So What Did We Accomplish?

April 19, 2008

Our visit, sponsored by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, was a pilot experiment to see what would happen if we could turn bloggers and podcasters loose to write about Innovation in Israel. This is a pioneering effort to utilize the connectivity and immediacy of the Web in service of extending “knowing” rather than just knowledge about Israel.

The number of blog posts, twitters, videos, podcasts and photos is prodigious and will grow over the next month as our traveling geeks consolidate their material. These people worked hard to produce a wide range of work that has been collected and will be easily accessible on the site.

The site itself, built by our volunteers, is an example to the government and other organizations who wish to connect people to Israel of what can be done with the new technology to represent Israel. Hopefully, it may affect how technology is used to build community through interactivity on the web for many organizations. It is different than traditional media in that it is informal, personal, experiential, interactive, visual, and immediate (real time reporting).

Tens of thousands have followed the twitters (posts by the bloggers picked up by people following their activities); thousands more will see the postings, photos, and videos and will hear the podcasts. This should increase general awareness and knowledge of Israeli life and innovation.

Perhaps the most important accomplishment is the personal connection for each participant to Israel and Israelis. As Robert Scoble said,” I knew Israelis, but I did not know Israel and I want to come back.”

The generous hospitality of of our Israeli hosts enabled each member of the group to connect individually to Israeli peers—formally and informally. Our women bloggers had a special meeting with counterpart Israeli women bloggers—from that meeting there will be further connection that will reverberate from what people will do with each other.

Hopefully, connecting people everywhere to Israelis through our personal experience on this trip,— then using the web to extend those experiences to the awareness of many—will do good for a long time to come.


My Friend Ish

April 19, 2008

The impetus for this journey began when I met Ishmael Khaldi, Vice Counsel for the Israel Consulate in San Francisco (covering the Northwest US) at Gina and Dan Waldman’s house in Tiburon. We spoke about blogging and began to develop the idea of bringing well-known bloggers to Israel to report on Israel Innovation.

Over the course of a year we struggled through many setbacks and delays, but remained resolute together. Once the trip was approved by the Foreign Ministry Office in Jerusalem, we spoke daily for months to hammer out the details. In Israel, we became like a pair of Kayakers paddling together over many rapids—hey, these are Bay Area metaphors—we came to trust, respect, and count on each other.

In addition to our close association and friendship, Ish has given me a great gift of understanding something important about Israel that eluded me during many past visits for Jewish organizations and activities. Israel is a pluralistic society and its non-Jewish citizens compose a critical element—Israel will succeed and be secure to the degree they feel at home there living as citizens with Jews—they can be the best ambassadors of Israel’s justice and vision. I came to understand that perspective through his love for Israel from my friend Ish.

I will always be grateful.

(Photos of us will be posted)

The Traveling Geeks Revealed

April 19, 2008

The Traveling Geeks became a community during our five day visit. We partied in the evening with Israeli hosts and were schlepped in vans from site to site during the day to meet with Israeli VC’s, entrepreneurs, and innovators. We schmoozed, ate, laughed, and kvetched together—so I have come to know these people.

As a group they are bright, funny, curious, passionate and savvy about trends and technology. They are all practitioners of a new electronic journalism that is more experiential, informal and visual than traditional print and broadcast media. Chosen for their audiences and credibility in the technology field, they are as competent and knowledgeable as one could hope for to comment on Israeli innovation. Please read their blogs and view their photos and videos to gain their perspective.

In no particular order, here are my revelations on each of them:

Craig Newmark: One of the best known personalities on the Internet for his Craig’s List, Craig has an amazing following and reputation. He began to Twitter (posts of what he was doing at any particular moment) that had a thousand people for each post within days of his beginning to Twitter. Craig was the resident comic who had us in stitches with his self-deprecating, dry wit. On several occasions he showed what a Mench he really is. Highlight was taking cover together during a rocket attack alert in Ashkelon. So Craig, “We will always have Ashkelon.”

Robert Scoble: One of the most followed bloggers on the Internet, Robert is as cool and funny in person as he is on line. Hard at work or play, Robert has a curiosity and intelligence that just does not quit. He lives, breathes, and snorts technology; his knowledge of tech trends and innovative businesses is awesome. We all agreed Scoble writing for Fast Company is a perfect fit.

