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Seeding Israel

May 9, 2009 | by Tefilla Buxbaum

For Jon Medved, cofounder of a leading venture capital fund, Israel is the center stage and he wants to be a player.

Jon Medved is the co-founder of Israel Seed Partners, a leading venture capital fund in Israel that has funded over 50 new companies, generating over a thousand jobs in the Israeli economy. caught up with Jon recently and discussed his life, family and his connection to Judaism and Israel What is your Jewish background? How were you raised?

Medved: I grew up in Los Angeles California in the 60's, which in general means secular and quite assimilated. Yet in our family we were "traditional" and were quite committed to making kiddush on Friday night and having a Shabbat meal. Later, I would go out and party with my buddies. We had a very strong family life.

Jon Medved

My parent's both came from Orthodox homes and though we weren't raised religious, my father couldn't bring himself to set foot in the reform shul that was close to our house because it was so unlike what he knew. I was sent to Hebrew school, which I hated and resented. I looked at my bar mitzvah as finishing a jail sentence. I did learn to read Hebrew, however, which gave me a head start in becoming fluent later in life. My parents wanted me to get involved with Jewish groups but being Jewish was not on my agenda at all. How has that changed? Who are you now?

Medved: Now I view myself as religious, a committed Jew. Yet, I still see myself on a path – a slow but steady path. I don't believe its normal for people to wake up one day and suddenly become completely religious. That's not for me. It takes time to change. It's been a very gradual, slow process.

I started reading my first Jewish books in college. I have had many people in my life including rabbis and teachers who have greatly influenced me. My brothers and father became religious and my wife's family also became religious. When we got married and moved to California, we moved close to my family so we wanted to keep a kosher home for them. We stopped driving on Shabbat and slowly Shabbat became part of our life.

We lived in Venice, California, which was a wonderful community. A very accepting community. That was a big part of it. No one made you feel weird because you were on a different level of observance. The turning point for me was when Rabbi Lapin, the Rabbi of our community one day told me he had a guest for me to take home to my Shabbat table – his Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi David Mishkovsky of Yeshivat Kenneset Hezekiah in Kfar Hassidim. That one act was a statement of acceptance of me, my family, our kashrut, and this effected me profoundly.

One should not view Judaism as an "all or nothing" deal.

Rabbi Lapin and I have had a important relationship that continues to this day. He explained that in order to become an observant Jew, you should not necessarily have to immediately view Judaism as an "all or nothing" deal. The idea that you have to right away buy into the whole package or buy none of it is what keeps many people away from returning to traditional observance.

He often compared this attitude towards Judaism to attitudes towards exercise. Everyone knows you should really exercise an hour a day. Does that mean that if you can't do all of that, right away then you shouldn't start exercising at all? Judaism is the same. You just start somewhere, and begin to grow and add on as you learn and grow. Support from the community, rabbi's and teachers is crucial. Where does the Zionism and burning desire to help Israel come from?

Medved: My parents and my uncle were the major influences in that regard. When I was in college, my parents would only pay for a trip to Israel so that is where I went. Israel made an incredible impression on me and was a remarkable, life changing experience. I loved it here.

The other factor was my campus experience. I was an activist on campus and very involved in political campaigns and the left of center politics at Berkeley which was also a hotbed of anti-Israel activities. When the 1973 war broke out, Berkeley became a war zone. My Jewish friends and I got together and we organized the Jewish students on campus to help Israel.

Then the UN resolution equating Zionism with racism happened. I barely finished the semester because I was so involved in defending Israel and organizing Jewish kids on campus.

My best years were when I was working for AZYF, the American Zionist Youth Foundation. They offered me $600 a month, a broken down car and my job was to go to campuses throughout the West Coast and organize the few Jewish activists on campus and build a Jewish presence with literature, events, Shabbat dinners, etc. Even though I was myself learning about Judaism and Israel, it was a great feeling to be making an impact on these campuses that were in the middle of nowhere. I was privileged to watch campus Zionism become a movement throughout the country. What are you most proud of in your life?

Medved: My family, my wife, and children. My kids are all great kids and are doing great things. My oldest son Momo volunteers each week for Mogen David Adom, the ambulance service in Israel. He also represented Israel in Germany on a debate team that just won the European championships. My second sone, Yossi, is a rock climber, plays sax, and gives great divrei Torah. My third son, Itamar, is an artist, a pianist and a fanatic about strategy games. My wonderful daughter Nina is into singing, dancing, reading and bringing joy to the world. What role does your wife play in your success?

Medved: My wife, Jane, is responsible for everything that is good in my life. We have a great relationship and she is the glue that holds it all together. I get to be wild and moving at a million miles an hour, and she is always focused, rock solid, and the spiritual anchor for our household and the one that keeps it all going. She bears most of the credit for our children and is the conduit for whatever blessing has come into my life. She is my "aizer kenegdo," my help mate and I couldn't do any of this without her. Keeping up with her is a challenge, always exciting and very fulfilling. How do you balance family and career?

Medved: Whenever my wife calls, no matter whom I am speaking with or meeting with, I'll try and drop everything to take her call (even though she may not think so). My kids know that they always can call also but they really don't abuse it.

