Running with Matches

There are certain characteristics that are important to raising a child who will mature into a successful, productive adult. They are: independence, an adventurous and curious spirit, resilience, commitment, integrity, agility and camaraderie. However instilling these characteristics often run counter to a mother’s natural instincts to protect.

I have found that Israeli mothers work hard to encourage these traits as a result of the unique circumstances of life in Israel.

Our routine is often one of emergency, which of course includes our kids. Last summer, children in Israel had less than a minute to run from playgrounds to the shelters when missiles and rockets were launched during the “Protective Edge” Operation. Although they played outside all summer, sirens continuously interrupted their playtime. You would be surprised to see how two minutes after a siren they would return to their play. They learn, from early childhood, to cope with an unstructured, interrupt driven routine, or even better, knowing that events can change quickly. They also know someone is taking care of them and their loved ones: most fathers, uncles, big brothers and sisters serve in the military or are called to reserve duty during those challenging days. The combination of “insecurity”, community and love is how they learn resiliency.

Israeli mothers also foster risk taking and adventurous play.  Last week, we celebrated Lag B’Omer, a Jewish holiday dating back to the 13th century. The central custom of Lag B’Omer is the lighting of bonfires throughout Israel, and as all holidays celebrated in Israel, kids take a major role. According to tradition, this was a specific request by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai of his students. Some say that as Bar Yochai gave spiritual light to the world with the revelation of the Zohar (the foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah), bonfires are lit to symbolize the impact of his teachings. As his passing left such a “light” behind, many candles and/or bonfires are lit.

Children are allowed to build bonfires which runs counter the normal rule of, “don’t play with fire”. The kids are responsible for it all – from gathering the wood to igniting the flame.  Adults are there (they allow us to be there until they are about 13, at which time they won’t allow us to join them anymore!) however, we do not force boundaries but rather let them create their own ones. A foreign observer would likely find the experience borderline negligent. However, I think our kids learn how to react and cope in such a social event instituting a community tradition and a sense of a common goal. Lighting the bonfire is a co-operative experience, where the kids learn to manage risks and build self-confidence through actual experiment and activity.

I find that these characteristics are what have led Israelis to lead the world in innovation and entrepreneurship. Israel has the highest density of start-ups in the world, and is a leader in innovation, R&D expenditure and capital investment, per capita. All of these are critical growth engines for Israel’s economy.

In a region full of challenges and conflicts, Israelis have honed the art of problem solving, turning our tiny desert nation into a powerhouse of innovation and unparalleled ecosystem of creativity and resourcefulness.

I have spent the last two decades of my professional career in the Israeli hi-tech sector in various positions and clearly see a link between our successes and our children.

I am also the very proud mom to three boys ages 13, 10 and 6.

Happy Mother’s Day!!!