20VC Israeli Resilience From Tech and Beyond with Michael Eisenberg and Adi Levanon



Harry Stebbings hosts a critical episode on 20 VC, addressing the dire situation in Israel with guests Michael Eisenberg, co-founder of Aleph, and Addie Lavanon, founder and managing partner at Stellar Ventures. The conversation begins with personal accounts of safety and loss amid the violence, with Michael revealing the impact on his family, including the death of a cousin. The discussion then shifts to the broader implications of the conflict, with over 1,100 Israelis affected, drawing parallels to the magnitude of 9/11 in the U.S. The guests highlight the mobilization of the Israeli tech community in response to the crisis, demonstrating resilience and solidarity as they pivot from business to supporting the war effort, including arranging flights for reservists and sourcing equipment. They address misconceptions about Israel's intentions, emphasizing the desire for peace and the moral imperative to defend against terrorism. The episode concludes with an appeal for global support against anti-Semitism and a call to action for humanity to reject barbarism and embrace life's joys, as exemplified by a couple who held their wedding on the Gaza border amidst the conflict.

Summary Notes

Introduction to the Episode

  • Harry Stebings emphasizes the importance of the episode in light of the devastating situation in Israel.
  • Guests are Michael Eisenberg, co-founder of Aleph, and Addie Lavanon, founder and managing partner at Stellar Ventures.
  • The episode skips introductions to focus on the discussion about the crisis in Israel.

"Welcome back to 20 VC with me, Harry Stebings. And this is likely the most important episode that we've ever done here on 20 VC."

This quote sets the tone for the episode, stressing the gravity of the situation in Israel and the need for urgent discussion.

Concern for Family Safety

  • Michael Eisenberg reports his family is safe, but two sons and a son-in-law have been called to reserve duty, and one son-in-law was previously wounded.
  • Addie Lavanon expresses relief that her family is safe but acknowledges the emotional toll, especially on her young child.

"My family is safe. I have two sons who've been called up to reserve duty. My son in law was called up yesterday."

Michael Eisenberg confirms his family's safety and highlights the personal impact of the conflict with his sons and son-in-law being called to duty.

Current Situation in Israel

  • Addie Lavanon provides a statistical comparison to convey the magnitude of the crisis.
  • Michael Eisenberg adds that over 100 foreigners and Israelis are held captive by Hamas.
  • The entire country is mobilized, with widespread reserve duty affecting Israeli society.

"At this point, the equivalent in size of this massacre that's being done obviously is about over 25,000 Americans, which is eight times 911."

Addie Lavanon uses a comparison to 9/11 to illustrate the severity of the situation in Israel, emphasizing the scale of the conflict.

Reserve Duty and Military Response

  • Michael Eisenberg explains the process of being called to reserve duty and the immediate mobilization of his sons.
  • The discussion highlights the personal sacrifices and the emotional strain on families during mobilization.

"So on Saturday morning in Jerusalem at eight something, the air raid sirens went off... and our boys, one who's in standing military service and another one who's in reserve duty, got immediate messages."

This quote describes the urgency and immediacy of the call to reserve duty, showing the direct impact on Michael Eisenberg's family.

Emotional Impact and Resilience

  • Michael Eisenberg discusses the emotional challenges faced by soldiers and their families.
  • The conversation touches on the determination and resilience of Israelis in the face of terror and the role of technology in the conflict.

"It's not easy, and it's not easy for them. It's really not easy for their wives and loved ones... But you got to do what you got to do."

Michael Eisenberg reflects on the emotional difficulties for soldiers and their families, underlining the sense of duty that compels them to serve despite personal fears and losses.

The Tech Community's Role

  • Addie Lavanon highlights the efforts of the tech community in organizing flights and resources to support the country during the conflict.
  • The commitment of the Israeli tech community is showcased as a crucial part of the national response.

"The work that's being done, actually by far by the tech community, to be honest, it's just unbelievable the amount of people that are working on the back end to make sure that flights are coming out from New York, from LA, from all these different locations with the necessary equipment."

Addie Lavanon points out the proactive role of the Israeli tech community in facilitating the return of reservists and providing logistical support during the crisis.