Renee Blodgett: Great spirit and lots of energy. Renee is fun, free wheeling, and friendly. Her writing and visuals beautifully tell stories. Her blogs reveal her self and her experiences. She is a great example of the experiential blogger who seeks knowing rather than just knowledge.

Susan Mernit: First time in Israel, Susan may have had the greatest personal transformation of the group. Her personal background combines poetry, creative writing, business, anthropology, arts, and a dozen more interests. Writing from a personal style and interest, Susan brings the social scene and personal interests to her readers with wit and insight. Warm, funny, and bright, Susan is a Techie with heart.

Cathy Brooks: An extrovert, Cathy fills the room with her presence. Her writing is insightful, cool and heartfelt, but her skillful use of visuals and video distinguish her. She is a dynamo. Losing her voice from Laryngitis early in the trip, Cathy still could dominate the conversation just with her facial expressions. Her connection to Israel was awakened a few years ago and this trip had a personal and professional impact on Cathy that you will see in her blog posts.

JD Lasica: A veteran journalist who has focused his talents to expand the reach for groups through the use of technology in the media for social and cause based organizations, JD combines visuals and writing masterfully. JD also blogged on the human side of the Israeli/Arab conflict. He was responsible to get the Traveling Geeks website up and running and made a major contribution through that effort, working with Susan Mernit and her contacts.

Sarah Lacy: A savvy business writer and blogger, Sarah can weave her personality and experience of the moment into her stories. She is about to publish a new book on Web 2.0 (if you want to learn about Web 2.0 check out her book) and understands as well as anyone the potential for business with these new capabilities. Ironically, the moment I will always remember to distinguish Sarah is not from her awesome business and writing acumen, but how emotionally affected she was during the prayers of the Christian pilgrims in the Jerusalem Room of Christ’s Last Supper. Her spontaneous emotion revealed more about the power of the religious experience in Jerusalem than any words or visual images could portray.

Deborah Schultz; The most connected, knowledgeable, and active person with Israel and Israelis among us, Deborah is the best to bridge US and Israel reality in her writing. She knows and feels Israel and her writing shows it. A New Yorker who now lives in the strange land of the SF Bay Area,, her passion, insight, and familiarity with Israelis and new technologies make her the perfect blogger to highlight Israel Innovation.

Brad Redderson: As the only podcaster among us, Brad’s work will be mostly developed from the interviews he conducted with thought leaders and tech innovators on his own time away from the activities of the group. Thoughtful, steady, and dependable, Brad was my volunteer partner in putting the trip together with the Israeli Consulate. He contributed greatly to the project. There were lots of bumps along the way before and especially during the trip when Brad and I could easily consult each other about how to solve problems.

View and read the work on Israel Innovation from these extraordinary people at Collectively we hope to contribute to the better understanding of Israel Innovation for those in technology and for those who just want to know more about Israel.

Why Israel is an Innovation Leader…Yet Tough Times Ahead

April 19, 2008

Gil Schwed had an intriguing answer: Israel began as an experiment in Jewish history. Innovation was built into the Israeli experience from the beginning.

Also technology development has always been a strategic component of the Israeli military advantage. That knowledge gets transfered to commercial applications better in Israel than anywhere else outside of the US.

Combine these factors with the influx of Russian engineers and scientists over the past fifteen years and Israel integration into the global innovation economy—Voila! You have the ingredients for successful innovation. Israel is considered to be the foremost region (after Silicon Valley) for technology R&D —lots of venture capital, successful start-ups, attractive to many multi-national corporations.

However, there are clearly major problems Israel faces to sustain and benefit from these advantages:

  • The wealth is more highly concentrated among a few, while poverty and despair increases for many. The digital divide is a wide chasm in Israel.
  • The education system is deteriorating and the continuance of a skilled workforce for technology—essential for sustained economic development in attracting global business—may be seriously limited.
  • The Israeli confidence in themselves is lower. I spoke with a wide spectrum of Israelis from religious to secular, family, friends, and new acquaintances. Collectively they signaled to me they are not pleased with what is happening both within Israel and from without. To put some perspective on this, recently 81% of the American public thinks our country is going in the wrong direction; however, they are mostly happy themselves and have more positive confidence in their institutions than the Israelis seem to do. Many Israelis do not have trust in their government, Arab and Iranian hostile intentions, and believe the quality of life in Israeli society is declining.

