“EMOTIONAL FACTOR is the motor of everything”
David Hercky’s life story could serve as a biographic chapter in the Start-Up Nation book: a story of a successful corporate manager who launched a startup while gradually becoming involved in community and societal affairs. David Hercky is the Honorary Consul of the Czech Republic in Southern Israel. He is also the founder and the Chairman of the Israeli-Czech Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the vice-chairman of the Israeli Federation of Bilateral Chambers of Commerce. David Hercky is the recipient of the Gratias Agit award, given for furthering the good name of the Czech Republic and a laureate of the Trebbia International Award.
I met David Hercky five years ago and together we have accomplished many projects, notably, he supported my Women Entrepreneurial Missions to Israel. When the lockdown came, we tried to keep the Czech-Israeli relations active by providing series of webinars further highlighting the possibilities of Czech-Israeli cooperation.
David’s wide expertise covers biotechnology, food engineering, finance, and medical devices.
David Hercky is the founder of Curapipe Systems, a company that specializes in waterpipe diagnostics and repair. In Israel, he represents the Czech company Škoda Transportation that aims to participate in the big tender supplying the Jerusalem Light Rail project. In the Czech Republic, he established the Jewish Community Center (JCC) to promote cultural and social aspects of Jewish life. He is married and has three adult children. His wife Vivian is the CEO of a high-tech company. David travels back and forth to the Czech Republic every month or two.
Every encounter with David is an inspiration for me, as he understands both Israeli mentality and the Czech one and sees the compatibilities and pitfalls. Like many Israelis, he is very direct. I learned to appreciate this bluntness because I know it comes from a caring perspective. David simply wants to see both nations collaborating and doing meaningful projects together. During our interview, we discussed David’s latest big project, the Jewish Community Center in Prague. Of course, we talked about innovations, Czech-Israeli affinity and future development in Czech-Israeli relations.
David, you are an Israeli citizen born in the US, but you also consider yourself a Czechoslovak. Can you tell us more about your roots?
My mother is an American and my father was a Czechoslovak citizen, born in Žilina, Slovakia. While my fathers’ parents came from Topolčany, my other grandmother was from Liberec, so I truly fulfill the Czechoslovak background origin. My father survived World War II in various camps as a child and after the war, he was sent to Israel thanks to the youth movement. He lived in a kibbutz by himself, until he finished his military service. Then he flew to the US to meet his parents. Not only did he reunite with his parents, but he also met my mother. I was born in the USA. When I was five, my parents decided to make aliyah (a term used for Jewish immigration from the diaspora to Israel – note by the author).
In the brief introduction, I mentioned that your career could serve as a chapter in the Start-Up Nation book, having the most important milestones of the Israeli entrepreneurship journey: starting in military service, experiencing corporate life, and then becoming an entrepreneur. But how did you get back to the Czechoslovak roots?
In Israel, I grew up in Giv’Atayim near Tel Aviv. I served in the military. First, I was on a missile ship in the navy and then I became an officer. I finished my military career in the intelligence unit. After my military service, I studied food engineering and biotechnology at Technion in Haifa. I started working as an engineer in a factory, responsible for quality assurance. There I lost my hand in a work accident. After my rehabilitation, I continued working. I joined a company that was building food factories in the former USSR and at one point my friend and I ended up buying the company. After we bought the company, we continued doing many projects in Russia, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan, building cow farms, milk factories, oil factories, meat factories, and slaughterhouses. We also started to provide irrigation schemes. During this period, I got a proposal to join a group that started the privatization of companies in Slovakia. Later, I was invited to join a group of investors and established the chain of clinics called Proctoclinic. At the same time, I was offered to join Agel as a supervisory board member. Throughout my career, I invested in various startups that deal with medical devices and water companies that fix leaking pipes. In 2010, I founded the Israeli-Czech Chamber of Commerce and Industry which cooperates closely with the Czech-Israeli Mutual Chamber of Commerce here.
Whenever I interview Israeli executives, I am amazed by their social and community involvement. You started the Jewish Community/Cultural Center in Prague which has become the first virtual Jewish Community Center during the pandemic.
I have been traveling to the Czech Republic for many years. Every time I come, I discover more and more empathy and sympathy for me as a Jew and as an Israeli. However, there is more to it I find more people coming to me and telling me that they also have a Jewish background. I have a couple of nice stories to share. My colleague took me to the New Jewish Cemetery in Prague to see Kafka’s grave and she showed me her grandmother’s grave. She had never mentioned being Jewish before. One high-ranking government official also mentioned that his brother travels quite often to Israel because he has relatives there. I responded by stating if his brother has relatives then that means he also must have relatives there…suddenly, he revealed that his mother was an Auschwitz survivor. No one knew he was Jewish. As time goes by, I believe that more and more people are recognizing or discovering their Jewish roots.
My favorite Israeli author, Hadar Galron, wrote a play called “My first Jewish Christmas” that was inspired by the same stories from the Czech Republic of people suddenly discovering their Jewish roots.
Officially, there are about 5000 Jews registered in the Czech Republic, the unofficial number might be three times higher. There are many Jews not considered Jewish by halakha (a Jewish law, meaning they do not have Jewish mother – note by the author) or people who have a Jewish grandfather and suddenly want to identify as Jewish or feel like being part of the community, who have very limited means of doing that in the Czech Republic. They could learn Hebrew or take a few courses, but they did not have a place where they could be part of a group or get together in community. I started to talk to people about this philosophy and they had sparkles in their eyes. JCC, known as Jewish Community Centre or Jewish Cultural Center, exists in every big city in Europe and the world. Prague did not have that, compared to Budapest or two centers in Poland. There is the American model of JCC and the organization JCC Global, so we registered and established Czech JCC as a part of the global organization. We want to be there for the people where they can learn about Judaism, Jewish culture, Jewish cuisine, celebrate holidays, and feel part of the community. Our community is not a substitute to the already existing Jewish school or Jewish sports organization, but rather a complement, fulfilling the existing gap. We also plan activities for mothers and young children as well as for young adults who graduated from the Jewish school.
