Trade mission exceeds expectations

Guest blogger George Weisz, president of Weisz Ventures and one of the members of the first Arizona trade mission to Israel, submitted the following after the trip concluded. (Weisz’s first person account of the earlier part of the trip, “Gov. Ducey visits Israel,” Jewish News, Oct. 16, is available here.) 

The second half of Gov. Doug Ducey’s Arizona trade mission to Israel was as amazing as the first portion. He engaged in extensive meetings with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; former President Shimon Peres; four Cabinet ministers; numerous Israeli start-ups; Wendy Singer, whose foundation Start-Up Nation Central continues the synergetic vibe of the book “Start-Up Nation”; water resource experts; and the developers of Iron Dome. Most importantly, the governor signed a letter of intent with the Israeli government to foster collaborative partnerships between Arizona and Israel which will lead to tremendous opportunities for Arizonans and our state’s economic growth. This first-ever Arizona trade mission to Israel, the vision of this governor, exceeded expectations.

The delegation witnessed “the miracle that is Israel.” The whirlwind itinerary was exhilarating as, around every corner, we saw more and more applications that could benefit Arizona. We were able to capture the true spirit of Israelis who manage to excel in so many areas, yielding more patents and more start-ups per capita than any other nation except the U.S. The contributions that Israelis make to the world in medicine, water management, agriculture, education, energy, homeland security and technologies of so many disciplines is unmatched.

It was not lost upon the delegation that Israel accomplishes all this while living in the most dangerous neighborhood in the world with rockets from Hamas and Hezbollah pointed at its homes and schools along with the repeated threat of real annihilation from Iran. We had a detailed, sobering briefing with Dore Gold, director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who noted the increasing build-up of terrorist activities along most of Israel’s borders and the challenges to survival that Israel faces every day.

We were in Israel at a time when innocent Israelis lost their lives to sporadic terrorist attacks, and many others were injured, with Palestinians clearly being incited by their leaders to specifically spill Israeli blood. We had just left the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which has very special meaning to the governor and is a place one can feel such awesome spirituality no matter what one’s religion or culture. As our delegation was walking up the steps from the cavern of Muslim shops to the Jaffa Gate, four plainclothes Israeli police officers ran down the stairs past us to a site across the Old City, where a terrorist had just stabbed an Israeli police officer. Soon thereafter, Israeli authorities closed the Old City for an hour, a rare occurrence. While we were in Israel, 23 attacks occurred resulting in eight Israelis being murdered and 70 wounded. It reminded us of the Israeli adage: “If terrorists put down their weapons, there will be peace. If Israel puts down its weapons, there will be no Israel.”

The hearts of our delegation were deeply hurt as we heard of the escalating violence. We recognized that in addition to the precious lives that were lost, the terrorist leaders were also trying to damage Israel’s vibrant tourism industry from which many Israelis and Palestinians derive their living. Yet, we felt safe wherever we traveled within Israel, and safer than in some American cities. We found a nation whose people stayed vigilant every day while at the same time producing medical discoveries that were saving lives around the world. This was a society that was also intent on preserving the historic sites of all religions.

These terrorist attacks only strengthened the governor’s desire to show support for Israel, now more than ever. He has urged other national and state leaders to join him in that support. During our trip, he continuously received gratitude from both Israeli officials and average citizens, including servers at restaurants and start-up company workers, who stopped to thank him and his delegation for being in Israel and demonstrating our unwavering support.

One of those appreciative leaders was Benjamin Netanyahu, who expressed to the governor his desire to strengthen ties with Arizona and build on a close, respected relationship that the prime minister has appreciated for years with Sen. John McCain, a true friend of Israel and one of the world’s top leaders in foreign policy.

Seeing thru the tears of a grieving nation, we witnessed a boundless optimism that was mesmerizing. No one exuded that optimism more than Shimon Peres, with whom the governor spent considerable time at the Peres Center for Peace overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. When we arrived, there were young adults with a certain vibrancy working on projects that bring Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians together. The center also initiates cooperative projects around the world, including a water project with Mexico to which the governor offered his assistance. When he asked the dapper and inspirational Peres for his secret to staying so young, Peres provided us with his clearly effective philosophy: “Count your achievements. Then count your dreams. If your dreams are more than your achievements, then you are young.” And, he added: “Don’t dream small; dream great!”

Peres expressed those sentiments again, a few days later, when he shared the podium with the governor at the opening session of Israel’s International Water Technology and Environmental Control Conference (WATEC). He had been invited by the Israeli government to speak at the conference because Arizona, like Israel, has a history of success in formulating good water policy. While Arizona stays concerned over its water resources and has eyes wide open on its challenges, it is clear that Arizona is far ahead of managing its resources than California which warranted its own session at WATEC that showed the tremendous struggles it is experiencing. Ducey, accompanied by the director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, Tom Buschatzke, attended several of the sessions and met with water technology innovators, who are breaking new ground on preserving the quantity and quality of water supplies.

