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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Ariel Guersenzvaig on July 27, 2007  · 

I´d go with the education explanation. I mean, nowadays most jews can read, but not every christians or muslims is alphabetized. I´d reckon that if you compare average jewish families with christian families that provide their children with good education (I don’t only mean schooling), the level of achievement must be similar. Maybe it just happens that there are relatively less christian or muslim families that care about education than jewish families, since for most jewish families education is a big deal and they care a lot about it. That could explain the higher percentage of sucessful jews.
Reading and thinking are contagious and if your cousin has earned a Ph.D. you want one too 😉
Does it make sense?

BTW, what about using “Judeophobia” instead of “Antisemitic”, as proposed by the notable jewish thinker Leon Pinsker. Judeophobia emphasizes the hostility against jews and the irrationality behind the hatred, whereas “semitic” is a vague concept.

Thanks for your blog!

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Francesco Cardi on July 28, 2007  · 


Very interesting post, thanks. I´m not Jews, but very attracted by Jewish culture and very curious to understand why Jews are over-represented among “successfull” people in modern society.

For sure there is no one single reason, it´s a combination. If I should mention three factors, I would say: education, globalization and identity preservation.

About education, this was already pointed out many times.

About globalization, this is a direct consequence of diaspora. In a globalized world, the pain of being persecuted transformed itself in a clear advantage. Jews families started becoming global hundreds of years before Italian or German families did it. And being global is a key advantage to trade, to make money and then to educate at best the next generation.

About identity preservation, this is something that is unique to Jews. Italians migrated to the Americas and in one or two generations became 100% Brazilians, Argentinians and US citizens. They “melt” into the new country. Not the same for Jewish. Today a successfull Italian in Italy can´t connect with successfull sons and daugthers of Italian immigrants in the Americas (and there are many), cause they lost a common language and a common culture.

Jews are the only people who were globally spread apart but then continued to maintain a strong cross-country single identity. Together with the emphasis on education, that is proper of the Jews culture, this makes the equation work.

Martin, what do you think?


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Steve Ross on July 28, 2007  · 

Minor Correction: 1.5 FON employees are Jews.

I’m half Jewish, unless you ask the Jewish side of my family who would say I’m Catholic. Of course if you ask the Catholic side of the family they will tell you I’m Jewish.

Jewish Father, Catholic Mother, neither practiced their religion. I don’t either but I consider myself 1/2 Jewish.

Steve Ross

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miefon on July 28, 2007  · 

Martin, first, let me tell you that I have so enjoyed your personal blog, after becoming a fonero and recruiting others.

I graduated from The University of Michigan. In our large and diverse student body, we had a disproportionate number of Jews. And we all concluded from day one that it was based on a combination of education, effort, and achievement. Jewish families value all three traits.

By contrast, we also looked at those in society who do not succeed, are on welfare, are demanding public handouts. Do you see any of those traits present?

Perhaps there is the “survival” technique you mention. I just think it comes down to hard work. And it shows in your life, from your companies, to your son who taught me about wifi gaming in a video 🙂

Best wishes always,

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marcus kreiss on July 28, 2007  · 


I guess most of your successful jews are boys. What do they have more than others? Love. Love from their family, and in particular from their mother. Lots of love is a good start in life.

Thanks for your blog!

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Sergio Fogel on July 28, 2007  · 

A while ago The Economist published an article about the academic result of immigrant children. Surprisingly, first generation immigrants (i.e., those that immigrated as children) performed much better than the overall population. Second-generation immigrants still performed better than the population in general, although the difference is smaller. It seems that the desire to succeed and be accepted in society drove them to work harder. That is part of the story with jews.

I think that over the ages the jewish culture has put a huge pressure on jews to succeed. In modern society we all face the dilemma over how much good-life we are ready to sacrifice for “success”. I just think that for jews the balance is more tilted towards success. Maybe that is the reason why the disproportion is so large in psychology.

I see that every day here in Uruguay: I know jews who were average or below at school, but worked so hard to succeed that today they are recognized professionals or businessmen. On the other hand, I see many incredibly-smart non-jews that prefer to enjoy life rather than make big sacrifices to succeed.

