As a kid, summer brought the completion of the school year. I advanced a grade and sometimes to a new school. As an adult, summers still seemed to be the end of one year and the beginning of another. As an Israeli, summertime has continued to be a time by which I measure change.
The last few summers in Israel have been times of crisis: The second Intifada brought a noticeable decline in tourists causing business closures and turning downtown Jerusalem into a boarded-up ghost-town; the whole country mobilized on one side or the other during the disengagement from Gaza; these summers were followed by the Second Lebanon War.
Today, I am much more hopeful. I am optimistic that we are progressing and will benefit from the changes underfoot.
Israel is riding high partly due to the strong shekel which became an internationally recognized currency a few weeks ago. In the last year, the shekel has become one of the strongest currencies in the world, gaining against the Euro, the British pound, the Japanese Yen and the US Dollar. As an international tender, the shekel can now be used by Israeli businesses to pay suppliers overseas. Banks throughout the world will now convert shekels to other currencies. This is a significant change.
The risks that Israelis take to reach prosperity are paying off. The mindset that fosters these risks stems from one which encourages questioning, a value not inherent in every culture. From the ancient Talmud to our own family’s seder each year, Judaism encourages asking questions and dialog. We value discussions and discourse. The more that ideas are exchanged and the more open we are, the more we progress, learn, innovate and prosper.
What is true in business and economics is true in politics as well. Through the exchange of ideas, we progress towards peace and prosperity, turning our former enemies into partners.
This requires leaders of vision who are willing to take risks similar to business entrepreneurs. The Israeli Daily HaAretz broke a story in the end of May that this month the president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, his wife Carla Bruni, the French finance minister, members of the National Assembly, 70 senior executives, dozens of journalists, hundreds of aides, and the famous French singer Enrico Macias are coming to Israel. According to HaAretz, French and Israeli officials will meet with King Abdullah and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea. There, Israeli President Shimon Peres will announce the launch of the Peace Channel which will enjoy French involvement and aims to connect the Dead with the Red Sea becoming a source of energy and resources for the entire region.
These leaders, who used to be enemies, are coming together to work towards the fulfillment of their vision for the future of the region. Those who some may call irreverent and who others may call naive or inexperienced dreamers are those who drive us forward.
We need to continue to question, to think, to dream and to cooperate in order to prosper. We also need to invest in our children and the children of our enemies.
The US recently reinstated seven Fullbright scholarships to Palestinians from Gaza after Israeli policy was changed to allow exit visas so the students could study abroad. However, many other Palestinians are still waiting to be permitted by Israel to educational programs in the West to which they have been accepted. These students, who denounce Hamas and seek a Western education, are Israel’s allies in building a future moderate Palestinian State. Yet Israel denies their training as Western leaders.
It seems absurd that our leaders would deny the best and brightest of Palestinian youth to pursue academia in the West after Jews suffered similar discrimination in the recent past. By doing so, Israel is denying itself valuable resources and future partners. Imagine how different the world might be if the parents of Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, had not been denied their academic career in the Former Soviet Union and had not become refuseniks who eventually immigrated to America with their young son. It is in everyone’s benefit to encourage the higher education of all the children in the region. Who knows where they may lead us!
My children love asking questions. I can not get through reading them a paragraph of Harry Potter without three or four interruptions. It can get annoying at times, but I would rather them ask and satisfy their curiosity than have them feel it is not acceptable or permissible to pursue the answers they seek. Through their questions my children learn not only knowledge, but how to think and expand beyond that knowledge towards wisdom and understanding. Their thoughts evolve into creativity, imagination and innovation. I pray they will never close their minds or have the hubris to think that they have all the answers, that their quest for knowledge and understanding will make them aware of new subjects and and lead them to different cultures towards an ever-changing and better future.
I look forward to a future of more projects of international cooperation and prosperity between former enemies. We have already missed so many opportunities. Perhaps we can even become a model for others to follow.