Yom HaAtzmaut is a time to celebrate all things Israel, and Temple Sinai and Hadassah partnered on Israeli Independence Day, Tuesday, May 2, to take stock of Israeli innovation.

The event featured information tables with products made in Israel and a panel of experts who explained why Israel is ahead of its class in innovation and technology.

The panel included Anthony DeCarolis, the CEO of Alpha Omega; Nitzan Gilady, an Israeli filmmaker serving this spring as an artist in residence at Emory; Russell Gottschalk, the founder and executive director of the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival; and Rachel Schoenberger, the Atlanta physician who chairs the Hadassah Medical Organization.

Panelists Nitzan Gilady, Rachel Schoenberger, Anthony DeCarolis and Russell Gottschalk discuss innovation in Israel with moderator Julie Katz.

Though from vastly different fields, all agreed that the size of Israel and the character of the people make Israel a forerunner in innovation.

“Where most countries have 10,000 neurologists, Israel may have 75, and out of the 75, 60 might be outstanding. There’ certainly not a lot of room for messing up,” Schoenberger said. “And you see the small size of Israel on Memorial Day, and in that crowd there’s not a single person who has not lost a family member or close friend in one of Israel’s wars or terrorist incidents.”

The small size and cooperation are elements that add value to Israeli culture, Schoenberger said.

The confidence of the first settlers paved the way for others to add to the milieu of cultures and spirit of cooperation, Gottschalk said. Gottschalk, who follows Israeli music and brings Israeli musicians in for the festival, said the cultural evolution can be heard over decades of music.

“Jewish music started off as mostly Ashkenazi music; it was about strength and was very masculine. … They were building a country,” he said. “Then the statehood came in 1948, and you have an influx of all these different opinions. You have Mizrahi Jews and Sephardic Jews, and you have these different types of Jews being confident and making these connections. It’s everyone being confident and being outgoing. To me, that’s what’s behind so much of the innovation: Not just that we’re close together, but that we’re confident.”

It’s the Israeli confidence that drives so many to excel in their fields, Gilady said. He told a story about asking a flight attendant to make sure his bag was handled correctly, resulting in a back and forth that occurred because “all Israelis think they are right about everything.”

“We want to know everything. We want to always be the manager. We want to be right. I think it also has to do a lot with chutzpah. That’s an Israeli thing, asking to check. ‘No, I have to check.’ ‘No, I know better than you,’ ” Gilady said. “I think that’s something that is in our soul: We want to know, we want to check, we always want to be the first one to be right.”

It’s the drive to be right and be best in class that makes Israel great, DeCarolis said. As the CEO of a leading medical technology company based in Nazareth, DeCarolis said he can’t talk enough about the Israeli drive for excellence.

The first time he rode to the Alpha Omega headquarters, the driver pointed out all the ethnic neighborhoods. At first, he was taken aback by what seemed ethnic segregation, but when he got to the company, he was pleasantly surprised that Muslims, Christians and Jews ate lunch, talked, laughed and worked together “We are very adept. We have physiologists who know in the brain where certain anatomical structures are and the anatomical structures using electrodes. When you think about this, we’re a small company in Nazareth, (a city) with 60,000 people. To develop a technology and maintain a technology … it’s amazing,” DeCarolis said. “If you brought a computer from Apple and it failed, you would say, ‘I don’t want to buy another Apple product,’ but this technology works procedure after procedure after procedure. The medical field is fraught with companies that have great technology but terrible performance. It’s a concentric base of individuals who want to excel, and that’s the leading edge.”