Ask a roomful of Israelis to explain why Israel is the success story of the twenty-first century and you'll be met with an orchestra of opinions and an ensemble of ideas. Listen closely to this cacophony, however, and you'll hear a common melody -- chutzpa -- playing in the background.
Chutzpa, while common in our vocabulary, is difficult to define but easy to identify -- particularly in Israel. Equal parts grit, guts, and gall, it is the Tel Aviv waiter who serves relationship advice with your entrée. And it's the cab driver who shares his roadmap for peace while navigating the winding streets of Jerusalem.
It would seem that chutzpa is encoded into the DNA of the Jewish people. Abraham, the first Jew, had the audacity to argue with God and the Jewish people seemed to infer that if you can argue with the Divine, surely you can argue with anyone.
Looking back on Jewish history, it seems that chutzpa is a mix of both nature and nurture. For almost two millennia, Jews have studied the Talmud; 63 volumes that explore the depths of Jewish law, philosophy and ethics. Like an ancient Da Vinci code, the Talmud is ripe with brainteasers that children as young as six are taught to unravel. In the process, they sharpen their minds and develop unparalleled analytical skills.
Over time, the lively debates in our study halls spilled into our dining halls. When Jewish families gather around the Shabbat table, they aren't just spooning up steaming bowls of chicken soup. They are dishing out opinions on every subject from science to sport, dating to dieting, and politics to pop culture. While some might describe Israelis as argumentative, we believe our no-nonsense approach is a recipe for success.
In just sixty-five years, the Jewish state has become an oasis of innovation in an otherwise arid region. Small, isolated, and lacking the natural reserves of our well-oiled neighbors, Israelis have had to work from the neck up to survive. Nicknamed the Startup Nation, Israel has more start-ups per capita than any other country and attracts more venture capital dollars per person than any other nation.
Over the past sixty-five years, Israelis have launched one startup after another. Beginning a new enterprise is always a risky business, but doing so in an economic downturn is nothing short of chutzpa.
Israelis view failure through a prism of positivity and so every setback is seen as a step towards success. This determination to succeed against the odds is refined in our military. Based on a series of sophisticated tests administered in high school, young men and women are placed in units that will cultivate their skills and challenge them to solve problems under pressure and with precious few resources. By the time they finish their service, they have received high-tech training, life experience, and responsibility that is unmatched by any university or program anywhere in the world.
Alumni of elite technology units have applied their expertise in cybersecurity, data storage, and analytical algorithms to found successful businesses like Waze, which was recently bought by Google for more than one billion dollars.
Many innovators have also used their skills to overcome the most daunting of challenges. Just ask the creators of the Iron Dome missile defense system. As rockets rained down on our cities and towns, a group of Israeli engineers were determined to save lives by developing an effective interceptor system. Undaunted by the naysayers who said it was a futuristic dream; they went from the drawing board to defending Israel's borders in world-record speed.
Exiled, tormented and persecuted like no other people, the story of the Jews is a story of courage, innovation, and reinvention culminating in the creation of the State of Israel. We revived a faith that nearly vanished with the Jews of Europe; we cultivated a barren land and made it flourish; and we took a nation of immigrants and built a state that is today, the pride of the Jewish people. We have had the courage to fail, the courage to challenge the status quo, and the courage to reimagine the world. In six and a half decades, the State of Israel has achieved the unimaginable. And just think, the chutzpa nation is only getting started.
Ron Prosor is Israel's ambassador to the United Nations.