While Israeli innovation is a bright spot, Israeli mood seems to be in a slump.

Passover is a season of moving to hope from despair, to freedom from slavery, and to strength from weakness. Perhaps we can also see innovation as a driving force for improvement with positive intent from Israelis collectively for themselves.

The Bedouin Village of Khawalid

April 19, 2008

With great enthusiasm the Traveling Geeks visited Ishmail Khaldi’s family in his home Bedouin village. Ish’s mother and father hosted us with Bedouin coffee (unbelievably strong), cakes, and candies. Ish gave a moving presentation on pluralism in Israel (video link of speech is posted check out Cathy Brooks’ site).

Bedouins are a part of the Israel societal fabric and their loyalty to the State is a living testament to Israeli pluralism. Their house was solidly constructed and the stone locally quarried turns golden in the afternoon light. While Ish was growing up he lived in a tent and was a shepherd. Check out Ish’s life story.

Ish’s parents (photos to be posted) have the weathered faces of people who have worked in the sun. His father worked over 25 years as an agricultural worker for the local Kibbutz. Amazing to see a Hebrew fluent Muslim man wearing a Kefafiyah, yet fully at home to Israel, free to live within the customs and values of his particular heritage. Amazing not because it is exceptional in Israel, but because this is what peace would look like.

My wife Ilene bonded with Ish’s mother and the photos (to be posted) show their affection.

Check out the other posts of the bloggers about the visit to Khawalid. This was clearly one of the most moving and meaningful experiences we have had as a group in Israel.

Cisco Israel Uses Tech to Build Tolerance

April 19, 2008

Can geographically dispersed teens in Israel and the Mediterranean countries create a web based community to increase their own improvement in school, their self-image (believing in themselves and wanting to change), English proficiency, and more their openness to others? Cisco Israel (a branch of the Global Internet company based in the SF Bay Area) is piloting a program that could be scaled to thousands to find out.

Zika Abzuk-Darnell is Cisco Israel Manager of Public Benefit Investment Europe and Emerging Markets.

She manages the social responsibility team. These are large projects that use technology for economic opportunity. Cisco is investing in youth. Web 2.0 technology is a mirror of Western society: the individual is the one who ventures and connects. In the Middle Eastern and African cultures it is difficult to do a program strictly for individuals. They view themselves as part of family and community.

Zika talked about an intriguing pilot program MYTEC ( Mediterranean Youth Technology club).

MYTEC shows how technology can be used for positive social change—web 2.0 with guidance. This enables students to learn about each other and participate. The teens (14-15 year olds) are recruited from Morocco, Egypt, Yemen, Israel, Palestine, Turkey, Greek Cyprus and Portugal. Religion and ethnic identity play an important role in each country. The challenge is: How to foster the interpersonal skills to create business leaders in a global economy that transcends religion and ethnicity.

Cisco selected young leaders (20-30 year olds) in each country to be the instructors for the teen participants. The company brought 20 of these leaders to Marrakesh to teach them English over a two week intensive training program. They also taught them team building and tolerance of others skills. Together they created and built an Internet platform to relate to the kids. One of the instructors was an Israeli Arab. The Arabs who live outside Israel did not know there were Israeli Arabs. They became a team; the social curriculum they developed for kids they experienced themselves. For example, each instructor brought a game from his country and taught it to the group to play together.

Instructors created a virtual development team. The knowledge of the platform is now In seven out of eight countries. Students are in classrooms twice a week in a community knowledge center equipped with computers to learn English, technology skills, and guided activities to learn about each others’ culture. The Moroccan kids created a video of how to cook a Tagine. The Turkish kids tried to cook the dish together. They teach each other songs from their home countries. Using video conference software, they have guided conversations and they can post photos.

However, as with any community site trying to bridge differences during national conflict, there can be problems. For example, one of the Moroccan kids posted a message after 140 people were killed in Gaza that Israelis are slayers. Here is when Instructors showed ownership of the program. They took this example and turned it into a lesson on ethics of how to communicate on the Web. First, the instructors enabled a student debate on rules for posting opinions. Eventually, the students agreed on a protocol for confrontational messages in their web community. They discussed the caricature of Mohammed, what is allowed and freedom of speech; Israeli kids spoke of what they thought should be allowed. The kids in each country had their own debate; they developed ground rules of how to communicate. The kids have become ambassadors of change within communities. They learn technology and volunteer what they learn and open the community center and invite parents.

