Supporting Israel’s entrepreneurial spirit

St. Louisans on a men’s Israel trip sponsored by the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Program are pictured in Jerusalem with Lori Palatnik, the organization’s founder. The trip was led by Rabbi Yosef David of Aish HaTorah (at left). Commentary author Rich Wolkowitz is to the right of Palatnik; commentary author Mike Minoff is third from the left. Photo courtesy Mike Minoff 

By Richard J. Wolkowitz

Each visit to Israel is unique and unequivocally personal and special. There are almost no words to capture all that one’s mind processes, eyes witness, mouth tastes, nose smells and heart feels. Each visit to Israel is spiritually awakening, intellectually stimulating and magically charged. 

Just having returned from my fourth visit to Israel on a two-week men’s trip sponsored by the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Program (JWRP) and led by Rabbi Yosef David of Aish HaTorah, it felt a little like my very first trip to Israel but also like I never left her. Like many others in the Diaspora, I found myself asking, “Other than making aliyah or participating in the IDF (Israel Defence Forces), what can I do to help support Israel and make her strong and secure?”

I visited Israel when I was 16, 20, 26 and now 46 years old.  Looking in and beyond the usual and divisive issues of war, politics, religion and culture, I kept trying to identify and answer for myself what has been the single, most-impactful change that I have observed over the last four decades since my first visit to Israel. I still came back to, “What can I do?”  The answer to both queries became obvious and clear: entrepreneurism.

Israel is no longer just a place to pray and spiritually connect. She is not just a place to see and touch our most historically and religiously relevant sites. She is not just a place to reflect and find your soul. She is not just a place to call our homeland and she is not just a place to experience a great camel ride or eat the best falafel or schwarma.  

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Israel is all those things, but what she is and has become is the breadbasket of food for all of Europe, and the incubator, inventor and pioneer for so many of the world’s foremost advancements in medicine, technology, bioscience, agritech, telecom, software, hardware, etc. There is so much construction in and around Tel Aviv that the national bird might as well be the “crane.”

I could recite impressive statistics on the number of Israeli startup companies in comparison to other countries on a per capita or total volume basis, and the amount and types of economic trade that exist between Missouri and Israel, Illinois and Israel, the United States and Israel, and the European Union and Israel, etc. Rather, I would like to share some anecdotal evidence that provides the basis of my conclusion that entrepreneurism is alive and well in Israel and that the Diaspora needs to consider engaging in, investing in, and helping to support a people rich in mind and ideas, yet also very poor in capital.

In the north, I went to a very sophisticated vineyard and dairy farm that was on par with any such vineyard found in the Napa Valley or any dairy farm in Wisconsin.  I then visited the Hebrew University’s School of Engineering in Jerusalem, where I heard from Jonathan Medved, a “serial entrepreneur” who has been involved in more than 100 Israeli startups. 

Medved is also one of Israel’s leading venture capitalists and founder of, which is an equity based crowdfunding platform for accredited investors focused on Israeli startups.  The concept of crowdfunding, which started in the Silicon Valley, is forging ahead at lightning speed throughout Israel to raise much-needed capital in a variety of industries.

I also met with Israeli family and friends, most of whom I had not seen in 20 years, and I was pleasantly surprised by what some of them are now doing. One went on to invent and patent harvesting techniques for citrus products, which then led him to another invention helping increase wheat crop yields by more than 30 percent. Another is developing a unique business-application in a social media platform; still another is a hedge fund manager in interest rate markets and international government bonds. Others are engaged in Israeli technology mergers and acquisitions on a worldwide basis, starting one of Israel’s first private home health care businesses and operating a cigar bar in Tel Aviv.  

One Israeli summarized best what everyone was saying about why entrepreneurism is flourishing in Israel: 

“The greatest fear of any entrepreneur is ‘failure,’ and Israelis are born in a culture of having to be ‘fearless’ as one’s very existence is constantly being challenged.”  

That seemed so obvious upon reflection.  Once fear is either mitigated or eliminated, it allows the entrepreneur the freedom to dream, create and innovate and to take substantial measured risks of which others are either incapable or afraid to surmount.  Granted, no one wants to fail – even the fearless; but when fearlessness is endemic in the culture, then entrepreneurism, innovation and creativity blossom.

Many in the Diaspora often ask how they can contribute and help Israel and Israelis.  While entrepreneurism and ideas are flourishing, capital to take these ideas and concepts to market is a constant challenge and too often a barrier.  The larger and stronger the Israeli economy becomes, the more security Israel will have because she will rely less on others for financial assistance.  

I suggest that we begin to engage more diligently for investment opportunities in this capital-starved country, because Israel is filled with great minds and fearless entrepreneurs. 

Richard J. Wolkowitz is a lawyer and president of Car Credit City. He lives in Creve Coeur with his wife,  Jenny (a Jewish Light trustee),  and their daughters Zoe,  Talia and Phoebe.  The family belong to Congregation B’nai Amoona.