Gov. Doug Ducey and Arie Dery, Israel's economic minister (right), sign a letter of intent initiating cooperative partnerships between Arizona and Israel in a variety of disciplines. Photo by George Weisz

Gov. Doug Ducey and Arie Dery, Israel’s economic minister (right), sign a letter of intent initiating cooperative partnerships between Arizona and Israel in a variety of disciplines.
Photo by George Weisz

While at WATEC, the governor met with Arie Dery, Israel’s minister of the economy, and the two leaders signed a Letter of Intent between Arizona and Israel initiating plans for a joint partnership to cooperate together in mutual ways for the benefit of both Arizonans and Israelis. This historic agreement will lead to active joint efforts in a host of disciplines and the sharing of information and best practices.

Seeking out collaborative opportunities was the theme of a very productive meeting with Nancy Singer, a former AIPAC staff member, who now heads Start-Up Nation Central. Nancy’s brother, Dan Senor, co-authored the acclaimed book “Start-Up Nation,” which tells the story of the innovative spirit of the Israeli people. At a Republican Governors Association conference this past year, Senor gave the governor a copy of his book. This inspired the governor to explore how the principles outlined in the book could be applicable to enhancing the prosperity of Arizonans. As he frequently says: “With Israel as the Start-Up Nation, Arizona should be the Start-Up State.”

Singer showed our delegation the various pathways to partnering with start-ups, entrepreneurs and investors in Israel who are looking to branch out to the United States and invest time and resources at American locations where visions are result-oriented and business-friendly. Throughout our meetings with various Israeli companies, the governor was adamant in his message that “Arizona is open for business” and his particular desire to lure Israeli technology, resources and know-how to Arizona. He brought Arizona experts – including Arizona Commerce Authority CEO Sandra Watson, Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Glenn Hamer and Phoenix Greater Economic Council President Chris Camacho – to Israel to accompany him in these meetings. Having them with him, the governor wanted to immediately start an action plan.

He also met with Silicon Valley Bank, which took a contingent of investors to Israel to validate the economic successes outlined in “Start-Up Nation.” Silicon Valley Bank has a large presence in Arizona with its expansion greatly assisted by the Arizona Commerce Authority. Yes, they validated Israel’s innovative, prosperous atmosphere.

The Arziona trade delegation visits an Iron Dome placement. Photo by George Weisz

The Arizona trade delegation visits an Iron Dome placement.
Photo by George Weisz

One highlight of the trip was a visit to an Iron Dome Missile Defense placement north of Gaza. A young but extremely able IDF officer showed us the system that is saving both Israeli and Palestinian lives. IDF officers manning these systems have 4 seconds to determine if an Iron Dome interceptor needs to be launched against a terrorist rocket. Raytheon in Tucson is a partner with Rafael, the Israeli company that developed this amazing technology. We toured Rafael’s manufacturing headquarters in northern Israel, which is currently building David’s Sling, the newest missile defense system, along with more Iron Dome units and other defense systems. David Orr of Raytheon in Tucson, a former fighter pilot, was a member of our delegation.

Defense contractors are a major component of Arizona’s economy, and the governor was on the lookout for projects and applications for these companies. One must remember that of the security and military aid that the U.S. provides each year to Israel, over 75 percent of those funds come back to the U.S. in purchases from American companies. No other nation returns that much to the U.S. Essentially, security aid for Israel means more jobs for Arizonans. Right now, Israel will be asking for funds to produce more Iron Dome units, a project that has proven its success in saving lives time and time again. It will be up to all of us to lobby Congress to approve that vital request.

Border security is a priority of the governor and many Arizonans. We visited an Israeli company that has developed new virtual-border-fence technology that is now being installed in Arizona on the U.S.-Mexico border. Eventually, over 200 miles along our border will have coverage from this state-of-the-art detection technology. Delegation member Frank Milstead, director of the Arizona Department of Public Safety, reviewed this company’s newest technology along with homeland security advancements offered by other Israeli firms. The delegation also promoted the idea that such firms should bring manufacturing or research offices to Arizona.

We also tried to recognize operations in Israel that have Arizona investors. Arizona Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall led us for lunch to the new Hotel Yehuda atop the Massuah Hills, a designer hotel with banquet facilities owned by Diamondbacks team partner Jeff Royer. Jeff will be glad to know that the governor, Derrick, Danny Seiden and West Coast Capital Partners co-founder Bill Metzler ran off part of that lunch, as well as a Shabbat dinner, when they led most of the delegation on a jog around the 2.5-plus-mile circumference of the walls of the Old City.

