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illustration by Edwin Lee

SONGS capture moments, and moments are a cocktail of happenstance, musings, grit and emotions — which collectively defines “what” we’ve done, “who” we are, and “where” we’re headed. And over time, we curate a meaningful soundtrack to our lives — comprised of songs that capture these defining moments.

Let me share a track from my personal soundtrack — Miike Snow A Horse Is Not A Home. It evokes early May mornings running alongside Tel Aviv Beach — the smell of the crisp Mediterranean Sea, powder-fine texture of Israeli sand, and slow escalating commotion of a city collectively waking up. This isn’t the recount of a recent business-related excursion or that of a birthright trip to the Holy Land. Rather, a Kellogg global elective. During the 2nd year of the EMBA program, students can complete electives abroad (and urged) at a Kellogg partner school — this particular elective was at the Tel Aviv University Recanati Business School.

Israel is a place like no other — steeped in Biblical history clashing with modern sensibilities. Moreover, its epicenter, Tel Aviv, is a patchwork of modernist Bauhaus appeal coupled with the dodginess of New York in the 80s, and its half-million residents exudes the neighborhood quaintness of a long-forgotten Brooklyn absent of Williamsburg hipsters and when Dodgers roamed Ebbets Fields.

Most importantly, Israel has been coined “Start-up Nation” for their entrepreneurial spirit and cadre of successful technology start-ups — most recently exhibited by Facebook’s $100M acquisition of the Israeli facial recognition start-up As a result, the 62-year-old nation with a population equal to the State of Virginia has emerged as a model of entrepreneurialism that countries (at all stages of development) covet and feverously attempt to replicate. As an economist, I applaud their savvy ability to supercharge the neoclassical growth model (known to macro-nerds as the Solow-Swan Growth Model), which implies: Technological Progress has a multiplier effect on the two principle drivers of economic growth – Capital and Labor. As a result, by focusing on increasing their economy’s “technology” quotient, the Israeli’s have been able to garner greater productivity out of both their physical infrastructure and population of 7.3 million; hence, Israeli technology start-ups attract more venture capital dollars per person than any country in the world and the economy boasts a standard of living comparable to their European and American counterparts.

I imagine the band of G20 finance ministers and central bankers kickin’ it at a Labor Day barbeque blasting Jay-Z’s A Star is Born applauding Israel’s meteoric rise to economic prominence (Everyday a star is born / Clap for ‘em / Clap for ‘em / Clap for ‘em / Hey), and providing a sustainable growth blueprint for young upstart nations with global ambitions. The Philadelphia-based dee jay Diplo defined it best, “Maybe it’s the mandatory military service in the most volatile area of the world, but Israeli kids party like there’s no tomorrow. They’re absolutely manic.” In sum, Diplo was attempting to describe Chutzpah — unabashingly ferocious tenacity coupled with unadulterated abandon that gives you the distinct feeling something special is about to happen.

SIMILAR to the EMP 86 cohort, the Kellogg-Recanati (KR15) cohort consists of extraordinary talents — comprised of Israelis, Arabs and Muslims. Yes! One would imagine Israelis and Palestinians sharing the same classroom would erupt into a West Side Story musical number with a well-choreographed knife-fight. But, contrary to the socio-political drama featured on Fox News and CNN, the KR15 cohort exude a collaborative partnership and mutual fondness that transcends stark cultural and political divides — not to suggest folks don’t have their differences — that is absent in today’s politics and public discourse.

One of the most vivid illustrations of transcendence occurred when the Palestinian students from the KR15 cohort organized a day trip to Bethlehem and dinner in Ramallah, both cities under Palestinian Authority. And since Israeli law forbids Israeli citizens to enter Palestinian-controlled territory unless they receive governmental approval, the Israeli KR15 students were discouraged (and forbidden) to attend. But, as I shuffled onto the tour bus with my fellow Americans — and Kellogg cohorts from Canada, Latin America, Europe and Asia — we were joined by three Israeli KR15 classmates, who refused to be told they couldn’t break bread with their friends. Chutzpah at its finest!

Whether it’s a night out or the launch of a new venture, Israel’s next generation warrants our attention and admiration.  And to an equal extent, the rising tide of Palestine’s 21st century business pioneers are not only savvy business minds; but also the engine that will build that nation and improve the lot of the Palestinian people. Clap for ‘em / Clap for ‘em / Clap for ‘em / Hey — just added another track to my personal catalogue.