I have been tempted to publish an “index” with the proportion of jews appearing in the “obituary” and “face value” columns of The Economist. In the last couple of years aproximately 12-15% of the people appearing at those columns were jews. The only reason I did not do it is because I am afraid that, if it becomes widely known, it would affect the selection of who is chosen for that column.

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divbl on July 28, 2007  · 

“We ran the World”

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ENap on July 28, 2007  · 

I was just watching TeleMadrid here in Madrid and there was a fun travel show about Prague. The presenter goes to Prague´s Jewish neighorhood and at the entrance of the Jewish cemetary (I believe), he says something like “but of course it is not free and is quite expensive” – in clear reference to ethnic stereotypes. He then rectifies and says, “but it is worth the price.” The price was something like 10€, comparable to what it costs to visit the Palacio de Oriente in Madrid.

These latent anti-semitic comments, very acceptable in Europe and considered cute, got go. It gets old real quick.

Now, I am not Jewish, but I grew up in a majority Jewish DC suburb where most of my friend´s parents were New Yorkers and first or second generation immigrants. I never really noticed any real difference from my friends’ upbringing and mine. My father was also first generation, but a New York Italian. And like most offspring of immigrants anywhere in the world, they were indoctrinated with the great importance of education and hardwork. I spent every weekend between 12 and 14 going to Bar Mitzvahs, and I have been in Temple more times than at Mass.

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Wanunu on July 29, 2007  · 

There is not simple answer that I know to explain the Anti-semitism problem. But have you look at the problem and possible solutions with respect to your people and other no chosen people like the Palestinians?

So may be the first step is to look what really means Antisemitism. As Michael Neumann point out in his What is Antisemitism?,
“Antisemitism”, properly and narrowly speaking, doesn’t mean hatred of semites; that is to confuse etymology with definition. It means hatred of Jews. But here, immediately, we come up against the venerable shell-game of Jewish identity: “Look! We’re a religion! No! a race! No! a cultural entity! Sorry–a religion!” When we tire of this game, we get suckered into another: “anti-Zionism is antisemitism! ” quickly alternates with: “Don’t confuse Zionism with Judaism! How dare you, you antisemite!”

That’s without talking that many Jews, first they are Jewish and then Spaniards, French or Americans and within Republicans or Democrats and so for. But that does not explain your quandary.

Jewish people trough out history have venerated knowledge and the Bat Mitzvah initiation is one of the finest examples of how from early childhood force feed religious knowledge come to be a second nature.
But since this is a religious ceremony God forbid to even talk about it. A couple of years ago an Hispanic San Francisco supervisor, was chased and chastised for been allegedly anti-Semitic, just because he did remark some remarks about Jewish politicians at Bat Mitzvahs. So while there is no secret hand sakes there is a mutual understanding, a tremendous zealous desire to get anyone who criticized Zionism and because probably Zionism is the prevalent ideology in Israel. This happens, in spite of some ignorant and other very smart people often confusing and sometime conflating in purpose Judaism with Zionism.
Now, not all but most Jews by not speaking up have approve Zionism, which is a form of fascism have condone mass murder and wars like in Iraq. Jews who prefer not to talk about are enablers or allies of Zionist they pretend to ignore.

Off course that does not explain the over representation of Jews in top places as you point out, but look at the economic benefits Zionists have been trickling down from sweet deals to Israel for settlers who do not work or pay taxes in the mountains of Sinai, while Hispanics, Blacks and other minorities in the USA are in most urgent need so that they also could be represent in the elitist positions you mention.

How to explain the tremendous success of AIPAC? Do you know the revolving doors of funding that US politician have? Have you thought why Irving Lewis “Scooter” Libby (Leibowitz) was recently pardoned? Or what Jack Abramoff was doing with politicians in government?

The attrition effect of accumulated capitals is not there for nothing.It is not common knowledge but Jews are forbidden to charge interest upon loans made to other Jews, but allowed to charge interest on transactions with non-Jews, or Gentiles.