The governor also took note of the excellent relationships that Arizona cities have established with Israeli cities in the Sister Cities Program, such as Phoenix’s great relationship with Ramat-Gan, just north of Tel Aviv.

This article only touches the tip of the iceberg of a very aggressive agenda set forth by the governor and his staff, including Kirk Adams, Danny Seiden and Sara Mueller. Some of our encounters were set up by Israel Consul General David Siegel, who took valuable time to travel with us. The many meetings and contacts were designed to produce results and deliverables that will produce short-term and long-term benefits for Arizonans.

The meetings were peppered with experiences to enhance one’s understanding of the heritage of the people of this holy land, a place that was, in many ways, the center of the world thousands of years ago and the center still today. The delegation learned about the spirit and ingenuity of those who have had no choice but to invent, devise and develop amazing things in order to survive. It learned that, as Shimon Peres mentored us, one does not need a lot of land to be great, one just needs a great mind.

I was privileged to be a member of this historic delegation that was expertly led by Gov. Doug Ducey, who had a tremendous grasp of the issues and who wore his love for Israel and his pride of Arizona on his sleeve and in his heart. He represented all of us very well. You can be very proud of his initiative to bring Arizona and Israel closer together, a natural fit in so many ways, to enhance the economic prosperity for all Arizonans.


On a quest for Hanukkah stamps? This may help

Year after year, Ronald Scheiman puts out an email to make American Jews aware of the availability of Hanukkah stamps. Just Googling his “The Quest for Annual Hanukkah Stamps” tagline finds his 2002 letter and 2013 letter within the first page of results.

Here’s his 2015 letter:

The Hanukkah stamp from 2013 should be available at your post office, Ronald Scheiman says.

The Hanukkah stamp from 2013 should be available at your post office, Ronald Scheiman says.

“Hanukkah stamps should be available now at your local post office. Although there is no new design, the 2011 and/or 2013 designs should be (available). You may be told the your post office can’t get them or won’t because it is not a new stamp. Well, if they have a religious-themed Christmas stamp, they have an old stamp because the United States Postal Service did not issue a new religiously themed Christmas stamp, they are distributing last year’s stamp.

“Ronald Scheiman, The Quest for Annual Hanukkah Stamps”

Kudos to Mr. Scheiman for persisting.

The 2011 Hanukkah stamp should also be available at local post offices, Scheiman says.

The 2011 Hanukkah stamp should also be available at local post offices, Scheiman says.


A short time to imprint Jewish memories

Last week, I was on a conference call and before the meeting started, someone inquired how everybody’s Sukkot was going. One caller in Ohio said his family was wearing jackets in the sukkah, as it was 55 degrees, and another in New Jersey said they were having a soggy Sukkot. Meanwhile, our Sukkot in the Valley started out with triple-digit temperatures, with some sukkah-dwellers using ceiling fans under the schach.

This conversation led me to think about how our memories are formed by our experiences. As long as we live in Phoenix, our children will likely not form memories of being bundled up in a warm jacket inside a sukkah or lighting their menorah at home during a blizzard.

As we concluded the recent month of holidays, it occurred to me that much of my effort in celebrating the holidays lately is not for me personally – I vaguely recall attending classes or reading in preparation for a holiday, but that hasn’t been the case in years – but instead to imprint memories of the holidays on my children.

These imprints included the taste of apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah, wearing white and blowing a shofar on Yom Kippur, building a sukkah with their dad, and then eating meals inside it and dancing with a Torah (although I think they were too busy running around to actually notice the latter).  At other times of the year, it’s the crunch of the matzah and the “No, no, no, I will not let them go” chant of Passover and the costumes, groggers and treats of Purim.

It’s unknown what moments will make an imprint and what kind of impact they will make. Will my dragging my kids into the sanctuary during Yom Kippur so they can hear the shofar in a room filled with worshippers dressed in white bring back memories of boredom or will they instead fondly remember standing on the bimah with other children with their glow sticks and shofars during Havdalah at the end of the holiday?

When I think back to my early Jewish memories, I’m not sure they are what my parents intended. I remember being shushed by grown-ups during Shabbat services and visiting the bathroom often so I could hang out with my friends there. I remember the oneg afterward, which was considered successful if I could get a good piece of the inside of the challah. I remember trying to hide a book under my desk during Hebrew school so I could read during class. And then there was the time my dad wanted to record our Passover seder on audiotape and my sister and I kept making jokes and cracking up throughout the recording. My time at Jewish summer camp and youth group retreats take up a lot of space in my Jewish memories.