If you want G-d to laugh, tell him about your plans. I know the JCC Prague was established one and a half years ago, then Covid-19 came. Israel went virtual, so did JCC.
Most of our activities went virtual. We launched a popular podcast on Judaism, called j-cast, which got an award in the learning and education category in the project Reimagining IsraelDiaspora Relations. We also made many Jewishthemed videos for children and organized online cooking classes. We published a cartoon book on the theme of Passover celebration, a table game with the same theme and are preparing a Jewish cookbook. However, we are looking forward to having meetings in person and eventually open a café with Tel Aviv’s bubbly atmosphere. Nowdays, everything that has to do with Judaism in the Czech Republic, has to do with religion and the holocaust. Our place aims to be a fun place, full of energy. We are looking for new premises and will start another round of fundraising to fulfill our mission. We want to be open for Czech people identifying with Judaism, regardless of the origin, for Israelis living in the Czech Republic and also to serve as the hub for other JCC members who travel via Prague and the Czech Republic.
The inspirational bubbly atmosphere from Tel Aviv brings us to the issue of innovations. Czechs have been looking for inspiration from Israel for many years and many activities are going on. At the same time, we both know that the glass is only half full.
Israel was imposed into innovation, it is not that Israelis were born innovative. Innovations were imposed on us starting from the military area. When Israel came into existence, only Czechoslovakia helped us. We had to manage on our own. We did not have the natural resources, whether it was oil, coal, or metals. From military and ammunition, the innovation continued to airplanes, electronic warfare and cybersecurity advanced military systems. The real trigger for Israel was the matter of survival, not the economic one. Such a strong trigger made us what we are today. Today, no one remembers that the innovation was imposed on us, as current innovation is driven by economic reasons. What comes to my mind in order to understand it better is Darwin’s theory of evolution, where you need to adjusted to reality and so innovation has become part of Israeli DNA and I call it in a metaphoric way “the innovative Gene”. We have had enough success stories that others try to repeat. It has become a snowball that grows bigger every day.
When we discuss the issue of the Czech Republic, we must not forget the communist regime that for decades suppressed any kind of innovative initiative. Czechoslovakia also had enough of natural resources. People did not have to be innovative. You had only the economic trigger. For economic innovation, you need to have success stories. The Czech innovation snowball is currently much smaller than the Israeli one, but it exists and keeps growing every day. You have innovation, you have high-scale success stories, and you have fields where the Czech Republic is leading in the world, such as medicine or voice recognition technologies. You need to pass the innovative genes to the next generations. Instead of young children wanting to start the same profession as their parents, you need to have a generation willing to become innovators regardless of the profession. In Israel, every hospital has a department for innovation, as doctors constantly invent and innovate their methods and approaches. What I see is that any platform promoting innovation as a constant and ubiquitous process is not widely spread in the Czech Republic, together with adjusted organizational structures inside the companies promoting innovations. The Czech innovation system will be driven by success stories. It will take time for the innovation gene to spread but it will happen. I see that Israelis and Czechs are very similar in this aspect.
Let us discuss the affinity between our two nations. Czechs love Israel and feel close to it, Israelis admire the Czechs for the support we provide.
Israelis truly have a warm part in their heart for the Czech Republic. It is not often that Israel gets support. Whenever there is a regional crisis, the whole world attacks Israel. We are used to it. The Czech Republic is exceptional by not only not attacking us but by supporting us. This was seen by the latest visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs Jakub Kulhánek in Israel. Israeli truly go bananas and get emotional about the support they have been receiving from your country.
Israelis love the Czech Republic. Before covid, 200 000 Israeli tourists were coming to Prague. Škoda Auto is the most preferred European car on the Israeli market. It is very comfortable to be an Honorary Consul of the Czech Republic to Israel.
In Israel, I have learned the word tachless, meaning “let us be direct and talk about the bottom line”. From the affinity between the two nations, let us mention some specific projects of bilateral cooperation, such as water management or covid-19.
Like with innovation, it is all about priorities and decision-making. In the Czech Republic, there is currently no serious problem with water. Your country did not experience a deep water crisis yet. When it comes to water, Israel had practicaly no water. We had to invent. We started with a drip irrigation system, continued to desalination system of factories, and then we started cleaning contaminated water. The next steps led to identifying the leakages in water pipes and unique systems of repairment. The first step is to admit that there is a problem and put a lot of sources into it. Israel and other countries can provide technology, but the Czechs need to make it a priority, and not only having discussions and seminars.
As you mentioned, there are many potential projects for bilateral cooperation. Together, we can create a development center for vaccinations which is a classic platform to carry out projects for two countries that are so close and friendly. However, the decision, strategy, and clear pathway need to be made from the above.
David, this is my longest interview, but I will still ask you. What are your final words for the Czech and Slovak Magazine leaders?
For me, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have been second homes and I have been active in promoting political, economic, and cultural ties between the countries. More than anything, the emotional factor should not be forgotten. And it is this factor that is the motor that will strengthen anything else that can be needed, whether in the area of innovation, water management, medicine, or any other. Once there is trust and love between the people, that will carry everything else on its step.