Talking about Gentiles have you read this Jerusalem Post article Orthodox as Israel’s secret weapon by Jonathan Rosenblum Jerusalem Post International Edition November 23, 2001? This will explain to you the other revolving door of religious fanaticism. Just notice the date. Check Max Blumenthal recent expose of what have become that inoffensive article.

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Martín Varsavsky on July 29, 2007  · 


Most of the European antisemites hate the muslims as much as they hate the Jews so Wanunu we are united by a common enemy.

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Joe H. on July 30, 2007  · 

Those especially interested in this topic might like to read the Charles Murray essay Jewish Genius in Commentary Magazine of April 2007.

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Wanunu on July 30, 2007  · 

You means ignorance?
Or that blank statement about a certain religion and its followers?

You see up to a certain time I believed in the Israel narrative, until I find out it was propaganda at its best. Those blank statements about antisemitism with out going deep enough as to find the real causes of antisemitism are very dangerous weapons. Conversely I am fully aware of the other forms of religious fanaticism, so that deep inside the scatological conflict between Jews and Muslins we are part of the same tribe. So that trying to bring to the conflict other religions, in this case the Christians, is just no pernicious or malevolent but irrational.
If you mean we are unite by a common enemy you need to be clear and start to indicate what is that enemy.

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claire on July 30, 2007  · 

Dificult to figure out where this discussion is leading to.

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Martin Varsavsky on July 30, 2007  · 


The European racists that I was referring to hate muslims as much as they hate Jews…and lately Islamophobia is a much greater problem than Judeophobia in the world. They are both wrong and Muslims, Jews, Africans and all victims of racism should unite against racists.

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Wanunu on July 31, 2007  · 

I am glad we agree that Zionism is the worst form of racism. Please just remember Michael Neumann point…

“Antisemitism”, properly and narrowly speaking, doesn’t mean hatred of semites; that is to confuse etymology with definition. It means hatred of Jews. But here, immediately, we come up against the venerable shell-game of Jewish identity: “Look! We’re a religion! No! a race! No! a cultural entity! Sorry–a religion!” When we tire of this game, we get suckered into another: “anti-Zionism is antisemitism! ” quickly alternates with: “Don’t confuse Zionism with Judaism! How dare you, you antisemite!”

Zionism is a fascist enterprise that do not spare non even the Jews. For here we come that Ashkenazi Jews that are very different from let said Sephardic Jews…

I will be happy if you can talk and expand your views about Zionism with the same importance that you give to “Antisemitic people and Jewish Overachievers” Can you?

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ilan a. on July 31, 2007  · 

Hello Martin,
I am jewish and observant, so I can give you the Torah’s point of view for “why jewish people are overachievers”.
The Jewish People received the 10 commandments, so we have more “laws” to fulfill than any other people in the world, that is the reason why we were given more strength to fully respect our judaism. This strength, when not used to observe the judaism, is used on other fields : business, studies, research, etc. This is the Torah’s explanation of your question, and I guess it makes sense.
what do you think

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Patrick on July 31, 2007  · 

This Jewish overachievement thing has often puzzled me too.

In France, all the telecom entrepreneurs that have met with success are jewish. Louis Dreyfus group (Neuf cegetel telecom), Free (X Niel), Meteor Networks (who bought my company – J Bettan), Magiconline ISP (who almost bought another of my companies).

My conlusion seing in detail how these guys got there is linked to some of the cultural make up of the jewish religion and identity:

1. Making money is OK (for catholics it’s actually bad!)- and so is working like crazy and taking the risk of failure.
2. The defensive community from past persecution has created a global and self preserving club. Membership means help in many small yet useful and encouraging ways is there for those beginners. The accountant is often jewish when starting, the banker or investment is oftne jewish (remember making money is ok so not surprisingly the world’s largest banks are guess what JEWISH!)
3. At least some of the above Jewish entrepreneurs were bank rolled by other succesful and very wealthy jewish entrepreneurs (question how did Martin get the money to buy his first buildig and make a property winfall all those years ago? 🙂 when other students were struggling to pay for their college fees).
4. The wheeler dealer quality with a good ability to chat and sell almost anything to your grandmother – but usually not rip people off (not good for long term business or your reputation). Another saying being “it’s just business…”
5. Family member examples which are so good in generating confidence and advice at the early stage leading to success.
6. Money is power or is it cash is king…

The big question is now why is money so important to these jewish entrepreneurs: look at Maslow hierarchy of motivation -> public recognition.

