli twist. One of their first ventures was a live coding event called Hackathon – which we wrote about here.

All of this will be coming to an end – perhaps more a temporary hiatus – when Lang joins the IDF later this month. In the meantime, he’s been working with the marketing team at Wibiya -here’s my story about them from two years back.

Ben is the son of Jennifer and Phillipe Lang (dad’s a hi-tech entrepreneur as well and we once met in my office to brainstorm ideas). Philippe’s brother Yvan is an accomplished architect and the father of one of my daughter’s kindergarten classmates (yes, we’ve kept in touch all these years). Mom Jennifer is my wife’s ex’s sister. Now that’s Jewish geography at its finest!

I can’t say I’m buddies with Ben – other than on Facebook – but I’m glad to have chatted with this up and coming superstar once at a family event. I expect to hear more about Ben Lang in the future – in three years time…or before.

Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law Faculty Director Ken Bamberger and Dan Senor flank ISRAEL21c President Amy Friedkin. Photo by Bruce Cook" title="Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law Faculty Director Ken Bamberger and Dan Senor flank ISRAEL21c President Amy Friedkin. Photo by Bruce Cook

ISRAEL21c and UC-Berkeley explore Israeli high-tech

A two-day conference on the California campus drew hundreds of business and law faculty and students. ISRAEL21c sponsored the keynote speaker.


ISRAEL21c was proud to sponsor the keynote address by Start-up Nation co-author Dan Senor at the University of California-Berkeley’s “Israel through the High-Tech Lens,” a two-day interdisciplinary conference in February.

Senor’s star-power helped attract some 350 Berkeley business and law faculty and students to the Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law, where they heard 35 Israeli and US business leaders, scholars and policy-makers discuss business, legal, economic and social aspects of Israeli high-tech. The event was co-hosted by the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology.

“This is just another example of the partnerships ISRAEL21c likes to form in communities to help show the ‘real’ Israel,” says ISRAEL21c president Amy Friedkin.

She worked with Kenneth Bamberger, the institute’s faculty director, to plan the conference around twin themes: “Challenges and Opportunities of Local and Global Dynamics in the Israeli Technology Sector” and “Past Experiences, Present Trends and Future Directions — Lessons from the Past and Challenges for the Israeli Technology World in the 21st Century.”

Speakers represented a broad spectrum — such as Intel executive vice president David (Dadi) Perlmutter; Zika Abzuk, Cisco’s head of corporate social responsibility for Europe, the Middle East and Africa; and Kheir Abdel Razek, deputy CEO of a nonprofit that promotes employment for Arab university graduates in the Israeli labor market.

Topics discussed included models of tech-sector investment, green-tech trends, legal challenges to US-Israel business collaboration, global corporations’ involvement in Israel, labor-market diversity, cross-border collaboration in the Middle East and high-tech entrepreneurship.

Bamberger told the assemblage: “By bringing students and faculty … together with local and Israeli business and legal leaders, we were able to address a critical issue for the Bay Area tech community — the future of Israel’s high-tech sector and its deep collaboration with Silicon Valley.”


Canadian Cop

Toronto's Pearson Airport

The woman at the rental car agency desk at Toronto’s Pearson Airport eyed my Israeli driver’s license suspiciously. She looked at the laminated card, then up at me, then back and forth several times.

“You’re going to have a problem if a policeman pulls you over,” she finally said, explaining her hesitation. “There’s no English on this.”

I pointed to my name and birthday in clear English. “I don’t see it,” she assured me with confidence.

“I’ll take my chances,” I replied and, a few minutes later, we were walking to our rented minivan for the week. “Anyway, since when have I ever been stopped by a cop,” I sniggered to myself.

Imagine, then, my surprise when I was flagged down by an officer just a day later while returning to the very same airport to pick up some late arriving family members who were attending the wedding that had brought us to the Great White North.

“What’s your hurry?” the policeman asked. His tone was less aggressive than conversational, in that agreeably polite Canadian way.

“We’re picking up my wife’s 93-year-old grandmother,” I replied, which was true. She was waiting inside the terminal.

