An Israel Story Only I Can Tell

The title of my blog references my aliyah.

Aliyah is the Hebrew word used when a Jew moves from somewhere outside Israel to Israel.  If you have been to a synagogue on Saturday, you might have heard the word also used to reference someone being called up to the Torah for a blessing. The word aliyah literally translates as elevation or ‘going up.’

My going up was from New Jersey.

Depending on how much of a Jersey fan you are, you might not have difficulty seeing how moving to Israel from New Jersey was ‘elevating.’ (I’m staying out of that debate.)

On the other hand, depending on how much of a fan of Israel you are, you might have a lot of difficulty understanding why my husband and I picked up our three young children and moved here. (I’m staying out of that debate, too.)

We’re not particularly religious. Nor are we ardent Zionists.

We are reasonably observant moderate Jews from New Jersey, emphasis on the word reasonable.

This — reasonableness  — is what Israel, and the world that talks about Israel, needs more of. So, you can say, we’re contributing to that cause.  When I blog from Israel, I hope to share stories that most people outside of Israel never hear. The stories of the people who live here: Our daily lives, minus the conflict, minus the politics, minus the fear.

I don’t blog often about what I do during the day when I’m not blogging. I’m the Chief Marketing Officer for an investment group that invests in and develops start-up companies.

A lot of new olim (immigrants) try to break into high tech when they move here because a) it’s a great marketplace for English speakers and b) Start-up Nation is where it’s at.

Not me, though.

That wasn’t my plan at all.

My plan was to move here, get adjusted, learn Hebrew, grow an organic garden, and write a few freelance articles for The Jerusalem Post.

However, a few months after landing here a job opened up at a nearby company and the job description basically described me. My husband encouraged me to apply for the job. I did. And that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 2 1/2 years all day, 5 days a week — helping grow start-up companies.

I never write about my job because it’s not what I think about when I am not working. I like to leave my work at work.

Mindfulness, and all.

But last night, something incredible happened that is still with me today.

Two companies who I’ve worked with — portfolio companies of my employer, The Trendlines Group — won awards for best start-ups of the year. Out of dozens that were eligible, the award was offered to three companies, and two of the companies were from our group.

That in and of itself is something to take pride in — companies who I’ve worked with are now award-winning companies. But my greater pride comes from the types of technologies the companies are developing. One, Sol Chip, has created a tiny chip that harvests energy from the sun in a way that’s going to change how we use electricity everywhere from offices to farms. The other, ApiFix, has revolutionized treatment for adolescent scoliosis. It’s literally going to change the lives of hundreds of thousands of young girls with severe curvature of the spine.

These are the kinds of companies Trendlines invests in — companies really poised to improve the human condition.

These are the kinds of ideas and technologies that come out of Israel.

Not just technologies that help you find your way from the bar to the post office.

waze

But technologies that will save your life some day. If not yours, than your child’s or your neighbor’s.

Technologies that will one day be used not just in Israel, but everywhere.

Even in countries that are anti-Israel.

This. Is. Quite. A. Story.

And so, I blog about it.

You see: The Israel story — and my story living here — is even more complex than you ever thought.

When I moved to Israel, I braced myself for potential backlash from friends who, for reasons of politics or ignorance, might see my move to Israel as a statement, or worse, as a mistake.

But that didn’t happen.

What did happen was a door opened.

I got to be a part of an Israel that people who live outside Israel hardly ever see.

And I got to be someone who shares that story.

So, thank you.

Thank you for reading.

And thank you for letting me be a reasonable voice in a very noisy, and complex world.

team at awards jm

Part of the Trendlines team with Chief Scientist Avi Hasson and Israel’s Technology Incubator Program Director Yossi Smoler, June 2013

ocs award

My so-called writing life

The other day, I asked out loud on Facebook whether my friends thought that writers were born or made.

Most answered some version of “born, but….”

As in: Writers are born with the creative spark that’s a prerequisite to creative talent, but it’s a spark that requires not only nurturing, but also education, practice, and perfection in order to mature into talent, and then success.

Mostly, I’d agree.

I think about my own journey as a writer, and sometimes, admittedly, I even hiccup a little calling myself a writer at all.

When I think of myself as a writer, I still think of myself as the girl who wrote love poems in a small, tear-stained spiral bound notebook that I hid in the back of a drawer.

When I think of myself as a writer, I still think of the jittery young woman who spilled coffee on her pants on her way to her very first feature story interview for a newspaper article.

When I think of myself as a writer, I still think about blogging as playing for a minor league team, and published literary novels as the World Series.

I still think of myself as a novice, and sometimes as a would be somebody if only I had the time.

Then there are moments, hours, days even, when I catch a scent of my destiny and it smells like poetry and Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and an antique oak writing desk facing a picture window.

The leaves casually drop from the trees as if there’s still time…

As if there’s only time.

…and words to discover.

Words slowly strung together like colored beads on a braided rope.

Things I learned by being someone else’s assistant

I don’t know a thing about kids these days. Specifically, the kids getting bachelor’s degrees next month.

