BY RON FEINBERG / WEB EDITOR
I stumbled across a report recently that detailed how various countries around the world are dealing with economic woes brought on by the global recession. It turns out that while many nations have struggled in recent years, Israel’s economic engine has continued to chug along mightily.
All the important indicators – job growth and earnings, the Consumer Price Index, industrial production and GDP – are sharply up and continue moving in the right direction. Analysts, as they often do, offer a mixed bag of reasons for Israel’s success; but almost all agree that it’s the country’s high-tech sector that has fueled the Jewish homeland’s economic expansion.
It only takes a moment and quick look around the web to see that virtually all the major players in the high-tech world – Intel, IBM, Google, Cisco Systems, Microsoft – have expansive research and development facilities in Israel.
The country also boasts a number of homegrown companies that have been hugely successful, including Zoran Corporation, CEVA, Inc., NICE Systems and Radware. This group of innovative companies – along with dozens of others – make up a region that has come to be known as the “Silicon Wadi.”
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I mention this all now as a long and rambling preamble to my personal introduction to the high-tech vibe that spills across Israel. It was a dozen or so years ago, during a trip to Israel with the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, that I almost crashed and burned after bumping up against a digital wall of my own making.
My problems started on a high note when I decided it might be fun to mix a little business with pleasure. I met with a colleague, the editor handling international news for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and pitched a few story ideas. We came up with a workable plan, but then I needed to be taught how to file stories and photos back to Atlanta on deadline.
Today, that would probably mean I’d be handed a laptop and a smartphone, spend five minutes with an IT specialist and be told to stay in touch. A decade ago, though, the digital world was in flux, and staying in touch involved a complicated series of websites, dialup modems, passwords, phone numbers and mistakes waiting to happen.
After a few days of fun spent mostly in Tel Aviv and an evening spent covering Ariel Sharon sharing his vision for the future, I found myself in a tidy pressroom set up for journalists inside the Binyenei HaUma, the International Convention Center in Jerusalem.
It was filled with the usual stuff: desks and chairs; paper pads and pens; a few TVs, lots of phones, and some desktop computers. I was home!
Well, not really. “Home” was on the other side of the world, and I needed to figure out how to get my stories and photos onto the web and back to the newsroom in Atlanta.
I had a set of instructions. They had made sense when the IT specialist ran me through the list only a few days earlier. Now they looked like Greek.
I managed to download a series of photos onto my laptop and even access the stories I had written earlier that morning. But each time I tried to call up the special modem set up to retrieve information, I would be disconnected.
Can you say “frustrating” in Hebrew?
Eventually, a couple of Israeli teens noticed I was having a problem (I think slamming my computer against a nearby wall is what captured their attention). It turns out they had been hired by the convention center to help with digital issues, and they offered to work me through the list of instructions that now seemed to have been written by the Marquis de Sade.
I recall them whispering and pointing a bit, then suggesting I ditch the instructions and try another series of steps. I politely and diplomatically explained that my bosses back home had stressed that I was to follow their instructions to the letter!
To this, they smiled, said b’seder (“OK”), and went about trying to hook me up to the web. They, too, ended up where I had started – which is to say, exactly nowhere!
This madness went on for an hour, and my deadline was quickly approaching. Finally, one of the kids disconnected a cable connecting my laptop with a nearby phone and punched it into a port on the front of my desk. He then tapped a few keys on my laptop and, magically, I was home – at least digitally!
It turns out, much to my surprise and far beyond my ability to comprehend, that the entire pressroom came complete with dedicated lines linked to the internet. By simply moving the cable from the phone to the waiting port, I was essentially skipping over the first several pages of instructions I had been given in Atlanta and connecting directly with the necessary website. Who knew?
I’m pretty certain that Ilan and Reuven (those two teens) helped me make deadline that day, but they also taught me that sometimes it’s necessary to simply hand a man a trout instead of teaching him how to fish – especially if the clock is ticking and the man doesn’t even understand the point of a fishing pole.
But I’ll save that bit of wisdom for another day.
Meanwhile, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Ilan and Reuven are living the good life today in Israel’s Silicon Wadi, just two of the high-tech wizards pushing the country forward and making life better for all of us.