All parents want to raise “good”kids who will grow up to be successful and happy adults. However, what that means and how it is done varies from country to country.
You have heard of tough “tiger moms,” calm authoritative French moms and now “free range” parents, all proposing the benefits of their style.
I am here to contribute my experience as a modern Israeli mom.
There are certain characteristics that are important to raising a child who will mature into a successful, productive adult: independence, an adventurous and curious spirit, resilience, commitment, integrity, agility and camaraderie. However, instilling these characteristics often runs counter to a mother’s natural instinct to protect.
I have found that Israeli parents work hard to encourage these traits as a result of the unique circumstances of life in Israel.
Our routine is often one of emergency, which of course includes our kids. Last summer, children in Israel had less than a minute to run from playgrounds to the shelters when Hamas launched missiles and rockets from Gaza.
Although they played outside all summer, sirens continuously interrupted their playtime. You would be surprised to see how two minutes after a siren they would return to their play. They learn, from early childhood, to cope with an unstructured, interruption-driven routine — or even better, knowing that events can change quickly.
They also know someone is taking care of them and their loved ones: Most fathers, uncles, big brothers and sisters serve in the military or are called to reserve duty during those challenging days. The combination of insecurity, community and love is how they learn resilience.
Israeli mothers also foster risk-taking and adventurous play. Recently, we celebrated Lag B’Omer, a Jewish holiday dating back to the 13th century. The central custom of Lag B’Omer is the lighting of bonfires throughout Israel, and as with all holidays celebrated in Israel, kids take a major role.
According to tradition, this was a specific request by second-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai of his students. Some say that as Bar Yochai gave spiritual light to the world with the revelation of the Zohar (the foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah), bonfires are lit to symbolize the impact of his teachings.
Children are allowed to build bonfires, which runs counter to the normal rule “Don’t play with fire.” The kids are responsible for it all – from gathering the wood to igniting the flame. Adults are present (until the kids are about 13, at which time they won’t allow us to join them anymore!) but we let them create their own boundaries.
A foreign observer would likely find the experience borderline negligent. However, I think our kids learn how to react and cope in such a social event instituting a community tradition and a sense of a common goal. Lighting the bonfire is a cooperative experience, where the kids learn to manage risks and build self-confidence through actual experiment and activity.
I find that these characteristics have led Israelis to lead the world in innovation and entrepreneurship. Israel has the highest density of startups in the world, and is a leader in innovation, R&D expenditure and capital investment, per capita. All of these are critical growth engines for Israel’s economy.
In a region full of challenges and conflicts, Israelis have honed the art of problem-solving, turning our tiny desert nation into a powerhouse of innovation and an unparalleled ecosystem of creativity and resourcefulness.
I have spent the last two decades of my professional career in the Israeli high-tech sector in various positions and clearly see a link between our successes and our children.
I am also the proud mom of three boys, ages 13, 10 and six.
You would be surprised to realize how the roots of entrepreneurship are sown at such a young age.
Inbal Arieli is an entrepreneur who has worked in the Israeli high-tech industry for many years. She founded 8200 EISP (Entrepreneurship and Innovation Support Program, and works for Start-Up Nation Central. She is now writing “Roots of Entrepreneurship”, an exploration of how Israeli culture incubates entrepreneurship at a young age.