I was at a party in Tel Aviv the other day. Since I hardly get to Tel Aviv, and do not really know the kind of people who throw parties there (or anywhere else, for that matter) it was rather unusual. What made it even more memorable, was that it had a rock band, lots of smoke wafting up from the stage, and music you felt rising up from your soles, rather than drifting through your ears. On the beachfront in Tel Aviv’s trendy nightlife area, a group of about one hundred young people gathered to eat barbecued hamburgers, woked noodles, and dance the night away. The guests, mostly in their mid-twenties, looked like any other trendy, frivolous disco crowd in their jeans and leather jackets and pretty summer dresses. Looking around me, I had to remind myself that gathered on the dance floor were the golden talents that are at the heart of the high-tech industrial boom which is miraculously transforming Israel from a struggling, resource-poor address in the Middle East into an international economic and industrial force to be reckoned with.
It was a private party, open only to the research and development staff of Israel’s most successful company, Check Point Software Technologies, Ltd. Now legendary among Israeli high-tech startups, Check Point had its beginnings about six years ago in the minds of three young Israeli soldiers. The three wound up doing their mandatory army service writing software to safeguard the army’s high security computer network. They were very good at what they did. At the time, the Internet was just a curiosity on the horizon. Released from army service, it occurred to them that the Internet had a future, and in that future securing information would play a major role.
And so, they decided to try to turn their expertise into a commercial venture. Someone’s grandmother lent them her garage. They pooled their resources, took out loans, and were able to purchase one computer, which they worked on in shifts around the clock. They were in their early twenties. Only one was married, and soon became a young father. No one was drawing salaries. After about a year, they had something to show: software that would keep hackers and other unauthorized computer vandals from entering and tampering with information systems. It was a system that did it better, and more thoroughly, than any other system in the world.
Impressed, a local venture capital group lent them $150,000. It was the investment of a lifetime, earning them hundreds of millions of dollars in return. Check Point Software Technologies, makers of Firewall-1, are now a multi-billion dollar, publicly-traded company, and the most successful supplier of computer security systems in the world. Each one of the founders, who are all of thirty-something, are fast approaching billionaire status.
Sitting on the bus on the way to Tel Aviv that afternoon, I read the headlines in the local papers. Our Prime Minister was warning the nation of imminent terror attacks based in Iran. The paper was full of explanations why, even though we are firmly ensconced in the peace process, there are still those intent on blowing up our buses and destroying our children. But as I sat watching the waves crash against the Tel Aviv beachfront later that evening, echoing the relentless beat of the young rock band, so full of life, I looked up at the highrises, the hotels, the office buildings of the only Jewish city in the world and felt suddenly full of optimism.
If I had known how to dance, I hope I would have had the sense to join that wriggling, happy group as they danced away one of the last days of the old century straight into the new millennium: danced, full of joy, of life, of energy, despite all the uncertainties, all the deadly enemies. There they were, the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, kibbutzniks, and new immigrants. Young people who had known so many wars, terrorist attacks, and man-made tragedies in their young lives. And yet, despite everything, there they were: Amazingly bright, full of youth and optimism, people who -– if left in peace to live their quiet, productive, caring lives – would help usher Israel, and all the young people of the Middle East, into a millennium of economic plenty, job opportunities, growth, hope, and love. A millennium filled with positive energy, which, like the vibrations of heavy metal bands and the crash of the sea itself, will batter old prejudices and insane hatreds, shaking the ground and rattling the rafters, letting joy, and youth, and industry fill our days with good.
In the next millennium, I really must learn how to dance.
In response to numerous inquiries from Jerusalem Post readers wishing to contact or contribute to organizations described in the “Hidden Saints” article, the following are their addresses and bank account numbers:
SHALVA, Beit Nachshon, POB 35199, Jerusalem 91351, Bank Mizrachi (20); Branch 458, Account Number: 193553
BAT MELECH (religious women’s shelter) POB 41247, Jerusalem 91412, Bank Mizrachi, Branch 403, Account Number: 403327
KEREN OHEL MEIR (children’s shelter) POB 16372, Jerusalem, Bank Leumi. Branch 766 Account Number: 10227/64.