Shalom Toronto Article: “Israel Is Not What We Thought It Is”

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Canadian toy giant Spin Master, the third largest in North America, sent the best minds in the field to the Holy Land to meet with science-oriented children

By Izzy Ein Dor
Translated By Elad Benari

17.11.2011

It turns out that the Jewish people not only the people of the book, but also the people of the toys. Toys R Us, if you will. Spin Master, for those who did not know, was founded in Toronto by three young Jewish guys the mid 1990s and has since become the third largest toy company in North America with offices in Toronto where the company was founded, Los Angeles and Hong Kong, where the production stage itself is supervised.

So how did it all start? You’ve probably heard the story that has been studied in business schools in Canada and the U.S., but here is a short version. Odette Levy, an Israeli who lives in Toronto and who is the mother of Ronen Harari, one of those young men who founded the company, came across an article in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper about a current hit toy – the Chia Pet. She convinced her son and his friends, all of whom eventually became partners in Spin Master, to bring the idea to North America.

Science oriented kids and Harari“If a million pieces were sold in Israel, imagine how much it can sell in North America,” she said. It was a short way from there to a large order by U.S-based K-Mart and the rest, as they say, is history. But Spin Master needed new products, because, as Odette Levy told Shalom Toronto, “the toy world is a world of changing fashions. It’s rare to find toys that sell well even after three or four years.”

This is where hits like Bakugan, which later became a television program, and Air Hogs, which became a leading brand in remote control cars, planes and helicopters, came in. These two brands were developed by outside inventors. Spin Master, like any other great toy company, is based on those inventors who, kind of like fashion designers, have become sought after persons and who have quite a few hit toys which they developed.

“Every big toy company goes after those people who are known to bring forth good ideas and are responsible for brands which sold millions of pieces,” said Levy. As part of a strategic decision aimed at strengthening the relationship between the company and these inventors, Spin Master recently organized a special trip to Israel which was to include a meeting with President Shimon Peres and with students of the Science Oriented Youth Program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“We decided to take them to Israel even though we could have taken them to other places and play it safe as they say,” said Levy. “As an Israeli, I knew that Israel has a kind of magic that doesn’t exist anywhere else. In addition, it turned out that the Israeli Consul General in Toronto, Amir Gissin, was in charge of a project centered on rebranding Israel, meaning - to change Israel’s image.”

Ronen Harari“Gissin’s project talks about a change of direction in thinking about Israel, so that rather than thinking of us as a country that is connected to religion and war, people will think in terms of science and intelligence,” she added. “We got the inventors, people who are considered brilliant minds in and of themselves, to meet with those children and youths who worked on projects. The meeting itself was scheduled to take place at the President’s Residence. It took place without Mr. Peres, who was busy that day, but it was no less successful.”

“The visit was extraordinary and everyone enjoyed it,” recalled one Spin Master employee who joined the trip and visited Israel for the first time. “There was a sense before the trip that Israelis feel that no one in the world likes them and that’s not true. There are many intelligent and talented people in Israel, so the image presented in the media is not real. Everyone there wants peace and wants to work and fulfill dreams. In any case, it seems that Israel has a good future with these youngsters.”

Canadian Friends of Hebrew University subsidizes the program for Science Oriented Youth in the periphery. In the city of Sderot, for example, no less than 200 students are listed. 27 students came to the meeting with Spin Master. They heard about the toy-making process, from invention to distribution, asked questions and even presented some of their ideas.

Spinmaster website screenshot

“This is the happiest day of my life,” declared one of the students, who enjoyed the rare encounter with the people responsible for so many toys that have become hits in Israel.

“It is important to encourage boys and especially girls to be interested in science, especially nowadays,” said Devora Lang, director of the Science Oriented Youth Project at the Hebrew University. “Such an encounter opens a door for them into the scientific world and what it has to offer, because they do not experience these things every day. Israel has more and more children and teenagers who sign up for scientific programs, and may continue in the profession later.”

Levy summarized, “The inventors received a new angle on a new place with new people, and most of them loved it and said they would return to Israel. What is certain is that the Israeli children really enjoyed the encounter and we have committed ourselves to support this program as a company. Out of 4,000 ideas that are brought to our offices, perhaps only ten become toys that hit the shelves, but who knows, maybe in the future one of them will be an Israeli invention.”

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