Resilience and Tenacity of Israeli People and Founders

  • Israeli founders and people are known for their resilience and tenacity, which is deeply embedded in their DNA.
  • The Israeli tech community is actively involved in supporting the country during times of need, including purchasing necessary equipment and coordinating rescue efforts.
  • The current situation has led to founders and CEOs directly contributing to the front lines, showcasing their commitment beyond their business roles.
  • The community's response to the crisis is seen as a testament to their strong moral values and prioritization of societal needs over business metrics.

"And when we say Israeli founders have resilience and tenacity, it's just the Israeli people. The DNA here is like nothing I have ever seen."

This quote emphasizes the inherent resilience and tenacity of the Israeli people, suggesting that these traits are not limited to founders but are a characteristic of the wider population.

Investment in Resilient Societies

  • In unstable times, investors look to back resilient individuals and communities.
  • The Israeli tech community's response to crises is seen as a reason for increased future investment in Israel.
  • Resilience, creativity, and quick adaptation are qualities that attract investment, especially in uncertain times.
  • The actions of the tech community in times of crisis are seen as enhancing Israel's reputation for resilience.

"In unstable times, you want to invest in the most resilient people."

This quote reflects the investment philosophy that prioritizes backing resilient individuals, which is particularly relevant in the context of the Israeli tech community's response to crises.

Impact on Companies during Reserves Call-up

  • Companies are affected when a significant portion of their workforce is called up for reserve duty.
  • The Israeli tech community has responded by creating a network of volunteers to support startups in need.
  • Despite personal challenges, CEOs and co-founders continue to work and manage their responsibilities both in their companies and in their personal lives.
  • The community's unity and mutual support are highlighted, especially in the face of unprecedented challenges.

"I had two kind of founders who have teams in Israel, and both of them said a third of our team from the R&D team has now been called up."

This quote presents a practical challenge faced by companies when a substantial part of their workforce is required to serve in reserves, impacting their operations.

Community Support and Solidarity

  • The Israeli tech community is tightly knit, often described as a family, with a strong sense of mutual support and solidarity.
  • The community comes together to provide assistance, whether through volunteering or other means of support.
  • Tragedies affecting individuals within the community have a ripple effect, as many people are interconnected.
  • This sense of family extends to the broader societal level, with people helping out in various capacities beyond their professional roles.

"Everybody knows somebody, and in many cases, everyone has a family member."

This quote conveys the close connections within the Israeli tech community, highlighting how personal tragedies are felt collectively.

Balancing Work with Crisis Response

  • Fund managers and entrepreneurs are struggling to balance their professional responsibilities with the immediate needs of the crisis.
  • There is an understanding that during such times, the focus shifts to family and community, with work taking a secondary role.
  • The ongoing situation has led to changes in plans, with fundraising and business travel being postponed or adapted.
  • The tech community is actively involved in ensuring business continuity and economic stability, even as they deal with personal and national challenges.

"I have not yet closed the fund. But we're almost there. 76% of the fund committed."

This quote illustrates the tension between continuing business operations and addressing the crisis, with the speaker acknowledging the difficulty in focusing on fundraising during such a time.

Maintaining Economic Activity

  • Despite the crisis, there is a necessity to keep the economy running, with efforts being made to ensure supermarkets and other essential services continue to function.
  • The tech community is also ensuring that business operations are maintained, with contingency plans in place for portfolio companies.
  • Companies are adapting to the situation by relocating some staff and leveraging technology to support rescue efforts.
  • Investment activities continue, with capital calls and closings taking place despite the challenges posed by the crisis.

"So you still need to keep an economy running."

This quote highlights the practical need to maintain economic activity and support the functioning of essential services during times of crisis.

Response to Crisis and Civic Resilience

  • Michael Eisenberg emphasizes the urgency and adaptability of Israeli officials in times of crisis, like ensuring salaries are paid during wartime.
  • There's a collective effort to keep the economy running and to overcome current challenges.
  • Eisenberg expresses a belief in Israel's potential to become a "garden of Eden" for technology and humanity.
  • He acknowledges the hardships ahead but maintains a sense of hope and determination.

