#12. 4th Re-Birth-Day

4 years ago yesterday, on a business trip to NYC, I woke up and read this post. Michael Eisenberg, thank you! (You couldn’t know how your kindness encouraged me in a crisis.)

4 years ago today, I woke up with troubled breathing and chest pains, took two meetings, cancelled five, and jumped in a cab to Beth Israel Hospital [story here].

4 years ago tomorrow morning, I survived 7 hr quadruple bypass surgery,  rebooting body and spirit. My life was saved by my cardiac surgeon, Dr. Darryl M. Hoffman.

We none of us know what tomorrow morning brings but try to face each day in courage and hope. Blood flowing and feeling great, I am profoundly grateful this and every morning for health, friends, family — and especially Diane — who keep me going.

So slow down a second and savor your own delicious breathing!

Shanah tovah to you all from Jerusalem!

#11. Begin and Trump

Rivers of pixels have been spilt over fears of the new administration and America’s deep divisions. I’ll add a short personal story, going back 40 years today. My purpose is not to compare Prime Minister Begin’s and President Trump’s characters, but to focus on our own emotional reactions to them.

Out of School

My first software job was in February 1976. Newly married, just graduated from MIT, I started as an assembly language programmer at Data General. Later that year, Diane and I decided to try out Israel, arriving two months after the US BiCentennial / Entebbe rescue. We found jobs in Jerusalem and enjoyed a fun year, just the two of us in a freezing rental on HaPalmach St.

In January 1977 our close friend Judy visited. She had a cousin named Hillel Seidel,  a Member of Parliament from the small Independent Liberals party. Judy took us to visit the Knesset. It was exciting to see the action behind the scenes, especially the Knesset cafeteria, where  bitter political rivals chatted like old friends.

We were introduced to the Likud’s Menachem Begin, who was 63 at the time (yikes, that’s my age!) A gentleman, he kissed Diane’s hand and said hello to us. He then remarked to her, “I can tell from your accent that you’re not originally from here.” Diane shrank. But then he added, “Don’t worry about it, neither am I!”

No Way He’ll Win

In the spring of 1977, nobody — I mean nobody — imagined Begin actually winning the election. Not only was he a so-called fanatic but he had lost every single election since 1949, even the one right after the Yom Kippur War. Everyone just KNEW that Labor had been in power, was in power, and would always be in power, right? Of course right.

With my (superior?) American perspective, I kept telling co-workers that democracy means that governmental turnover is possible, however unlikely. Expect the unexpected. And on May 17, the Likud won and Menachem Begin became prime minister. And then came the Anwar Sadat visit, Camp David, peace treaty with Egypt, etc. All seemed about as unlikely in January 1977 as a visitor from Mars. When Sadat arrived in Jerusalem, Golda Meir said to him, “Mr. President, couldn’t you have visited while I was the prime minister!”

Four years later, Begin was reelected, three weeks after the Israeli Air Force’s pinpoint destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak, an act internationally condemned. BTW I once read that A. M. Rosenthal, NY Times Editor,  said one of his biggest professional regrets was attacking that operation.

I do not want to compare Begin’s character here with President Trump’s. Two recent articles are noteworthy: Daniel Gordis’ Before Donald Trump, There Was Menachem Begin and Bernard Avishai’s What Americans Against Trump can Learn from the Failures of the Israeli Opposition.

Opposing Viewpoints

Reflect on the big picture. There are natural, even healthy, tensions between Left and Right, freedom and equality, and between universalism and particularism. We’ve become polarized and emotional in our certainties, too unwilling to at least understand the other side. Black-and-white thinking is easy, it’s those grays that are tough. F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock explained in 1970 why Donald Trump was elected in 2016. Our poor impressionable minds & hearts can’t handle the complexity, overload, and accelerating rate of change. Don’t you ever just want to stop the world? Trump voters know that he won’t be able to keep all his promises; many don’t even want him to. That’s not the point. The unshakable message, as with Begin: shake things up.