I know a lot about little kids — the ones who still need their bottoms and their noses wiped — but not about the big ones. The ones half my age. The ones desperately looking for jobs.

Apparently, it’s a dangerous time to be a young, reasonably intelligent but inexperienced job seeker, which makes me confused and sad.

Confused because I don’t remember my generation having the wealth of opportunities dem gosh darn newspapers claim existed.

Back when I was 22 (in the mid 90s, thank you very much), I had to agree to be somebody’s slave for a year (aka unpaid internship), and if I was really good at my job, maybe (just maybe) they’d bring me on the next year as a research assistant making an annual salary high enough to pay for food, but not necessarily rent.

The good news is that my upper middle class parents could supplement my income.

The bad news is I wanted to be independent so badly I said, “No, thank you,” and found a house to rent on 14th and East Capitol Street in Washington, D.C.  2 miles from the closest Metro stop, but just around the corner from your neighborhood hungry drug dealer.

I’m sad, too, to read that kids these days are having a hard time finding work because looking back, the first three jobs I had out of college were the hardest, the lowest paying, but most certainly the richest in terms of life lessons. I am the hard-working, versatile, compassionate professional I am today thanks to my experiences working like a dog for people who treated me poorly or patiently, as I reacted and responded to their every whim.

It helped that I worked for an egomaniacal fanatic academic;

a visionary, but temperamental creative;

a brilliant, but misunderstood obsessive-compulsive who craved gourmet cheese.

brie

These mentors (yes, even the crazy ones mentored me) taught me not only how to edit like a perfectionist; how to lick envelopes so they closed fully; how to follow up on faxes three times to make sure they were received; they also taught me who to be so people want to work for you; as opposed to arriving one morning minus one assistant, but plus one carefully typed, and heavily proofread “Dear John” letter on your desk.

By being someone else’s assistant, I learned what Simon Sinek swears by:

“Those who lead inspire us… Whether they are individuals or organizations, we follow those who lead not because we have to but because we want to.”

Simon Sineky

Simon Sinek

Of the bosses that pushed me around — and all of them did, even the nice ones — I worked harder for the ones who treated me like a human being poised to be someone someday. Like a boss in the making. Like a grownup-to-be.

The man that finally promoted me from assistant to “coordinator” used to call me his “rising star.” And for this man, I worked hardest. To this day, more than a decade since I worked for him, I consider him my most inspiring and valuable mentor. If for nothing else than telling me, and telling others, I was a rising star.

He made me believe it.

And from his words, and his conviction, I rose.

It’s hard for me to believe or accept that there are no jobs out there for our young people. That there are no crazy, obsessive-compulsive pedantic workaholics seeking someone to read through and sort into color-coded folders 2,745 inbox emails; no minimum wage opportunities through which to prove how late you will stay in order to work your way up to a cubicle with three temporary walls instead of none.

I just don’t believe it.

If we aren’t going to give our young people today the chance to be someone else’s assistant, how will they ever learn to be grownups?

How will they ever learn who to trust and who not to? How to treat others? How to speak kindly? How it feels to finally receive acknowledgement, praise, a raise?

If we don’t maintain or create new entry-level positions for our young people, who will inspire them to action? To rise to the top in order to not be at the bottom anymore? To innovate something new to fix the stupid, old ways their bosses insist they follow religiously?

Our young people are our future.

And it’s our job to push them around,

so they will yearn to learn how to fly on their own.

Fly, and then lead.

The long road to desire

Bragging moment: I was accepted into the University Honors Program in college. I even got a scholarship.

That letter in the mail was likely the pinnacle of my academic career. That, or the poetry award I won from Mr. Schaeffer at the end of 9th Grade.

I was your classic underachiever in school. And in retrospect, I completely wasted the distinction The George Washington University placed on me.

In order to maintain the scholarship and my place in the program, I was required to take at least one class each semester offered by the honors track. As always, I did the bare minimum. I followed the rules and aimed for a grade acceptable to me and my parents. (A “B” or above.)

The only classes I remember are two semesters of “An Introduction to Soviet Cinema”– from which I walked away better educated about cinematographic license and with the easiest “A” I ever earned — and my senior seminar with Professor Harry Harding, an expert on Asian-American relations.

I don’t remember why I took this class with Harding, since my interest area was the Middle East. I probably heard from someone that he was kind or didn’t give a lot of homework. I do remember, however, the brilliant research thesis topic I dreamed up for the paper I had to write at the end of the year:

The Influence of Zen Buddhism on American Pop Culture

I wish I could get my hands on that paper. And, then completely rewrite it.  Because whatever I wrote was complete crap and/or borderline plagiarism, I’m sure.

This time, if given the opportunity, I’d actually do the research. I’d read more than the three required books. I’d actually do primary research. Find people to interview. Listen to their stories. Imagine what their lives were like. Swim in their memories. Meditate on them. And then produce a paper that truly encapsulated my brilliant findings and analysis.

But, like most 20-year-olds, I hated writing research papers.  And this was a 25 page research paper, which was the longest by far I was ever required to write before or since.

