'Sydney Is Like the Perfect Woman. But I’m Still in Love With Tel Aviv'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: An Israeli woman who's breaking the glass ceiling in Australia, and a man who left Israel for Asia so he can hear himself think

Liat Elkayam
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Einat Sukenik.
Einat Sukenik.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Liat Elkayam

Einat Sukenik, 38; lives in Sydney and flying there

Hello, what do you do in Sydney?

Five and a half years ago, I established a startup in Australia with a partner. It’s called Upwise. We take data from the social news media and create a platform that helps managers understand what’s happening in the technological market.

I didn’t understand a thing. Can you give me an example?

Managers don’t really have the ability to understand what’s happening in the market, so they look at reports, go to consultants or ask their analysts to come up with the information. But there’s no tool that tells them what they need to know clearly. We help them understand what’s happening in the market in real time. What’s going on in the realm of startups? What applications are out there? What is the competition doing? That way we make it possible for them to identify risks and opportunities, and to take action accordingly.

What’s needed in order to create a startup?

It’s important to enjoy it, but you also need the ability to manage emotions – not to get over-enthusiastic and not to get depressed. But the name of the game is to be authentic, always to know who you are and to admit your vulnerabilities courageously so people will connect with you.

How did you happen to create a startup in Australia?

I worked for a large international company and then I had an offer to relocate for 15 months. I was the mother of a little baby and my husband said with a small sigh, “Okay, why not?” We had to pack up everything within five weeks. But when we got there we realized that relocating isn’t so simple, and we immediately extended our stay.

Ignorance is bliss.

I had a secure, high-paying job there, and by 5:30 P.M., I was already home with the children. Perfect, right? But I had a formative experience. One evening I went to put my son to bed and his doll looked at me and said, “Elmo is so sleepy.” I understood that Einat is so sleepy. I was always an entrepreneur and never wanted a big house or a lot of money. I just want things to be interesting. So I left.

That was brave.

And then, when I was on maternity leave, I had an idea: to start something in Australia like “Science at the Bar” in Israel, only with entrepreneurship, “Innovations on Tap.”

Did it work?

Even though I didn’t know anyone, I suggested it to a few organizations. A very big company said, “Wow, yes!” and suddenly the glass ceiling looked closer and I felt I could break it.

And you weren’t hurt?

No – even though things are even more difficult for women in Australia than in Israel. You have to dance the dance, fly off and leave the children. It could actually be a place that drives you forward, because even though there’s a lot of guilt there’s also a lot of power. There’s no time to get into ups and downs, and there’s an engine that makes you understand what needs to be done. There’s no doubt that it’s harder for a woman. If a man goes off for three weeks to work, people tell him “Well done,” but my husband, if he stays with the children for two weeks – you need to build him a temple.

And do the prayers help?

Happily, my husband is very supportive. He really does deserve a few medals. That’s one of the reasons I married him. He always said “Why not?” to everything. And I’m constantly challenging that “Why not?” He’s the real star in all this and I love him.

Do you miss your family?

For two weeks I saw them through the telephone.

Is it fun in Australia?

Life in Australia is quiet and tranquil; even the dogs look happier. It’s easier for a startup to stand out, because in Israel you’re swimming among the sharks. Sydney is like the perfect woman – brilliant, rich, beautiful, calm – but I’m still in love with Tel Aviv. By the way, can I send regards to someone through the newspaper?

It depends ....

I had a physics teacher in high school named Hanoch Pashut, who one day asked me to stay after class and asked me what I think about the place of women in the world. I said, “I don’t know.” He said, “You have a role. You think differently and you need to change the status quo.” I’ve been looking for him for years to thank him. Those five minutes, when someone tells you that you can do it, are sometimes everything.

Tamir Landesman.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Tamir Landesman, 35, no permanent home; arriving from Hong Kong

Hello, what are planning to do in Israel?

My international license expired, so I’m going to Tel Aviv to renew it. But I’m considering coming back here to the airport today and going on to Singapore.

Are you in the middle of a trip?

I’ve been abroad for eight months already. I was in Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. I’m an engineer by profession and I’m working on an invention – a wireless charger that can charge everything: laptop, camera, tablet. There are a lot of digital nomads in Asia who sit in all kinds of shared workspaces with their laptops, typing away. So I’m looking for the right team to work with me. I travel and collect people for the project.

What’s in the backpack? A laptop?

I only have a phone. I travel solo and I have nothing in life except for this backpack, which is waterproof and contains two T-shirts and two pairs of pants, shoes, a good pair of slacks and button-down shirt and toilet articles, in case of meetings. A minimalist life. Like Mark Zuckerberg with the gray T-shirts. That way there’s less to decide about. It’s calmer.

Had things been stressful for you?

High-tech is demanding. I want to reduce stress. I go walking. Travel 20 hours on a bus with no reception. That way I have time for myself.

What did you engineer in Tel Aviv?

I worked in something having to do with sound, earphones that broadcast a frequency you don’t hear. And you can do biometric things with them to identify your ear’s voice “signature,” to take your pulse. Let’s say you’re jogging and your earphone falls out – the song stops by itself, and when you put it back in the song continues. It’s actually a component that allows every earphone, even the cheapest, to identify people.

Sounds promising. Why did you leave?

It’s strange to say I got fed up with Tel Aviv; maybe I should say that I was always attracted to Asia. I lived in Japan for a while … Everyone there is 100 percent secular, there’s no religion and it’s the most thriving country in the world. That got me thinking, and since then I’ve been aspiring to progress constantly. Europe is moving backward, and in Asia, where everything was erased after World War II, they rebuilt it all. Places like Macao and Shenzhen are an inspiration.

Inspiration for what?

I studied engineering in Israel. Here everything is theoretical. Shenzhen [in China] is like the Carmel Market [in Tel Aviv] but with microchips, resistors and condensers. There are engineers who specialize in loudspeakers, in cables, in pens. If I didn’t have visa restrictions I’d be there permanently. I would go back to Japan.

What did you do in Japan?

I worked in exporting cars to Australia. In Japan, after a year, the annual auto inspection jumps to a crazy price, about 10,000 shekels [$2,770], which means that the Japanese buy a new car after one year. All the old cars are sent mainly to developing countries.

Didn’t you feel alone there?

Yes, but I loved it. It was a combination of opposite feelings. It’s not just that I am alone, I’m alone in a city of 29 million people, and when I get off at a train station, 5,000 come out of every gate and the trains are bursting. I’m alone and not alone at the same time. It’s the best feeling in the world. Before I learned Japanese, I also really enjoyed not understanding the language – people spoke but my head was quiet.

How many languages do you know?

Hebrew, English, Japanese, Korean, Chinese and German. I was born and raised in Germany.

When did you immigrate to Israel?

I came to do military service and stayed. But it’s hard for me to take what’s happening here. In Israel, people “dig” into your life; abroad people don’t ask questions, not even how old you are. That allows me to flourish. Besides, it’s hard to be a left-winger, a pacifist and secular in Israel. I can’t express my opinions; I am quite restrained and introverted. It’s a repression that gets to you. In Japan there’s a saying, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” In Israel I suffered from memory problems. When I got to Asia, my memory suddenly opened up, from the calm. Memories from the age of 2 surfaced. My brain was suddenly working at 100 percent.