My two biggest concerns today (besides the profound chasms in American society and myriad policy dilemmas facing Washington) are how clueless we are about the new cyber-warfare (read David Ignatius) and our insistent gullibility to fake news (i.e. the legitimacy of the well-formatted written word). These two areas require radically creative responses and adjustments to our mental models, and quickly.

I may not have voted for Trump, but let’s adjust to reality and hope/work for creative solutions to our new challenges, because so much of what we know to be true — isn’t.


 

#10. 3rd Re-Birth-Day and Happy Yom Kippur!

Stop. Breathe deep. Appreciate this day.

36 months ago today I survived a successful quadruple bypass surgery. Operating time:  7.5 hours. Diane took an exceptionally long flight over the Atlantic from TLV-JFK and nursed me back to health. I want to share with you how happy I am to be here today and every day. I thank God each morning for the miracle of waking up.

Aging

Aging is great. I wish you many years of it, in good health. I know how you might feel about the aches, wrinkles, and creeping forgetfulness. But it’s better to age than to not! Ideally, surrounded by family and friends.

As we grow older, years grow shorter. That’s because they represent a shrinking percentage of our life’s memory. I’m down to 1.5%. This morning I looked through Picasa and gathered a few images. (You should try this, too.) What’s funny is the human recollection of many ages and experiences “like they were yesterday”. At least inside   your brain. I remember that guy, perhaps disbelievingly in the mirror, but comprehend what he looks like to others.

The message remains — embrace each day of your life.

Counting Your Blessings

Take a moment and think about the near-misses that you and your family have survived this past year. It might be an illness, dozing at the wheel,  a fall down steps, violent crime, accidents, or a hundred other bullets dodged. Most, you haven’t noticed — because you never thought about them — and assume they wouldn’t happen.

We humans are the only species conscious of our finite time on this earth. Thankfully, we do not dwell on it too much — in fact, we live in thoughtful, blissful, healthy denial of all the things that might go wrong. Otherwise, we’d never make it through a day.

We’re more proficient at comprehending the past than the future. Very possible things we never imagined are, well, unimaginable… in the vernacular, “unbelievable”.

The trick is to confront the future with the balance of choice over what you control/influence — and a healthy respect for what you cannot.

Yom Kippur 5777

Today is Yom Kippur Eve. According to Jewish tradition, we face the scales of justice and mercy, as we look forward to a better year. The High Holidays are both celebration and a thoughtful view towards the challenges of the coming year. There’s a beautiful prayer we say, of which I find myself more in awe each year.

בראש השנה

And here is an audio recording of Yossele Rosenblatt (1882-1933) singing it.

%d7%a1%d7%9c%d7%99%d7%97%d7%94My wish for you is to find your own peace with yourself, as you consider your personal and professional goals for the coming year. At this time of year, we ask others for forgiveness. But it’s just as hard to ask ourselves to forgive — to let go of the angers, envies, grudges, I-told-you-so’s, Schadenfreude, and pettinesses.

From Jerusalem, wishing you a peaceful year of good health and nachat. And enjoy Yom Kippur! If you’re fasting… have an easy one.


 

#9: Martin Rosenschein (1919-1991), My Father

Do you ever wonder how your children (or grandchildren) might remember you someday? Today is the quarter-century yahrzeit, the Hebrew anniversary of my father’s death, and I would like to tell you about him.

Martin Rosenschein was born Meir Yisrael מאיר ישׂראל בן יהוֹשע ורבקה on March 13, 1919, five months after the Armistice which ended The Great War, in the Carpathian town of Mukačevo (Hungarian: Munkács) in eastern Czechoslovakia, a successor state of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He grew up in that vibrant town of some 20,000, about half of whom were Jews. It was a highly diverse population, ranging from ultra-Orthodox to Zionists to radical secular Communists, and he grew up in an atmosphere of intense intellectual ferment. His family (three brothers and one sister) were not well-to-do, and the children worked hard from their youth to help put food on the table.

