|David Blatt, Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv’s winning head coach, is heading for the NBA…|
David Blatt just announced his departure as head coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv, AFTER winning the European basketball championship! This comes at a day when Stanley Fischer, Israel’s former bank of Israel governor has been approved to the number two position in the US FED. It may not seem like big news anywhere else but here in Tel Aviv. For decades, Israel has seen a steady brain drain to the US. At first in low level science and business circles. But recently it has also been in the very top ranks. Israelis do not speak easily when it comes to “yordim” (literally in Hebrew: going down, like to Egypt, or as opposite from “olim” going up TO ISRAEL). In the last Nobel prize (2013) announcement, Arieh Washel and Michael Levitt, two former Israelis were trumpeted as big ISRAELI success stories, both originally from here, yet making their homes, and somewhat embarrassingly, their successful contribution, away from here. Prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu, was featured on news channels proudly congratulating one of the winners. But the other, chose not to be associated with his former state, saying simply that early in his career, after graduating from the Weizmann Institute of Science, he was not seen as a possible (i.e. good enough) candidate to stay and research in his field, and therefore not awarded a tenure track position. Both scientists clearly told the sad story of leaving Israel in order to research in a top rank university. Both were reluctant to leave Israel but essentially told the same old story: “we did not see the opportunity in Israel, so we went off to another place… “.
Israelis are not exactly proud of people who leave and then “make good” away from here. Israelis are also not very forgiving to the ones who leave and then come back, or ones which simply go away and live a quiet life without achieving great success. Leaving Israel, for any reason, is not an experience befitting of traditional Zionist values. If one leaves and comes back somewhat successful, most people take it as somewhat acceptable. But all this talk about where it’s “good” to be a Jew or a Zionist, or a “good Jewish Zionist scientist” (or is it a basketball coach or a federal bank governor?) seems pointless in our time. In the past, you could make an argument for Israeli professionals held back by a few years. Israeli scientific and business organizations are smaller than most American and European ones. Israel is also isolated from Europe and Asia, with some better access to Africa. Some middle east states such as Jordan and Egypt attempt collaboration with Israeli professionals, but at best these are small effort mostly pushed by government agencies (i.e. agriculture, tourism, resources/water). But today, many organizations, both governmental (i.e. universities and research labs), and private (i.e. private donors) attempt to find suitable positions to top rank professionals. But as Blatt and Fischer have done, this is not always possible.
Back to the David Blatt and Stanley Fischer story. There is good news. Israelis who achieved a tangible milestone on a professional or regional scale are no longer just local heroes. They are noticed in other places and can (and do) go to better or more rewarding positions. The ones with fresh ideas and potential are also able to go out and obtain better conditions “over there”. For David Blatt, the NBA can offer a coaching position with better pay, and potential to eventually become a head coach or a manager at a top team. His potential depends more on his ability to perform and win, or as they say in sports: good luck. In Israel Blatt simply went as far as he can go. Stanley Fischer is another story. After navigating Israel through some of the toughest economic times in decades, he certainly seems like a capable monetary policy manager. Israel has a small economy, but certainly one which competes on a global scale. Fischer could have chosen to retire quietly, take a top position at a university, or even take a position at one of Israel’s financial companies. But he chose his own way. The ability of Israelis to fit into many situations around the world is not new, this is what Nobel prize laureates Washel and Levitt have proven. A few, well trained, and motivated individuals, who do not feel appreciated here, simply pick-up and go. This situation also brings some fame and fortune to Israel in the long run. David Blatt came to play in minor teams. For him it was comfortable way to get started, somewhat equivalent to playing and then coaching second tier college in the US. For Stanley Fischer, it was a way to be the top man in a smaller game. Oh, and stop making fun of their heavy American accented Hebrew, lots of great people spoke Hebrew with an accent until their last day. And did ti proudly. We didn’t make fun of them (at least not all the time).