Ancient Traditions and Modern Solutions for Tu Bishevat

The Jewish calendar consists of a cycle of holidays, each with its own messages and traditions. As Jewish people, we celebrate each occasion by re-examining our history and asking ourselves similar questions. However, we do not simply travel through time. Rather, as we go around the calendar each year, we pursue progress. We circle through our traditions and history, while moving upward as a people, similar to climbing a spiral staircase.

Tu Bishevat reminds us, once again, of the Jewish spirit of improvement and renewal. Now that we have eaten our dried fruit and planted our trees, we must ask ourselves what we can learn this year. What does this year ask of the Jewish people? What does it ask of the State of Israel? How can we advance our people and our State?

What Challenges the Jewish People?

As Jewish people, we are taught to reflect on our difficulties while still looking our opportunities to move forward. The challenges of sustaining our identity and values have been with us throughout our history. In 5776, globalization is adding pressure to the challenge of continuity. The Jewish community is searching for ways to bridge the gap between modern technology and ways of life with Jewish identity and values.

What Are the Jewish People’s Strengths?

Jewish tradition is steeped in the practice of questioning. We encourage asking tough questions and finding thorough answers. Likewise, we are a people skilled in introspection. We ask questions not only of others and our traditions, but also of ourselves. We have a gift in finding internal solutions.

What Challenges the State of Israel?

In a few months, the State of Israel will celebrate its 68th birthday. Though Israel has had a short lifetime, it has built a flourishing democracy and robust civic society.  We must maintain and guard Israel’s democracy, protect minority rights, advance women in science and business, and ensure that our robust civil society remains intact. Moreover, 68 years is a brief period of time for a country and Israel is very much still searching for its place among the community of nations. Israel also faces the challenge of limited resources, both natural and financial.

What Are the State of Israel’s Strengths? 

One of Israel’s greatest strengths is its ability to innovate. Tel Aviv rivals Silicon Valley in hi-tech ingenuity and Israeli hi-tech can be found in thousands of innovations around the globe.  Israel’s desire to improve the world—its spirit of Tikkun Olam—is also as vibrant as ever. Last year, this was put on display by Israel’s tenacity in responding to the earthquakes in Nepal as well as by treating victims of the war in Syria.

In the year ahead, we must ask ourselves how can we use our strengths in order to advance the entirety of the Jewish people, together with the State of Israel.

While Israel has been innovating in hi-tech for decades, one area where Israel is just beginning to find its footing is impact investing; an approach to investing that, in Israel, can build start-ups that leverage Israel’s innovative spirit and commitment to Tikkun Olam.

A growing number of investors are beginning to view themselves as impact investors—investors who identify companies that demonstrate promise to bring in revenue and create measureable social impact, typically in a specific region or community. In Israel, however, impact investors are given a unique value proposition. Israel’s aptitude for producing large-scale technological innovation can be leveraged with funding from impact investors to generate solutions to global, social challenges. Using a vigorous financial selection process and stringent tools to measure social impact, impact investing in Israel generates market-rate financial returns and verifiable social benefits. While impact investing is just beginning to strengthen its foothold in Israel, it shows strong potential as a way to take our collective strengths and pivot them against our challenges.

Impact investing in Israeli technology also creates a modern, sustainable way to build connections between the State of Israel and the diaspora community, which carries forward the Jewish tradition of Tikkun Olam. With this mechanism in place, Israeli technological minds are free to combine their ingenuity with their passion for social good. This idea resonates particularly well with the new generation of Israelis and diaspora Jews, who see the potential to address global social challenges using Israeli technology. With the right leadership, Israel can find its place among the nations as a leading provider of solutions to global social challenges. Finally, impact investing brings international Jewish resources together and maximizes them, for the betterment of Israel, the Jewish people, and the larger global community.

To date, initial impact investments in Israel have generated solutions in digital healthcare and environmental technology. But, these accomplishments are only the tip of the iceberg. As we continue to climb the proverbial staircase in 5776, we are encouraged as the global community, and the Jewish community in particular, become more embracing of the idea of impact investment in Israel. By this time next year, we hope be reflecting upon a year of transformation and global good.

Cecile Blilious is the Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Impact First Investments

About the Author
Cecile Blilious, managing partner at Impact First Investments, has extensive experience in managing ‎both financial first and impact first investments through her work on behalf of the Noaber ‎Foundation for over 14 years, and many years of hands-on management experience in high-tech ‎start-up companies. She is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in political ‎science and international relations.‎
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