The motivation or incentive?: Let’s be honest: The large historical and often reminded threats to the survival of the clan over the centuries might just create a equal and oposite reaction through the collective subconcious (passed on from elders and religious leaders) of the jews thus creating energy to make a mark in the smarter or ambitious and savvy individuals that have the hunger and determination to deliver and to show who is strongest in the jungle. I admit this is Darwinistic psychology but people are made up of a lot of stuff including the family history for generations back.

This is actually not a bad thing. Ironically, it will create another equal and oposit force: envy and jealousy from less successful (or hardly succesful in money terms), less educated people, then history and prejudice repeats itself in waves evolving up or down with the rest of humanity.

So a few Jewish people’s success fuel the anti jew feelings just like rich people (many religions included) often fuel anti rich sentiment from the lower wealth categories. The attitude of UK Richard Branson shows the right way to gain public sympathy despite being very wealthy.

You cant change the jewish, but what could happen is that Catholics, atheists (Many europeans) and others should like making money more, challenging the way things are, and taking risk or investing in young entrepreneurs rather than sticking their savings into their property, government bond funds – or just enjoy their other pleasures in life by achieving success recognised in other forms than cash on your bank account.

PS. Let’s not forget the massacre of the protestants by catholics in Paris in 1572 on St Barthelemy day and other wars of religion since leaders wanted a way to control the masses to drive them againts other clans. Nor the near extermination of Indians by early americans, of most aborigines by English settlers,of the untouchables by higher casts in India, and so on… The jews dont have the monopoly on persecution too which is perhaps misunderstood and over publicised at times.

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Martin Varsavsky on August 6, 2007  · 

Wanunu, we don´t agree on this.

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Martin Varsavsky on August 6, 2007  · 

Well Ilan, if what you are trying to say is that Jews face a lot of pressure in their education as they grow up and being exposed to a more demanding education helps you in overachieving, I can agree to that.

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Wanunu on August 6, 2007  · 

OK. I am glad that I asked so that there is not doubt about the “secret handshake”. As far as I am concern you may have as well a hidden agenda and that’s why you do not agree.

See, the Zionists overachievers oppose peace in Palestine every time the issue has been raised, for now more that forty years.

When a courageous first minister in Israel, try to negotiated they resorted to the assassination Yitzhak Rabin.
Marin, this is a sad day for your readers.

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Yani on August 7, 2007  · 

a lot has been said already as I believe.
One of the key issues is for sure education – explains why e.g. there are disproportionally more East Asians (Japan, China, Korea) in the Ivy Leagues than other countries. (FYI: I am Korean)
The there are some other points that were addressed weakly or not at all :
a) measuring ‘top of the world’ – 1. time
the different measures/stats to show that Jews are above average in many fields are stats of 1-2 centuries (nobel, etc.). how the Jews actually performed well before that time, I have not seen. Cultures like China or the Osman Kingdom have invented countless things and prospered – before 1500. I have no clue whether the Jews were as good by then.
b) measuring ‘top of the world’ – 2. region
THe last 500 years, and especially the last 100 years were the years of the western society. They developed and prospered. Although there are many differences, in the big picture western societies have many things in common – similar environment create similar profile of strength and weakness.
Theoretically countries like China, India, African countries etc. of course had the chance to show that they are good too, but given the fact that they were just bloody poor with poor education, they didn’t really have a real chance to excel.
The conclusion is that the Jews showed superior performances during the last 100-200 years in comparison to the western societies and cultures, where diversity has not been as broad as it will be in the next 100 years – diversity, which will create more compeitition. It remains to be seen whether they will retain their position.
c) identity
I personally respect Jews in this respect :
the stronger an identity is , the higher the likelihood that the single individual in a group / society will sacrifice him/herself for the good of the whole. i think this is a very strong point. My conclusion is that if there were 1 billion Jews then your performance would probably be not that great in comparison to now (% wise)

one Q I have: as far as I know, the performances amongst Jews from different countries differ – German Jews have been doing quite well, while the Eastern European Jews in comparison less ( I was told, not sure wehther it is really true). If so, how would you explain thiat ?

excuse my tyops.