MYTEC is a good example of how Web 2.0 interactivity can be used for positive social change.

Gil Shwed and Checkpoint

April 17, 2008

While unknown by most American Jews, Gil Shwed is a role model entrepreneur for Israel. He is most admired because he founded and grew Check Point, the global leader in Internet security (think firewall and anti-hacker programs).

Gil spoke with our group in his office. Contrary to convention, it is no longer true that the best business model for Israeli companies is to base in the US and use Israeli engineers—this is a big issue here. Gil runs a global company with management both in the US and Israel. Israel is a very good place to start and grow a business and Gil feels he has fewer problems and disincentives in Israel than he has in Silicon Valley.

Gil is a global business leader and frequently commutes to the SF Bay Area fro business. He has created great regional wealth in both places.

Tel Aviv and Jerusalem

April 17, 2008

I have been coming to Israel since 1970 and most of us who are Vatik (veteran) Israel visitors are well aware of the Tel Aviv/Jerusalem divide within Israel. In a sense each represents a different vision of the values of the State of Israel—kind of like how we environmentally aware/self-actualizing selves in Northern California view our water-wasting, materialistic brethren in Southern California :-).

Tel Aviv is a secular, Western, fashionable urban center striving to be hip, cool, thoroughly modern and global. Jerusalem is a religious matrix for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is a magnet for tourists who seek spiritual connection. Yet, the city’s citizens, both Arab and Ultra- Orthodox, are becoming poorer, more strife-riven, and divided.

My experience this visit in Tel Aviv, where we have spent most of our time, has been very positive. Going through the historic neighborhoods of Neve Zedek and Neve Shalom (areas built before municipal Tel Aviv in the late 1800’s) and the new hip district by the port, I can see that renovation and historic preservation have begun to be taken seriously. Reminds me of SOMA (South of Market ) in San Francisco. Most of the tech development is in Tel Aviv and most of the bloggers, entrepreneurs, and VC’s we have met are based in Tel Aviv.

This time I only had a day in Jerusalem (you can see my blog entries for extended time in Jerusalem in

Much of our tour in Jerusalem is beautifully documented by the other bloggers. Jerusalem did its magic for the participants and some were visibly moved. Hopefully, Jerusalem will be able to benefit from transition to peace. But I am not holding my breath.

Jerusalem Venture Partners

April 16, 2008

We met with JVP who work with Israel’s Chief Scientist and receives substantial government backing for promising entrepreneurs. We heard presentations by several “under the radar screen” start-ups that are about to release their products. We can not give details, but several involve animation and use of Avatars that are very intriguing (Second Life—Watch out!)

One very interesting soon to be released startup involves self-enrichment with good content provided by knowledgeable people for those who seek beyond Google searches. As I heard this young Israeli woman, who has a philosophy and psychology educational background present, I  thought about this as the fulfillment of Doug Engelbart’s hope for the use of technology (Doug invented the keyboard and mouse among other innovations in the hope people would use these tools to solve human problems). Hope this venture succeeds as it would help provide more access to useful information for everyone.

Two of the venture partners, Erel Margalit and Uri Adoni, provided an overview of Israeli start-ups and the role of JVP in development. These are as bright VC’s as you can find anywhere. Amazing Israel can play as large a role in tech innovation as it does. How such a small country can provide such large successes is the wonder of the world. Erel and Uri are certainly part of the answer.

Garage Geeks, Bloggers, and More

April 15, 2008

Israeli tech people have been extraordinarily hospitable with our group.

Sunday evening we went to a party in the industrial area of Holon. Filled with an amazing collection— bloggers, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists schmoozing with rock music blasting while consuming potluck—pizza, falafel, beer, wine, and bbq skewers. Lots of good connection.

Monday we had an elegant dinner with about fifty Israeli tech folks at Mendys in Tel Aviv: VC’s, entrepreneurs, Haaretz Marker execs and lots more. The dinner (elegant, copious and delicious) was hosted by two amazing entrepreneurs. Check out their companies Flixwagon and Meemix

Tuesday we were hosted by Israel 21 C a news service that presents stories of Israel beyond the conflict with Israeli Bloggers for a cocktail party in Mish Mish, (means apricots in Hebrew) a hip bar salon. So hard to go back to the Bay Area and return to our fairly boring lives after all this attention.