Last summer, its Innovation Center, which displays a mind-blowing exhibition of Israeli innovation and ingenuity and treats visitors to an interactive experience using a variety of multimedia mechanisms, attracted over 13,000 young Birthright Israel participants and dozens of delegations hailing from Israel and around the world.
After hearing from a number of guest speakers and established entrepreneurs to kick off the event, participants entered the Innovation Center where they were spellbound by a myriad of displays demonstrating Israel’s contribution in a plethora of fields from agriculture, medicine and cyber security, to science, transportation, aerospace and irrigation.
Gidi Mark, CEO of Birthright Israel, spoke to Ynetnews, praising the organization as the largest and most successful Jewish project of our time which began in the 21st century with a declared mission statement of rising to the challenges that the Jewish people face in the 21st century.
“We celebrate here today half a million participants from 67 countries that arrived in Israel where they met with many Israelis. Altogether, Birthright Israel has had so far 500,000 participants from all over the world that met with 100,00 Israelis,” he said
Mark proudly noted the emphasis the project placed not only on providing participants a window into the past through the introduction they receive with their heritage and historical sites, but also into the future, into high-tech, innovation, jobs and careers potential. Moreover, he said that coming from abroad with Birthright offers the opportunity to discover first-hand the different side to Israel and, indeed, Israelis, who are otherwise exposed predominantly to the negative image which prevails in the international media.
“People who come from abroad are exposed to what really goes on in Israel. People in Israel are not engaged in bad things the way that is portrayed abroad. Real life in Israel has much more to do with innovation and high-tech and advanced technologies than it has to do with war.” said Mark. “The ‘State of Mind’ he continued, enables participants to see this.
Characteristic of most Israelis, Mark could scarcely resist mentioning the fine cuisine in which participants are able to indulge. “They also taste the great food. You know that many Israeli restaurants are open all over the world and this is something that Israel would like to share with the world,” he enthused.
As Mark sat surrounded by a vast array of breathtaking Israeli technological exhibits, he struggled to identify one which encapsulates the essence of the Israeli spirit and which most concisely transmits Israel’s success story to the participants. A small nudge however did the trick as he turned to his right and pointed at the Netafim drip irrigation exhibit.
“The drip irrigation was given to the world by Israel. There are many many countries in the world that talk a lot about the need to help countries without water and like many Israelis we try to speak less and do more. I think this is a huge contribution that allows many arid countries to grow food for the population in an affordable way which was not around before Netafim came into the world,” he proudly proclaimed while adding “But this is just one. There are so many things here that have developed because of the necessities in Israel.”
Citing former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir’s famous remark that God had made a mistake in sending the Jews to the only country in the Middle East that did not have oil, Mark posited that, on the contrary, this served as Israel’s most cherished blessing “since it really forced us to think every day how to survive. In Birthright Israel we don’t speak about survival. We speak about the thriving of the Jewish nation.”
Indeed, asked what constituted the key to Israel’s rapid success, Mark pointed to what he described as endless curiosity and the daring willingness to take chances and risks.
“This is the only thing that can take us forward. It is like a treadmill. If you get off the treadmill you can find yourself on the ground and if you don’t run fast enough you can also find yourself on the ground.”
The biggest danger facing the Jewish people, Mark claimed, was “to be too satisfied with what we have. Only dissatisfaction will take us to the goal of being more satisfied but once we get to the next stage of satisfaction we should also remain dissatisfied to get to the next level.
It was only days after the event which displayed some of the hottest products on the commercial market that that Birthright Israel kicked off for the coldest days ahead by announcing the launching of the winter season which is forecast to attract some 16,000 young Jews from 22 different countries.
In that vein Throughout the coming year, the Innovation Center is expected to host over 45,000 visitors who will be afforded the opportunity to enjoy it's interactive exhibition and meet various Israeli entrepreneurs who will share their personal success stories and help share the inspiring tale of the 'Start Up Nation.'
And if the number, however great, of participants Birthright has brought to Israel over the years has failed to satisfy Mark’s “doctrine of dissatisfaction,” its contribution to the Israeli economy must surely satisfy. Indeed, a report recently released by ‘Ernest & Young’ concluded that Birthright Israel had singlehandedly, over the years, contributed an estimated 4.7 billion NIS to the Israeli economy. That in itself, is no small achievement.