I spent last week in Israel and it was a fascinating time to be there. It’s always interesting, but it was particularly so this time due to the significant escalation of hostilities in the south of the country as well as that it was coinciding with Israel’s Memorial and Independence Days (no accident I’m sure). Despite 700 rockets being fired by Hamas and Islamic Jihad and a number of them hitting buildings leading to four deaths and approximately 250 wounded and a large retaliation by the Israeli Defense Forces in the Gaza Strip, I never felt any of the tension or insecurity as I was in Jerusalem which is relatively far away. One would never know that there were tensions and terrible hostilities going on unless you were watching the news.
Shimon Peres – The Peres Center for Peace and Innovation
As part of the trip, I visited the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation. It was founded by Shimon Peres, who was a prime minister of Israel and a long-serving president until he died a few years ago. The center represents his two big passions: an unwavering commitment to peace and to innovation. As his life unfolded, Peres came to believe that innovation and technological advancement would be great catalysts to help bring about peace. As Israel invested more in its human capital and became more capable of providing very important services and products to the world, then this would integrate Israel with the world even more deeply as countries would come to need and rely on its unique life-changing goods and services. This interdependence would improve relations and make the conditions more ripe for peace and in Israel more allies in the world. As an aside, here is a quote from Shimon Peres that I really liked.
“You’re as young as your dreams, Not as old as your calendar.” Shimon PerezClick To Tweet
Unfortunately, while Israel has grown and prospered in extraordinary ways (it has more startups per capita than any country in the world) this has not spilled over to improved education and living standards in the Palestinian areas as their leaders continue to focus on retaining power through corruption and repression and being pawns of the Iranians versus improving the lives of their citizens. The situation has gotten a lot worse as the disparity grows and living standards deteriorate as Israel has had to carry out a tough blockade to ensure there is control of what goes in and out of Gaza as much of what comes in is diverted in ways to harm Israel. It’s a vicious negative feedback loop.
And yet, with all of this, Israel climbs a wall of worry. The economy continues to grow, the population is increasing nicely due to strong immigration, and the vast majority of the people are happy with their lives. I thought a snapshot of these headlines from one of the Israeli papers captured Israel perfectly by showing how growth is expected to continue (as it has) despite conflict (which is always present in actuality or in the background as a real risk).
Peres learned an important lesson early in his career that he never forgot. David Ben Gurion, the country’s first president, made Shimon Peres his top assistant when he was quite young. Ben Gurion was focused much more on talent and potential than pedigree and experience. From this Peres came to realize that you can learn from anyone no matter their age or station in life and that it’s vital to be a learner and not a knower over the course of one’s life. I will strive to remember this advice and work on habituating this attitude.
The exhibit showcased some of Israel’s greatest entrepreneurs speaking about how they got their ideas and what key advice they would offer those with dreams of starting a business. One piece of advice that resonated with me came from the founder of Waze. He said that when it comes to bringing a product to market he learned that it was better to go fast and not worry about getting it just right as striving for perfection is the enemy early on. Good enough with speed is much better than perfection that takes too long. He said that there is no substitute for your software hitting the market and gaining rich customer feedback and iterating accordingly versus trying to anticipate every possible problem in advance. Waiting for perfection can result in you losing valuable time in terms of customer awareness and adoption and you won’t get it right the first time anyway. I don’t necessarily agree with this in all cases as you don’t want to alienate customers by bringing out a product prematurely and frustrating them as a result of it being very buggy. This is especially true when a faulty product can cause risk to one’s health, safety, and financial wellbeing. Outside of these high consequence areas, however, this does make sense as software updates can happen all of the time (and they do) so there are ways to quickly adapt and lessen the risk of permanently alienating customers.
Honoring Roneet in the Medical Arena & In Israel
I bring this up because my trip to Israel brought this home for me in a non-business way. A common piece of advice when grieving the loss of a loved one is to not make an important financial, relationship, and life decision in the first year as you are quite vulnerable and, as a result, at risk of doing something you will later regret.
With Roneet having passed away a little over six months ago I can fully understand this as I am not nearly as emotionally raw as I was in the immediate aftermath of her passing. I completely understand why this is highly recommended. And, with that being said, I completely violated it in one particular area and, after my trip to Israel, I am so glad I did.