“You know you were going 60 in a 30 kilometer zone,” he said. Courteous, just a simple statement of fact, right? Nevertheless, he took my license. As he held it in his hand, I saw him trying to make out the writing. “This isn’t in English,” he said. Wouldn’t you know – the rental car clerk’s premonition had come to fruition. Without fully thinking through the consequences, I pointed out my name and birthday. “Thanks,” he said, almost jovially.

But rather than giving me my license back and graciously wishing me a good day, he sauntered back to his car. For the first time, I started to worry (while trying not to curse). Would the fine I now imagined as a viable possibility be more than the rental cost of the vehicle? Would I have to appear in Canadian traffic court? Should we have taken the bus?

Now, if this were in Israel, my polite policeman would have been replaced by a 20-something snarly Israeli girl cop who would have ignored any attempts at charm. She would then sit in her vehicle for a good 30 minutes with no explanation.

It’s happened to me before, just for a random check, and I’ve never understood what takes so long. Do they have to run my name by the Interpol database using the same sporadic Internet connectivity that plagues my home computer? Are they just sitting and drinking coffee for fun? Are they actually ordering coffee?

The Canadian cop still kept us waiting, but for only half the time (it probably was even less, but time slows down when you’re watching your bank account virtually drain). When he walked back to my car, the long rectangular paper in his hand did not bode well.

Fortunately, my nerves were for naught: the paper was just a warning. Wow – either Canadians really are nicer, or issuing a ticket to a foreigner with a driver’s license in a language with squiggly lines, with the added high chance I would skip town without depositing a check (which would undoubtedly have been written with even more squiggles) was simply too much complication.

As it turns out, I had to circle the airport while Grandma made her way to the curb. As I returned, I drove at the proscribed 30 km/hour. Do you have any idea how slow 30 km/hour really is? And yet, all the other cars I saw were following the rules and crawling along. My thoughts returned to Israel again: no way an Israeli driver would go that slow – even a ticket would be better than being a freier.

For the rest of the trip, I stuck to the speed limit. I probably would have gotten another free pass if I were stopped again, but I wasn’t taking any chances – squiggly Israeli driver’s license or not.



Snowtubing in Israel next?

We were all ready for snow in Jerusalem a couple of weeks back, but there was none in the end. Now snow is back in the weather for Friday, and I’ve already seen a few flurries today.

But, after a week in Toronto, where we just were for a family wedding, I’ve seen more snow than the average Israeli will experience in a lifetime. And it’s given me a business idea (since I really can’t stand cold weather, I offer it up here at no cost to any budding entrepreneurs).

Forget about skiing on the Hermon. Welcome to “snow-tubing.”

Snow-tubing is like one of those water slides where you zip down in a big inflatable inner tube…except that it’s in the snow.

We took a few hours to enjoy this hi-tech update of tobogganing during our Canada trip and had a blast. The white stuff was coming down pretty hard the day we went – a real treat for the kids who grew up in Israel and have never really experienced serious snow.

The thing that’s great about snow-tubing is that it’s so simple. All you need is a big hill (ours was essentially a ten story drop) and some tubes. The “chair lift” is just a rope with a hook that connects to the handles on the tube. Once you get to the top, you can slide down individually, or link the handles to go down up to five as a time (see the picture).

The ride is fast – no more than 20-30 seconds and there’s no telling which way you might spin (it’s nice to face front so you can see where you’re going, but you get a lot more snow in your eyes that way). The wind can be intense, too – I thought my cap was secure but it blew off and had to be retrieved by a somewhat surly snow staffer.

Snow-tubing is safer than skiing (no real chance of breaking a leg) and requires no training. There’s only one downside to bringing this “sport” to Israel. In Canada, there was a single queue and everyone waited their turn nicely. After a few visits to various water parks in Israel, it’s hard for me to imagine Israelis not attempting to cut in line or to return after a long hot chocolate break to announce “I was after her.” You try arguing with an Israeli teenager 0r – even scarier – a soldier on break, when there’s ample material to fashion a truly injurious round of snowballs!