Summer is, among other things, a popular time for JUF to bring elected officials and other non-Jewish public leaders to Israel. Just back from such a trip are State Treasurer Michael Frerichs, State Senator Don Harmon, former State Senator Michael Bond, and Deputy State Treasurer Jay Rowell.
This mission's particular focus was Israel's economy, especially its hi-tech sector, an introduction to its society and its many achievements and challenges. We wanted our visitors to gain an understanding of the many aspects comprising the "Start-Up Nation." The week in Israel, amidst the turmoil happening in the Middle East and beyond, served as a window to look into Israel's very complex reality.
The delegation met with no less than nine leading Israelis, including venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, young start-up inventors, the Chancellor of Israel's National Bank, the Chairman of the Stock Exchange, the President of the Manufacturers' Association, and staff from the Director of the Prime Minister's Office. We visited seven small and mid-sized companies and we met two cabinet Ministers, Minister of Homeland Security Gilad Erdan and Minister of Infrastructures Yuval Steinitz.
In all the meetings and site visits, the delegation heard about the Israeli economy's continued rapid development as a global center of innovation. Frerichs was particularly impressed with the president of the Weizmann Institute, a leading scientific research center that holds hundreds of patents in chemistry, physics, and biology that are licensed, free of charge, to companies that use them in order to make this a better world.
Another major take-away was how this economic and innovative revolution happens amidst so much regional turmoil, so much violence and so much hatred. In fact, just during the week of the mission a revolution began and ended in Turkey; a drone attempted to penetrate Israel from Syria, and a terrorist was apprehended in central Jerusalem, just before boarding a crammed car of the light rail with bombs in his bag. But while many across the world would take the week's events as a reason to abandon their homes and flee to a "safer" country, Israelis not only choose to stay-they are actually inspired to exert even more effort in order to make this world better for everyone.
Similarly, foreign investors are not deterred either, continuing to inject record-setting capital into Israel's economic future.
Nowhere was this point driven home better than in a meeting with Raz Schmilovitz, whom we visited in his home at Netiv Ha-Asara on the Gaza border. Raz showed us around his small community of 70 families. Situated a mere 150 feet from the Gaza fence, every house has a bomb shelter (as does every home in Israel) and additional shelters are scattered around the community at intervals of no more than 150 feet apart.
When rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip, residents need to be inside a shelter within 15 seconds at most. During the Gaza war two years ago, Netiv Ha-Asara was the target of 400 rockets which landed on the houses and in the fields. And yet Raz and his family do not fathom moving. They reinforced their roof with concrete slabs and they raised the height of the windows in the daycare center to protect the kids from shrapnel-considerations that few homeowners ever deal with elsewhere in the world. And yet Raz and his family, along with hundreds of others, realize that they must continue to live and work as if there is no conflict, while dealing with the conflict as if there are no economic considerations.
That is the real story of Israel's economic miracle: the resilience of the population and the ability to focus on long-term development and innovation while dedicating considerable resources, energy, and time to protecting lives and defending our democracy in the immediate term. This latest JUF elected officials mission-there are now over 600 alums the past 25 years-saw a glimpse of that duality on its whirlwind tour of Israel.
Treasurer Freichs and the rest of our guests returned home to Illinois better educated and better connected to Israel, and better positioned to advance the special relationship between the Jewish State and the State of Illinois.
The mission was led by David Brown and David Golder, chairs of JUF's JCRC and Government Affairs Committee, respectively, and other participants included Mark Achler, Ryan Brown, Andrew Hochberg, Steven Victor, and JCRC/Government Affairs Executive Director Emily Sweet.
Ofer Bavly is the director general of the JUF Israel Office.