The one domain I went right into action was in the area of philanthropy. I felt like I had to do something to honor Roneet and this was the arena I chose without waiting. I have now had some time to reflect on why I did what I did. I wanted to honor Roneet in the medical arena, as I have written about before, as well as do something with a connection to Israel as this is where her parents are from and a country she loved so much and because of her, I have come to feel the same way. I wanted to continue to have a connection to the country tied to her.
I realized that I was drawn to people who possess certain characteristics, even if those interactions were relatively brief, as they were with Dr. Akbari. They have a warmth and kindness that is manifested through a deep commitment to others magnified through their work in ways that bring them great meaning. Through their deep commitment to their work and their corresponding mastery mindset, they have made great strides in leaving the world a better place than they found it. And the potential to continue to impact lives in very positive ways shines quite brightly.
I am much more drawn to individuals who I have seen in action in ways that reveal their character, values that align with mine, and who are also highly talented, competent, and can make a big difference in the lives of those they help serve. They are intrinsically motivated and do not need external validation to be satisfied. To me, it is the individual I am backing and not the institution that is the key. And, yet, by backing the individual, the institution will benefit.
In addition to Dr. Akbari and Dr. Jack Lin (Jacob’s neurologist), another individual who I found to possess these characteristics (Roneet did as well as she had the pleasure of getting to know him) was David Bernstein, the Dean of The Pardes Institute in Jerusalem. David was our tour guide in Poland last year and we had the chance to get to know each other as there were only seven people on our tour so it was a very intimate setting conducive to getting to know each other. As David toured us through the death camp of Birkenau and other places of great loss, I came to learn that he was deeply committed to honoring those who were murdered and those who died carrying out selfless acts to help save others. He brought them to life for us, he personalized their stories, and he wanted us to know their lives had great meaning and significance even in the face of great horror and destruction. He was intent on doing his part to keep their memories alive. He did this again last week when he toured us through the largest military cemetery in Israel on its Memorial Day. The bottom line of all of this is that David Bernstein was someone who I wanted to back to help honor Roneet. It was a visceral decision after Roneet passed and brings me back to the Waze founder’s advice to get into action in the game quickly and adjust on the fly as you get market feedback versus holding back and overanalyzing.
Prior to making my donation, I had never been to Pardes. In fact, I had never even heard of it until I met David in Poland. The normal course of action before giving a meaningful amount of money to a non-profit is to do research, carry out a site visit, and get references. In other words, do a more involved form of due diligence. But I have been overly analytical my entire life and I felt the need to act after Roneet passed away and for one time truly feed off of my emotions by acting first and thinking later. Not to be crass, but at the end of the day, it’s just money. If I ended up being wrong, then it’s a learning lesson and it won’t impact my life other than maybe a bruised ego. If I’m right, however, then the upside could be extraordinary and also teach me the value of getting in the game much sooner rather than later. I am so glad I went with my gut and emotions by investing in Pardes just as I am so delighted I did the same with Dr. Akbari and Dr. Lin as discussed in a previous post about my support of UCI Medicine.
I went to Israel last week to honor Roneet at Pardes in Jerusalem as this was the inaugural ceremony honoring her during the events the institute puts on during the week of Israel’s Memorial and Independence Days. This will happen in perpetuity as long as the institute remains in existence. She will be honored there each year and hopefully, thousands of students will get to see what a beautiful and special person she was and hopefully integrate some of her into their lives as she had so much beauty and wisdom to offer others.
I had the opportunity to speak about Roneet to the students and faculty (and many of her family members as well) and after a rough start of breaking down due to the enormity of feeling her loss and knowing the next day would have been our 30th anniversary, I was able to regroup and pull it together and share about this very special woman. Over the next few days many people came up to me to thank me for sharing about her and how moved they were and a few even mentioned certain lessons they learned that they wanted to take with them in life and in their relationships. I could not have been more gratified.
Here is a link to the speech I gave sharing my thoughts and feelings and stories about Roneet.
I was so impressed by the kids I met at Pardes. They were extraordinarily kind, intelligent, and curious and if any group of kids can leave their mark on the world it is them. I cannot say enough about the faculty and staff of Pardes as well. What a tour de force. I left with such optimism about Pardes and the kids and faculty they are attracting and educating. I am so glad I went with my gut and emotions on this.
This is clearly going to be one of the best investments I will have ever made.