Like a Jewish Singles Party…
…but instead of booty, people are cruising for deals and contacts. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. OK, let me backtrack. I am currently at the David Citadel Hotel in Tel Aviv attending the Israel 15 Conference put together by the Reut Institute. The goal of the Conference is to help create the circumstances and mind set necessary “to place Israel among the 15 leading countries in terms of quality of life within fifteen years.”
The conference has reunited some of Israel’s leading minds in the realms of business, politics, law and academia as well as journalists, non-profit organizations and philanthropists. Everyone is having lunch (meat – not for me) but already I’ve been privy to much back room shmoozing, the sort of activity critical in taking innovative ideas and making them happen. Gidi Grinstein, head of the Reut Institute, has really put together an impressive collection of attendees and speakers and it seems to me that the dominant spirit of this conference is one of tachliss – getting things done.
It’s easy to approach these sorts of events with a bit of cynicism. The Conference Web site, for instance, talks about accomplishing these goals via “Leapfrogging” and 15 year plans – terms that bring Mao’s “Great leap Forwards” and Stalin’s various economic development plans to mind. However, this is not what is going on here. There’s talk of inclusiveness, grass roots participation and fostering competition – concepts that would have been foreign and/or anathema to Mao and Stalin.
So yeah, I’m taking off my snarky cap and putting on my optimistic cap in the hopes that this conference will at the very least put on the public agenda the notion that Israel is indeed capable of securing a coveted spot in the top 15.
I’ll try to blog some more, Thomas Friedman is going to speak later and that should be cool. But if I don’t (I am in Tel Aviv after all – it’s so easy to be distracted!) do try to spend a few minutes checking out the Web site and see what this is all about.
UPDATE: Moments ago, Thomas Friedman concluded his address to about 400 attendees at the Israel15 Conference. Friedman, author of The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, his seminal work on globalization, outsourcing and technology, wowed the audience with his thesis on our new era of technologically enabled individual innovation. Attendees chuckled as Friedman described a driver he employed in Budapest who had his own Web site “…in Magyar, German and English. With music!” Amazing! I guess the point was that in this era, the most precious commodity is the only thing one can’t get from an Indian for $2 an hour – and that’s vision and creativity, presumably something Israel has had in abundance since that day a Journalist from Vienna thought to himself “Hey, I had this crazy dream last night.”
Speaking of Herzl, Friedman began his speech by talking about his afternoon on the tayelet where, after lunch, he saw a comely young woman in a crop top walking around and visible on her lower back was an elaborate tattoo. “Jews with tattoos. Now that’s something Herzl would approve of.” Never mind the religious prohibition against tattoos in Judaism, never mind the general tackiness of “ass antlers” and their hint at a willingness to engage in certain back door activities – the audience ate it up. So to speak. Israel is, for better or worse, entering into the 21st century ready to be a global player – simultaneously a nation like all others and a light unto the nations, ass antlers and all. The Israel15 conference united the public and the private sector, secular, modern orthodox and haredim, young scammers and old established players in a united mission whose sole aim is to raise the standard of life in Israel. Like an ass tattoo, it is a bold and audacious undertaking for an otherwise embattled, natural resource poor “shitty little country” to undertake.
But I don’t know – what the hell do I know? I’m just a stupid Web guy. Looking around here though, it seems almost possible that maybe, just maybe, this Gidi Grinstein guy is onto something. Stay tuned as this crazy experiment called Israel continues…