Promise in Nazareth

Ahmad Sheikh Muhammad, Arab Community Programs Director at PresenTense, with Launch Night program booklet; photo courtesy PresenTense Israel.
Ahmad Sheikh Muhammad, Arab Community Programs Director at PresenTense, with Launch Night program booklet; photo courtesy PresenTense Israel.

by Sarah Kass

A wicked son asks, “If it’s so tough for Israel in the Middle East, can’t the Jewish people just move to Montana, where no one would care what they do?”

To him you might say, “The character of the Jewish people is nourished by the character of the land they were promised – a land small in territory, scarce in natural resources, and sitting at the junction of continents and civilizations. A territory short in length and in breadth prohibits degrees of separation and makes possible personal bonds of infinite depth. A land lacking natural resources requires the flourishing of human resources. A country sitting at the apex of global thoroughfares can connect to and recombine the best of everywhere. In short, the geography of Israel makes possible the generosity, creativity and the tribal-universalism of the Jewish people. This people would not be this people in Montana.”

A wise daughter asks, “Does the Hebrew word ‘Zion’ share the same root as the Greek word ‘Xenia’ – hospitality toward the stranger?”

To her you might say, “Yes. Zionism is not only the Jewish people’s aspiration to live in their promised land, it is the Jewish people’s calling to do so honoring the Torah’s 36-fold insistence on their duty to the stranger. We Jews are Zionists – xenophiles – because we Jews know what it means to be strangers in xenophobic lands. Indeed, the founders of the modern State of Israel instantiated this understanding of Zionism into Israel’s Declaration of Independence, establishing Israel ‘for the benefit of all its inhabitants … without distinction of race, creed or sex.’”

Eight years ago, two young Zionists dreamed a dream of unleashing the creative potential of the Jewish people. The two – Aharon Horwitz and Ariel Beery – called their dream PresenTense, and built it as a kind of inside-out synagogue. Rather than the tried and true shul-way of inviting members to come enhance their spiritually in a physical place, theirs was to be a network inviting the creative spirit of each of its members to enhance one another, his people, her homeland, and our world.

Monday night, Ariel and Aharon’s PresenTense demonstrated that the answers to the wicked son’s and wise daughter’s questions are not just pipe-dreams. For it was launch night at nazTech. Based in Nazareth, this latest node in the PreseTense network is unleashing the creativity in the Arab community of Israel. The first cohort of young Arab Israeli innovators – with their visions to connect patients to their personal medical data, to use technology to combat chronic disease, to build a platform to connect strangers globally around shared interests, to bring live traffic data to local authorities to inform practical transportation solutions, to gamify 21st century skills for kids, and to help chip-designers reduce ‘soft errors’ – embody the unique characteristics of what it means to people this particular place, and what happens when Zionism is Xenia, and realizes its calling to treat the ‘stranger’ as an equal.

Thank you, Aharon and Ariel, for unleashing not only the creative potential of so many young people, but for helping Israel come closer to re-establishing itself as a land of great promise.

Sarah Kass served on the founding board of PresenTense.

nazTech, the first accelerator for Arab entrepreneurs in Israel, is an initiative of PresenTense Israel, the Nazareth Business Incubator Center and Cisco.