I loved learning, but I was too bound by the rules and the concern for a good grade  and the concern for a good job and a good career and a good paycheck and a good pitcher of beer to actually do what I imagine most teachers want you to do — learn about something and carry that education forward into your life.

I remembered this research paper yesterday when I watched a video a friend shared on Facebook.

It’s a series of images that illustrate a lecture given once by Alan Watts entitled “What If Money Were No Object?”

The name sounded familiar.  I Googled him. Oh, yeah. He was the guy  in my research paper from senior seminar; recognized as one of the key individuals responsible for bringing Zen Buddhism to the West.

I chuckled. Here was the voice of Alan Watts speaking to me — primary research, 20 years too late.

If only the internet had been more than a chat room on AOL when I was in college.

If only I had heard Watts say:

“What do you desire?
What makes you itch?
What would you like to do if money were no object?

How would you really enjoy spending your life?”

I might have spent more time on my research paper. I might have spent more time wondering if this Alan Watts guy was more than just page filler.

What would I have thought if I had been in that crowd? Would Watts have inspired me?

What message would I have taken away from that lecture?

Would I be the philosopher, the novelist, the soap opera star I sometimes wish I was?

 “Crowds of students say, ‘We’d like to be painters. We’d like to be poets. We’d like to be writers.’

But as everybody knows you can’t earn any money that way…

When we finally get down to something which the individual says they really want to do, I will say to them, “You do that. And forget the money.”

Amen, I thought to myself, when I heard Watts challenge the audience to “forget the money.”

And then, “I wish someone had said that to me when I was 20.”

Easy for me to say now.

Easy now, at 38 years old, with a steady paycheck and two decades of experience making it on my own.

But would I have been able to really hear Watts then?

Would his words have led me to walk a different path?

I don’t know.

My life might have turned out exactly the same.

I was a lot more stubborn then. A lot less likely to listen to someone wiser than me. I might have done exactly what I did. Graduate. Get a job in a non-profit. Be happy that I was finally earning my own paycheck and had my own money to spend on jeans at The Gap in Georgetown. Or on big scrunchies.

Jen in college.

Jen in college.

I really wanted my own money back then. I wanted freedom from my parents. I wanted room to make my own choices. I didn’t see any possible way to achieve both freedom and my desire.

Which makes me think Watts’ advice would have registered only as a temporary instigation.

Not inspiration.

Learn more at alanwatts.com

Learn more at alanwatts.com

Because in our current society set up, it’s practically impossible to forget the money.

We have to follow our desires in spite of the money.

What you need to know if you choose to forget the money is  how you will stay true to your desire when the rest of the world says you need money over everything else. You need to know how you will navigate the expectations of your family, your friends, your neighbors. You need to know how to avoid the pitfalls of consumerism. How to live without a TV; without an SUV; without a weekend getaway.

You need to build your life so that your life is your weekend getaway.

= = = = =

If anyone had asked me when I was 20, I wouldn’t have said then, “I’d like to be a philosopher.”

I wouldn’t have said, “I’d like to be a craniosachral therapist.”

I absolutely would not have said, “I want, more than anything, to be a full-time, paid-loads-for-a-living celebrated writer.”

I didn’t know it then.

And I couldn’t see the way.

And yet, I’ve been fortunate to find my way. To have either landed in or created circumstances in which I’ve been able to recreate my career based on my passions and desires.

I’ve been a children’s book author.

A magazine promoter.

A think tank thinker.

I’ve been a newspaper reporter and an editor.

I’ve designed t-shirts. That celebrities have worn.

I’ve been a web master.

A freelance writer.

A publicist.

I’ve been a business owner. A wellness pusher. A community resource.

I’ve been a brand strategist. And a stay-at-home mom. A Facebook goddess.

I’ve been a C-level executive. A blogger. A consultant. A coach.

I listened to and followed my itch; years before hearing Alan Watts’ speech.

But, along the way, I’ve had to give up desires, too. Ignore certain itches.

I’ve had to choose.

Sometimes I’ve been able to forget the money.

And sometimes not.

Watts does not talk about choices…and consequences.

It’s not easy to follow your desire instead of following the money.

= = = = =

What would I say to a crowd of young people today?

How would I guide them?

I might say something similar to what Watts says: “Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing, than a long life spent in a miserable way.”

I believe this to be true. And I like to think that somehow, accidentally, when I was writing that research paper in college, Watts’ advice penetrated my tired mind as I was lazily investigating the influence of Zen Buddhism on American pop culture.

Perhaps, subtly his words have been guiding me ever since.

But I would also suggest being as flexible as you are determined.

For who knows what you will be when you grow up?

You don’t.

I didn’t. I still don’t.

I still ask myself every day, “What do you desire?”

And then listen for the answer.

Forget the money, yes. But be flexible. At every turn, there is an opportunity if you are primed to notice it.

Ask yourself every day, “What do I desire?” And be strong enough to acknowledge the answer and take action, even if the answer is, “Money.”