I'm glad we have Shabbat. Without it I would have lost my mind long ago. I wish there were another day off in the week here in Israel. I really miss Sundays. Everyone is so busy with their own things all week long. School, after school activities, work. We do go away each year for family vacations. I think that is very important. Also, being self-employed allows me the flexibility to be there when my family needs me. How many hours do you work a day?

Medved: About 12. It varies and it's flexible. I don't work completely crazy hours, like I used to, although I still enjoy the occasional all-nighter. I like to have fun also. How did you get started in high tech?

Medved: My father is a physicist and developed fiber optics systems in California. I took him to a business meeting here in Israel and he there lured me into the "family business". I raised for him his first venture capital, and I ended up going back to California to work with my Dad for only "a year or two" in order to learn and develop the company. It actually took me six years (and three kids) before Jane and I could return to Israel after we sold the company to Amoco. How did you start Israel Seed Partners?

Medved: I teamed up with my partner, Neil Cohen in 1994 and from my garage we would try to find high tech start-ups to develop from scratch.

We found some early investors and Israel Seed Partners was born in 1995. Michael Eisenberg joined us shortly thereafter. We initially raised $2 million dollars to invest. Today, we have $260 million dollars of which we have already invested about half that sum. High tech in Israel has been fantastic and has a promising future. What are you doing now during this high tech slow down?

Jews in general, and Israelis in particular, have an unquenchable desire to create.

Medved: Strange though it may seem, even though investment worldwide has decreased, Israel's share of the market has increased. Last year (2002) there was $1.2 billion invested in Israeli venture backed startups. This was actually ten percent of the US total of $12 billion. The entrepreneurial drive and zeal in Jews, doesn't stop. Jewish people in general, and Israelis in particular, have an unquenchable desire to create.

There is still much room left for technology entrepreneurship. The next 20 years will be as good if not better, than the last 20 years, though we will not ever see a return to the golden days of the "bubble." I am sure Israel will play a major role in this ongoing technology revolution and I hope, to be part of it at Israel Seed We are just at the "end of the beginning" rather than the "beginning of the end" for high tech. How many jobs has Israel Seed brought to Israel?

Medved: It's hard to say exactly. The companies we have helped to start have at one point employed a few thousand people. Unfortunately today they employing far less than they did two years ago. There are more than 50 companies that have been started with Israel Seed's help. Is Israel Seed your last project?

Medved: I am still young, but I plan to be with Israel Seed for the long haul. My father who is now 75 made aliyah and started another successful company when he was 65. I'm only 47! Anything you would have done differently?

Medved: Yes. I would have learned more. Many of my colleagues make appropriate time for learning daily. I would like to do more of that. Are your children following in your footsteps?

Medved: It's hard to tell. They are all independent and involved in a myriad of things, good things and I'm really proud of all of them. They are proud Israelis and want to build the country which really makes me happy. What makes you cry?

Medved: When I see that Israel is still fighting the same battle today that we were fighting 30 years ago, and 50 years ago, and 100 years ago. This is a battle for legitimacy. It's hard to deal with the fact that people still question Israel's right to exist and justify Arab terror. On campuses in America it is worse today than it was when I was an activist 30 years ago. I think that until recently the Jewish community has failed to really focus on how this battle can be won.

Aish HaTorah recently hosted a mission of 105 top students in Israel called the Hasbara Fellowships to teach students the truth about the situation, and the tools to fight back. Aish asked me to speak to them. I was really impressed with the quality of students and the program.

First we have to educate the Jewish people, especially our young people and then the rest of the world will find out what is really going on in Israel. If you lived abroad today, what would you do for Israel?

Medved: I would come and visit regularly and I would send my kids here to study and travel. I would invest in Israel. I would be involved in writing letters to the editors, TV stations, etc., who have an anti-Israel bias. It's not enough to send a check anymore. You have to have a personal connection with Israel and renew it all the time.

The Jewish drama is being played out here in Israel. I want to be on stage, not watching from the audience.

If people are worried about safety, just take a look around the world. Nowhere is really safe anymore, yet you can't stay indoors and worry. You have to have some faith. It's a sad fact that most Jews have never even been to Israel. We have to end this Jewish boycott of travel to Israel. Birthright and other programs that are bringing lots of people here now are to be congratulated and encouraged. Are you happy living in Israel?

Medved: The center of Jewish life is here. The Jewish drama is being played out here and I want to be on stage, not watching from the audience. Israel is our land; we have a good life and a lot of fun here. The Torah learning, the people, the schools, the sense of purpose, are all unequal to anywhere else. This clearly is where Jewish history is being written. I wouldn't change places with anyone, anywhere in the world.

People ask me if I'm afraid or worried. Sure I worry. I wouldn't be Jewish if I didn't. But ultimately you must put your faith in God. And I can tell you that I feel a lot better worrying here on the front lines than anywhere else.

The people I work with, my partners, the entrepreneurs, the soldiers, the old guys in my shul, the policemen, the housewives, the teachers, the soldiers – are all heroes. They all give me strength to keep going. There are more Jewish heroes in Israel now than ever before. There is no place else I would rather be. Life in Israel has turned out as a wonderful choice. Israel has been very good to me and my family, and I have much to be thankful for.


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