This year, as every year, Jewish families are preparing to gather around the Seder table, fulfilling a mitzvah to commemorate our people’s liberation from oppression. What is it that we celebrate when we sit at the table, when we sing ‘Dayenu’ and bond with our families?
Whilst most people know that Jews celebrate freedom, many overlook that we also celebrate the innovation inherent to the Jewish faith. Our ancestors were guided by God from Egypt towards a safe haven in the Promised Land and given the tools and the faith required to survive. The lessons of our ancestors remain with us today, and continue to drive our resilience, education, skills and innovation. Even during the most trying times, we find innovative ways to demonstrate our commitment to Jewish tradition.
During the Spanish Inquisition, many Jews held the Seder on the fifth night of Passover, rather than the first or second, to avoid arousing suspicion. There are tales of how Jews built makeshift stoves in the Polish ghettos, using their limited means, to allow them to bake matzah during the Jewish people’s most difficult time. This resourcefulness guaranteed not only our survival as a people, but also the continuation of our traditions.
Modern-day Israel embodies this combination of innovation and tradition; and the result is a catalog of innovations from which the entire world benefits.
A heady cocktail of imagination and creativity has fired the creation of over 6000 startups. Israel has more tech unicorns – companies valued at over $1 billion – than all of Europe combined. It has provided a home to countless inventions, from revolutionizing agriculture with modern drip irrigation systems, developing sophisticated computer hardware including the USB flash drive and microprocessors, creating the world’s smallest video camera and even creating drinking water from air.
We see every day how innovation can liberate individuals, organizations and industries, helping people at all levels surpass their limitations and develop new ways of thinking. In my own work at Mitrelli, we see this taking root in remote villages in Africa where we are using Israeli innovation to connect hundreds of thousands to safe drinking water for the first time. We are building networks of innovative education and medical centers; training the next generation who will lead a brighter future. And together, hand in hand with our local partners, we are offering opportunity in a continent from which our own forefathers needed liberation.
Indeed, we celebrate our liberation from Egypt through traditions such as giving charity – money or food donations – to those in need as the holiday approaches, reminding us that our strength lies in our collective spirit and unity.
But as our people today stands tall on the world stage – prosperous, productive and successful, equal among equals – we also have a moral imperative to apply our knowledge and innovative solutions beyond our own communities, to help the most vulnerable in the world.
But the most deprived nations and communities on earth require more than just philanthropy – they require a set of systems and frameworks in place to establish infrastructure and build their societies.
Israel was established through such frameworks. Despite its status today as a major produce exporter, it is not a country that is naturally conducive to agricultural growth. More than half of the land is considered desert, with less than 20 percent naturally arable. It is for this reason that the kibbutz and the moshav are national symbols, demonstrating what can be achieved by following the path of community cooperation, supported by state-of-the-art agricultural and industrial innovations.
Israel is a nation steeped in innovation and self-sufficiency. Our collective memory of Jewish history and the knowledge that our families share every year around the Seder table help us understand the importance of innovation and resourcefulness in our story. This is key in helping a people liberate themselves from oppression, to go on and thrive.
Our innovation opened the way for us to export fresh fruit, crops and much more to the world. No less importantly, we must now seize the opportunity to export ideas.