"We got to keep working. We got to keep the economy. It's hard. It's brutal. And none of us are sleeping. I promise you, nobody's sleeping. I'm exhausted, but invigorate. We're going to beat this and we're going to come back, and this is going to become a garden of Eden for technology and humanity and civic resilience and how the world becomes a much better place."

This quote reflects Eisenberg's resolve to continue working through the crisis and his vision for a future where Israel thrives as a hub for technology and societal strength.

Global Community's Response

  • Michael Eisenberg praises the political and tech leadership from various countries and companies for their support and condemnation of violence.
  • He criticizes certain academic institutions and parts of the political left for their anti-Semitic views and lack of support.
  • Eisenberg urges all decent people, regardless of their background, to speak up against evil and support those fighting against terrorism and hate.

"So maybe I'm going to address this for a second. I think the response from the political leadership of the UK, of France, of Germany, of Austria, of the United States in particular, has been stunning, incredible of the tech leadership of Satya Nadella, of Sundar at Google, has been astounding and has been correct and forceful in condemning the animalistic barbarian behavior of Hamas and the terror that they brought incredible."

Eisenberg appreciates the strong and forceful condemnation of violence from global political and tech leaders, highlighting their support as critical during the crisis.

Support for Israel and Condemnation of Violence

  • Addie Lavanon notes an unprecedented level of support for Israel from individuals and organizations.
  • Lavanon encourages continued public support against terrorism and highlights the importance of acknowledging those who bravely speak out.
  • There's a need for more global support, recognizing the disproportionate numbers between the Muslim and Jewish populations.

"I do want to point out, though, that I think for the first time, at least, I think ever, I've actually felt more support for Israel than I've ever seen."

Lavanon expresses that the current level of support for Israel is significant and noteworthy, suggesting a positive shift in public sentiment.

The Role of the Tech Community

  • The tech community has shown overwhelming support for Israel, with many venture capital funds signing a supportive letter.
  • The tech sector recognizes Israel's contribution to global innovation and entrepreneurship.
  • There's a call for continued and increased support from the tech community and individuals worldwide.

"There is now a wonderful, supportive letter being posted being signed by, I think now there's 150 different venture capital funds globally that have signed on, from bead VC to upfront to bain to all these wonderful lightspeed, all these wonderful, wonderful VC funds globally that are showing their support."

Lavanon highlights the solidarity shown by the global venture capital community with Israel, emphasizing the importance of this support in the tech industry.

Funding Sources to Hamas

  • Michael Eisenberg admits to not having enough information about Saudi involvement but expresses concern over Qatar's history of funding and enabling Hamas.
  • There's a call for reflection on the influence of certain nations and organizations in funding violent groups.

"I don't have a view on the Saudis, to be perfectly candid. I don't know enough about it. I do have a view on the Qataris. You'll notice, by the way, that all of the major sports leagues in America spoke up against this, but FIFA didn't."

Eisenberg points out the silence of FIFA amidst widespread condemnation from other major sports leagues, suggesting a possible link to Qatar's history of funding Hamas.

Criticism of Academic Institutions

  • Academic institutions have been criticized for their responses to the violence and for showing equivocation.
  • There's a call to reject any form of justification for violence and to maintain a clear moral stance.
  • The discussion points to a broader concern about the moral direction of higher education institutions.

"We cannot have debates on barbarism. We cannot have debates on animalistic behavior, and we can't have nuance on it."

Eisenberg emphasizes that there should be no debate or nuance when it comes to barbarism and violence, critiquing the responses of certain academic institutions for lacking a clear moral stance.

Theme: Responsibility to Act Against Hate

  • The concept of "Never again" extends beyond the Jewish experience, emphasizing a global responsibility to act against hate.
  • Awareness of hate groups and their actions imparts a responsibility to stop them.
  • Inaction or indifference towards hate makes one complicit in the problem.
  • Speaking out against hate is crucial, even if one is not comfortable taking a stance on related political issues.

"If you see it, if you're aware of it, you are responsible to stop it."

This quote underscores the moral obligation to intervene and act when one is aware of hate, reinforcing the theme of responsibility to act against hate.