When we first started taking our kids to the family High Holiday service at our synagogue years ago, they didn’t pay too much attention to the prayers or the songs – they preferred to crawl around on the floor with their friends. I watched some of the other children – mainly girls – sit nicely and listen to the story and clap their hands to the songs and felt embarrassed that my kids were being so disruptive. I didn’t even bother taking them into the main sanctuary afterward, instead putting them in baby-sitting while I headed into the grown-up service.

But this year, things were a little different. My oldest boys, who are now in second and third grade, wanted to help lead the family service. They stood in front of the room, did some of the reading and handed out the plush Torahs to the younger children. My youngest son, now in kindergarten, even sat on my husband’s lap on the floor to listen to almost the whole book read by one of the teachers.

Thinking back to previous years and reflecting on how quickly they flew by, I realized that we have such a limited time to share these moments with our children. And although we have no control over what imprints they will carry into adulthood, we can only try to provide them with experiences that may endure.

Leisah Woldoff is managing editor of Phoenix Jewish News.


JNFuture: Inviting young adults to help make the desert bloom

Jennifer Starrett, Jewish News’ marketing manager, writes about her Israel experience with the Jewish National Fund Leadership Mission:

I grew up in what I consider a very Jewish household. I celebrated Shabbat with my family, went to Hebrew school and was always taught the value of tzedakah. However, even though I grew up knowing the importance of Israel for myself and my family, I never felt a connection to the land as a young teenager.

Neither my parents nor my grandparents had been to Israel, and my Birthright trip as a young college student was my first dose of what Israel was all about. During my second visit as part of a volunteer vacation, I met my husband and found even more reasons to love Israel. Yet, it wasn’t until this past August while on the Jewish National Fund Leadership Mission in Israel (JLIM) that I truly found my connection and passion.

Halutza - JLIM 2015

JLIM 2015 participants visit Halutza, a growing farming community near the Israel/Gaza border in the northwest Negev. Photo courtesy of JNF

Before I went on the trip, I knew very little about the work that Jewish National Fund does. Like many people growing up, I remember the blue tzedakah boxes and received certificates for trees planted in my honor during my bat mitzvah and wedding. I realized this summer that JNF does more than just raise funds and plant trees; they build communities and help connect even more people to the land of Israel through their own programs and partnerships. In five days, we saw just a fraction of the impact JNF has had on the land of Israel, but what was even more inspiring was the potential for even more great projects and partnerships that have yet to be started.

This new playground in Be'er Sheva was a Jewish National Fund project.

This new playground in Be’er Sheva was a Jewish National Fund project. Photo by Jennifer Starrett

We saw small communities being built next to the border of Israel and Gaza where young families were able to learn how to farm and build their own land and businesses. In the Central Arava, we saw a medical center that was built with JNF funds, but envisioned by the people in neighboring communities because they were worried that the two-hour drive to the nearest hospital would deter people from moving to the area. In Be’er Sheva, a town that formerly had 2,500 residents, we saw a newly built, beautiful river park that has made the area into a thriving city, home to almost 200,000 people.

On JLIM, we also had the opportunity to meet the people JNF has touched. We heard from students at the Arava International Center for Agricultural Training (AICAT), who traveled from all over the world including countries like Nepal and Vietnam to learn about the latest in agricultural techniques that they could take back home to their own communities. The impact that this school has had on students has gone far beyond teaching techniques and new methods of farming, but has also given them the ability to be advocates for Israel and the Israeli people once they return home.

We met with people who made aliyah through Nefesh B’Nefesh, a partner organization of JNF, who made the choice to live in the Central Arava and learn to farm and create communities from the ground up. Only about 3,300 people live in this area that is approximately 6 percent of Israel’s total land mass. These residents are truly pioneers building formerly unoccupied parts of Israel into prosperous and lively cities.

By the end of the trip, my head was racing. There is so much that JNF has already done, and yet, there is potential for growth and exciting new projects and partnerships. I came back from this trip with more of an understanding for what past generations saw when they first began to build the Jewish state of Israel. As a member of JNFuture, the young professional division of JNF, I am excited to share with my generation a glimpse of what they can be a part of as a member of JNF and JNFuture. Together we can make the desert bloom.

JNFuture is holding its Arizona Fall Kickoff next week. Here are details:

JNFuture Arizona Fall Kickoff
When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 13
Where: ASU Kerr Cultural Center, 6110 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
Cost: Free event, but registration is encouraged at jnf.org/azkickoff
Learn more about the JLIM 2015 trip and how to get involved as a JNFuture member.
Hors d’oeuvres will be served (dietary laws observed).