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Ezequiel Brodsky on August 11, 2007  · 

Statistics and probability provide the first part of the answer to your question. Jews don’t just succeed at everything and everywhere but they do it mostly in places and fields where they concentrate more heavily. There is 1 Jewish person for every 457 people in the world, but there is 1 Jew for every 11.6 in the NYC area (1.9m in 22m). Similarly, Jews are easier to find in ‘classic’ careers (e.g.: medicine, law, architecture, economics), arts, and certain fields of business (e.g.: high-tech, diamonds, movies). Jews are more rare to stand out in, say, Italy and Japan, or in elite sports and military (not including Israel, of course).

The next part I believe has to do with being part of a minority, and in many ways, a very special one. When you’re part of a minority, your individual value is higher (especially if you live in the Diaspora); in a way, you’re representing your group and there’s a sense of responsibility and duty towards it. This has nothing to do with secret handshakes or unconditional cooperation between Jews, as you very well said. It is a more abstract and individual feeling that operates in a similar way than when you prefer to marry someone Jewish, have Jewish children, and keep the ‘line going’. I think many (not necessarily the majority, but certainly a significant %) Jews feel this way, and this influences their decisions (where to live, what to study), as well as their performance. It’s a big burden to carry, but pressure does make diamonds 🙂

The third and final part of the answer lies, I believe, in well-known Jewish stereotypes that are home- and family-centric: strong family values (especially in Sephardi Jews); embrace for education and wisdom (especially in Ashkenazim Jews); etc. As with all stereotypes, their not universal or perfectly accurate but there’s some truth underneath.

So, next time someone asks you: “Why do Jews stand out so much being so few?”, just answer: “I’ll tell you if you can name 5 -just 5- sports stars that are Jewish; from any sport and any country”.

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PEACEFUL01 on February 17, 2008  · 

hi there,

Well I know I was way late but this is an interesting topic and somewhat controversy. Why are Jews tend to be more successul in modern western society? Hard work, Education and Unity. Well all these have been discuss and disect in details by commments from previous posts. My opinion is this thousand years of persecution and discriminate everywhere have make the Jews who they are today. I don’t blame them either. Jews will NEVER allow another Holocust to happen to them. Nor will they depend on others to save them. Where are the people in the world when Jews are being gas in German during wwII. Don’t tell me that the world have no idea what is going on in German at the time. They do but they just don’t care because Jews have nothing to offer them. So why waste their time and effort to save the Jews. Jews leaders are constantly remind others and themself about the Holocust? why is that? some think it is to cause sympathy for the Jews. May be but the real reason(my opinion) is to remind Jews of today not to forget of what still may happen to them. Funny thing is what happen to Jews throughout history is exactly what happen to the Palestinian in Palestine today. Guess who occupied Palestine. The Jews. You tell me the world don’t know what happen there. They do but they don’t care. Why after all it is only the Palestinian. What does the Paltestinian have to offer? Nothing and that is why it is almost a none issue in the Western society. Politicians have nothing to gain for raising this issue and everything to lose if they merely mention it as “Israeli’s occupied Palestine” land. Jews loby specifically the AIPAC will destroy them. This is why war will never end. The reason is human are selfist. we’re looking after ourself only. Who knows 200 years from now the Palestinian are an influent group just like the Jews are now. I wouldn’t be surprise there is an AntiPalestino Laws and a Holocow is name to remind mankind of what happen to the Palestinian during the occupied years. Crazy thought but who knows.
p.s please forgive my grammar and typos.

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ilan a. on May 20, 2008  · 

Hello Martin,
I am back on this topic (late I know…), since I just picked up a very interesting quote from Sergey Brin, while in Israel last week : • When you’re a Jew, you have a background of hardship, suffering, difficulties–and to turn that into success is part of the Jewish experience.
If you want to read the rest of the interview, it’s here :

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