"And if you're out there and you're part of these groups, or you're aware of them and you're not doing anything to stop them, you're just as bad as the problem itself."

The speaker equates inaction to being part of the problem, emphasizing that awareness demands action against hate.

Theme: Misconceptions About Conflict and Peace

  • There is a misconception that the desire for peace is not mutual among Israelis and Palestinians.
  • The speakers argue that many on both sides want peace and a good life for their children.
  • The speakers believe that actions have consequences, and everyone must be proactive in preventing hate.
  • There is a belief that the conflict is not solely an Israeli or Palestinian issue, but a broader issue affecting Jews globally.

"Many of the Palestinians, unfortunately, not enough, but many of them do want peace."

This quote acknowledges that while not all Palestinians may seek peace, there is a significant portion that does, which is often overlooked in the conversation about the conflict.

"This is not a Israel problem. This is not an Israel Palestinian conflict. This is a jewish problem."

The speaker emphasizes that the conflict should be viewed in a wider context, affecting not just Israel but Jews around the world.

Theme: Taking Threats Seriously

  • The speakers stress the importance of taking threats from groups like Iran and Hamas at face value.
  • There is a concern that people often dismiss hateful rhetoric as bluster rather than recognizing its seriousness.
  • The comparison is made to the business world, where one is expected to trust and act on the words of entrepreneurs.

"When they say, when Iran says they're coming to destroy Israel, take them at the word."

This quote conveys the urgency of treating threats as credible and responding to them accordingly.

"Turns out that people mean what they say. That's a really important lesson."

The speaker highlights the lesson that when people, particularly those with hostile intentions, make statements, they often intend to act on them.

Theme: Humanitarian Efforts and Resilience

  • Israeli society is portrayed as being deeply involved in humanitarian efforts during times of conflict.
  • The misconception that the conflict is purely political is countered by stories of widespread mobilization to help those affected.
  • The speakers emphasize the resilience of the Israeli people, who continue to celebrate life and support one another despite adversity.

"There's only a little less than 10 million people in this country, and everybody, man, woman, children, is mobilized to help."

This quote illustrates the collective effort of the Israeli population in humanitarian activities, showcasing a sense of unity and resilience.

"The resilience."

This succinct statement serves as a testament to the enduring spirit of the Israeli people in the face of ongoing conflict.

Theme: Judaism and the Value of Life

  • The speakers reflect on the Jewish commitment to valuing human life and living morally.
  • They share the perspective that Judaism teaches one to love others as oneself, which guides how they live and function as a society.
  • The military's role is seen as defensive, with the hope that future generations may not need to serve.

"Everything that is being done has always been with the highest regard to human life."

This quote emphasizes the value placed on human life in the actions and policies of the Israeli state and society.

"Love others as you love yourself."

The speaker cites this principle as a core tenet of Judaism, influencing personal conduct and national ethos.

Theme: Universal Aspirations and Human Experience

  • The speakers argue that aspirations such as love, marriage, and happiness are universal, not unique to any one group.
  • The story of a wedding held on the Gaza border exemplifies the desire to continue life's celebrations even in difficult times.
  • The speaker points out that while the conflict may be framed as a Jewish issue, at its core, it is about human aspirations and combating those who oppose them.

"It's a human problem."

This quote reflects the belief that the underlying issues in the conflict are shared human experiences and aspirations.

"Except there are some barbarians that don't believe in this, and they need to be eradicated."

The speaker identifies a stark contrast between the universal human desires and the violent opposition by certain groups, which must be addressed for peace and progress.

Theme: Gratitude and Reflection

  • The speakers express gratitude for the opportunity to share their perspectives on a global media platform.
  • The host, Harry, reflects on his own silence and acknowledges the importance of being informed and active in response to global issues.
  • The conversation ends with a mutual appreciation for the support and the platform to discuss critical issues.

"And I just want to thank you for that and opening up your platform to us."

This quote expresses gratitude for the opportunity to discuss important issues on the host's media platform.

"I feel guilty for being quiet for the last few days when I listen to you."

The host's reflection reveals a sense of responsibility and the impact of the speakers' stories on his own perspective.

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