Non­fic­tion

To the Moon on a Plas­tic Bot­tle: The Sto­ry Behind Israel’s Start-Up Babies

Dan Raviv and Linor Bar-El

  • Review
By – June 22, 2020

Israel’s rep­u­ta­tion as a pow­er­house of tech­ni­cal inno­va­tion has, in recent years, won the respect of the world. Many Israeli start-ups have become wild­ly suc­cess­ful and have been sold to or merged with inter­na­tion­al busi­ness­es to great prof­it. Count­less new ideas, nur­tured in these incu­ba­tors have evolved into every­day items in today’s mar­ket­place. A hall­mark of the Israeli start-up is the young entre­pre­neur who, with a bright idea and a small bud­get man­ages to invent, cre­ate, or devel­op some­thing unex­pect­ed and fascinating.

Dan Raviv and Linor Bar-El exam­ine some of the rea­sons for this extra­or­di­nary rate of suc­cess. They focus, in par­tic­u­lar, on three young Israelis, Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari, and Yonatan Wein­traub who were behind the devel­op­ment of Project Beresheet, Israel’s mis­sion to the moon which was launched in April 2019. The orig­i­nal idea, con­ceived by Bash, was to use a plas­tic bot­tle as a small space­ship and, although the basic plan grew more com­plex as it evolved, Beresheet ulti­mate­ly reached the moon in a dra­mat­ic crash land­ing which gave the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty a pletho­ra of data and remains a source of pride for the entire Israeli pop­u­la­tion, most notably the coun­try’s young peo­ple. Bash, Damari, and Wein­traub have become heroes in their eyes.

Raviv and Bar-El explore this cul­ture of inno­va­tion and look for clues as to why Israel has an abun­dance of start-ups. They enu­mer­ate sev­er­al rea­sons, among them a sur­vival cul­ture based on Israel’s con­flicts, manda­to­ry ser­vice in the IDF, and a respect for Israel’s secu­ri­ty orga­ni­za­tions, all of which fos­ter indi­vid­ual think­ing and a can-do atti­tude. The edu­ca­tion­al sys­tem and the ubiq­ui­tous youth move­ments also breed a spir­it of inquiry and an opti­mistic feel­ing that absolute­ly any­thing can be achieved. Israel boasts tech­nol­o­gy camps and fairs geared to young peo­ple and there is immense sup­port for inno­v­a­tive ideas and research trans­mit­ted by schools, uni­ver­si­ties, and oth­er insti­tu­tions. And, of course, there are investors who are will­ing to take a chance on an ener­getic per­son who wants to fol­low through on an untest­ed idea and dogged­ly pur­sue it, shep­herd­ing it through all the phas­es of its devel­op­ment until a tan­gi­ble prod­uct mate­ri­al­izes. The authors spec­u­late that there may also be some­thing in the his­to­ry of the world-wide Jew­ish expe­ri­ence which gives many an extra push and the moti­va­tion need­ed to persevere.

An intro­duc­tion pro­vides the basic back­ground and his­to­ry of the region and the text is accom­pa­nied by col­or pho­tographs of Beresheet and its devel­op­ers includ­ing a num­ber of self­ies Beresheet sent back to Earth before its crash land­ing. These pic­tures evoke a sense of pride, promi­nent­ly dis­play­ing the words on the space­craft Small Coun­try, Big Dreams and proud­ly dis­play­ing the image of Israeli flag.

The book is easy to read and sophis­ti­cat­ed con­cepts are pre­sent­ed in an acces­si­ble man­ner. It reads like sus­pense­ful fic­tion as it smooth­ly trans­mits com­plex ideas. Peo­ple who love sci­ence will be fas­ci­nat­ed, peo­ple who love busi­ness will be intrigued, peo­ple who love his­to­ry will be cap­ti­vat­ed, and peo­ple who aren’t par­tic­u­lar­ly excit­ed by any of the above will be filled with enthu­si­asm for all of them by the time they fin­ish this book. 

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and chil­dren’s book reviews. She has lec­tured on a vari­ety of top­ics relat­ing to chil­dren and books and her great­est joy is read­ing to her grand­chil­dren on both sides of the ocean. Michal lives in Great Neck, NY and Efrat, Israel.

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