On chutzpah

My second month-long trip in Israel is over soon and I’m glad I read the “Start-up nation” before coming here. In it, authors explain the meaning of “chutzpah” right in the beginning of the book so that readers can grasp the attribute of Israeli mentality which is most relevant to the country’s entrepreneurial success.

I went on to explore how people in the startup ecosystem understand the word and almost everyone I asked told me the same thing. “Chutzpah means rude, to put it simply, but it also has a second meaning which is going after what you want and finding your way around obsticles.” Another explanation was: “Chutzpah is that thing about Israeli people that they may come off as inconsiderate because they really don’t care what others think. In positive terms, it means that when Tim Cook shows up at a party with all his entourage, an Israeli will come up to him and pitch his startup right there without worrying about the outcomes.”

As I, and certainly others before me have observed, chutzpah in the realm of Israel’s startup scene equals survival mode “ON”. It isn’t simply a way to bring ideas, ambitions and business plans forward — it is ingrained in Israeli society to survive, for obvious geographical, historical and political reasons.

In Central Europe, where I come from, the majority of people have little acceptance of chutzpah. I’m sure few would openly vocalise neglect, but most people consider it’s demonstration ridiculous if not outright ignorant. The historical reasons for this are at least as obvious as the ones leading to why it holds value in Israel. I believe it would only add to our progress if we’d learn to embrace opportunity in an open and straightforward manner as the Israelis — not something we’ve been historically prone to do (and something many of our collective complexes are rooted in).

But there’s also another, more poignant and obscure link between chutzpah and the place I call home. Immigrants and refugees coming to our region (fleeing countries in conflict with Israel, for that matter) left a hostile situation for a better future in survival mode “ON”. What strikes me as ignorant is the extent to which we’re unable to stand up for what might not be the most convenient but definitely the most natural thing to do — accept others’ will to survive (just as countries which accepted our emmigrants before, during and after the war/fall of regime). The entire world talks about Eastern Europe lacking empathy. In addition to that, I think, we are lacking elementary respect and gratitude for freedom — freedom of expression and freedom to choose a better living.

Just like having chutzpah, it is only human to want to survive.

We forgot too soon.