By Kathy Kemper – 06/18/10 08:52 AM ET
Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., spoke at last Friday’s IFE/INFO Public Policy Roundtable in front of about 40 guests, including reporters from CNN and several major media outlets. Although he devoted most of his talk to addressing the major challenges facing Israel — Iranian nuclearization, Hamas rockets and so on — one of the most fascinating parts of his remarks involved Israeli youth.
One of our IFE journalism interns asked him how Israeli youth deal with the pressure of living in a country that’s under the constant threat of being attacked.
His answer? They’ve got really great rock music. Oren pointed to Israel’s rich rock ‘n’ roll community — a genre of music synonymous with youthful and vibrant self-expression.
On a serious note, they have a highly unusual upbringing. Israeli youths maximize their formative years reveling in fun and adventure because each must enlist in the Israeli army at age 18. Men join for an average of three years, women for two. Because of the stress that they endure during that time — who wouldn’t be stressed when the Iranian president is threatening to wipe your country off of the map? — they usually don’t head straight to college after their army service, instead of traveling for a year or two. In America, of course, our teenagers are worried about SAT scores and college applications more than mortars.
As a result, it’s not unusual to have Israelis start their freshman year of college when they’re 25 or 26 — considerably older than their American counterparts, but also more mature and entrepreneurial on account of their army service. Indeed, Israel has more patents and Nobel Laureates per capita than any other country in the world, in large part, Oren and others argue, because Israelis learn business insights on the battlefield at such a young age. They learn to innovate, take risks and be self-reliant. Israeli youth feel far less pressure to rush their academic careers. Each of Israel’s five universities is ranked among the top 500 in the world, and all Israeli kids are accepted to at least one of these institutions. Oren thinks time spent on the front lines of a seemingly endless conflict provides a sense of perspective about enjoying life, freedom and rock ‘n’ roll.
Israel may not be the most normal place to grow up, but it’s certainly one of the most electric and rewarding. When suicide bombings against Israel began to ramp up after 2000, Oren and his wife asked their kids if they had been wrong to move to Israel and raise them there. Unscripted, their children replied: “Mom and Dad, raising us in Israel was the greatest blessing you could’ve given us.”