This month I was lucky to get invited to a gathering of the most successful entrepreneurs of the United States . Amongst participants there were people from many different origins and nationalities: African Americans, Asians, Europeans, people from the Middle East, Indians, hispanics…and Jews. But being Jewish myself I was surprised to see how many other Jews were there at this conference, a story that unfolded as the days went by since as opposed to what some non Jews think us Jews are still lacking a secret handshake and it is mostly through chance that we find out that somebody else we know is Jewish. But to find Jews over represented at top conferences was not new to me. Jews make up 2% of the American population but seem to make 10% to 20% of the top positions in many fields in this country. And in Davos, the Global Conference the same was true. Jews make a fraction of 1% of the world´s population but we were also overrepresented to the tunes of 100 times at Davos (the organizers are not Jewish). In these places I sometimes wonder about the reasons for this phenomenom. The first reaction to the question of the disproportionate representation of Jewish people in academia or the Forbes 400 should probably be “who cares”. And that is probably the right reaction since most of us Jewish people don´t run our life according to the Jewish religions or traditions nor do we choose to establish friendships or do business with others because they are Jewish (at my company, Fon, only one other employee is Jewish).   But the reason I would like an answer to this question is that I live in “occasionally antisemitic”  Europe. And among the arguments that antisemites in Europe have against Jews the one that stands out is that “we run the world”.  I want to prove them wrong (yes I prefer to engage). While it´s easy to prove that Jews don´t run the world as we mostly don´t, what is not so easy to explain is why we are so over represented in global scientific and business elites.According to the World Survey on Contemporary Jewry Jewish global population in early 2002 numbered 13,296,100. The Jewish world constituted around 2.19 per 1,000 (not 100) of all global population, which means 1 Jewish person every 457 people worldwide.

And yet, we are highly represented amongst successful people, be they Nobel Prizes, scientists, top University Professors, philosophers, writers, cinema directors, artists, politicians or web entrepreneurs. I’d like to find an answer, an explanation to these figures. Not only because this would go a long way towards ending intolerance towards Jews but also because I think that this type of prejudice poisons people’s personalities. To believe that someone is successful only because he belongs to a certain ethnic or social group or religion restricts liberty, creativity, individual personality and in the final analysis, oneself. And this can only lead to resentment and mediocrity. But unfortunately I don´t have an explanation as to why Jews are overachievers.

So while at a table of 12 at this conference that included Jews and non Jews (majority non Jews) I posed the question. Why are Jews over-represented in places when the most successful entrepreneurs meet up? The answers: some said tremendous emphasis on education, others said that there´s more solidarity among Jews than other groups, another answer related to a survival of the fittest theory that argued that after being massacred for thousands of years Jewish people are descendants of the few smart survivors, another person said that in any case this question will be obsolete and that 100 years from now Jews will have mostly disappear because now that antisemitism has declined most Jews marry non Jews and while it´s easy to become a non believer, a Muslim or a Christian, it is very hard to “immigrate” into the Jewish religion.  Personally I don´t have the right answer to give to antisemites.  I wish I did cause a simple explanation would go a a long way.


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