In 1938, as a result of Chamberlain‘s and Hitler’s “peace in our time” deal, Nazi Germany occupied western Czechoslovakia, and its ally Hungary occupied Carpathian (eastern) Czechoslovakia. It might have been oppressive, but the Hungarian Jews were spared for the time being the Einsatzgruppen and death camps that extinguished most of Polish and Eastern European Jewry.

My father didn’t talk about it too much but once told my brother Jeff that he was walking home one evening with his own father, when they met a group of drunken Hungarian soldiers. One of them started to strike his father, and he jumped in front of the blow, suffering a broken nose. Such was the respect he showed his own father.

Everything changed again 72 years ago, in March of 1944, when Nazi Germany dumped its erstwhile ally and occupied Hungary. A man called Adolph Eichmann realized that Hungary’s 600,000 Jews had escaped the clutches of their fate, which he acted to rectify. The Jews didn’t see it coming; they literally “could not believe” it could happen to them. On the Seventh Day of Passover holiday, the Germans announced that the Jews were to all move into a smaller neighborhood of the city, the Jewish ghetto, overnight.

A few weeks later, in the last week of May 1944, all Jews were marched through the town, to the jeers of neighbors, to a brick factory on the outskirts, to await their fate. Three days later, they were crammed into cattle cars for the 3-day airless, sanitation-less train ride to Auschwitz-Birkenau. There they experienced their first “selection” — 80% to the left [=gas chamber], 20% to the right [=starvation + slave labor].

auschwitz birkenauDad told me once that, even inside Auschwitz, he didn’t grasp what was happening. The second day in the camps, the guards gave out postcards that the inmates were commanded to fill in, praising camp conditions, for pacification of the next hapless victims. Someone asked him whom he was writing to. He said, “my mother”, at which point the man hit him in the side of the head and said, “Idiot– don’t you realize that’s your mother coming out of that chimney over there?” He was there and he still couldn’t grasp the plain truth.

He survived the torture of several camps, including the infamous Buchenwald, performing pointless backbreaking labor on a starvation diet. One group of men would carry a heavy metal rail across a yard, and the next group would carry it back. The guard once said, “Don’t you know that if I shoot any of you, they’ll give me a prize.” The cruelest humiliation was the guards throwing a little food into a circle, just to enjoy watching the men claw at each other like animals.

He was still together with his brother Shimi (later Sandor Sternberg) and brother Moshe and father Yehoshua. My uncle Moshe, who was a bigger (taller) man, had it tough. He eventually gave up — “I can’t take this anymore” — and the next day that was it, he was gone. Their father was so emaciated that his sons got him into the infirmary (if you can call it that) and convinced him to stay there an extra day. Tragically, that was a day the Nazis disposed of the “patients” of the infirmary by lethal injection. They didn’t talk about it much, but I think that the brothers never forgave themselves for that horror regarding my grandfather’s murder.

Martin escaped from a transport train with his younger brother Shimi in the final days of the war. They were rounded up by the police in a little German town, whose captain said to a row of men, “Jews step forward.” In a split-second glance between the brothers, they did not… fortunately, because those men who did step forward were taken outside and shot.

The survivors of the War (there was no term Holocaust yet) wandered towards their one-time-homes looking for any family left. They had a code word to ask a stranger if he was Jewish: “עַמְךָ (amcha)?” Imagine a crowd of wretched homeless people mingling at a train station, desperate for a tidbit of information whether a loved one had made it out alive in one piece.

He reached his hometown, now the liberated Soviet Ukrainian town of Mukacheve / Мукачеве, with two sets of documents, one saying he was from there and one (sewn into his jacket) saying he was not — so he might leave. There was nothing and nobody there for him.

He met my mother, Yolanda, whom he had known from home, at the train station in Budapest. She had stuck together through the nightmare with Dad’s sister Freda (1925-2013) — they had become לאַגער שוועסטער, “camp sisters”, and would continue to stick together for the next 68 years.

It took them two tries to slip across the border into West Germany near Liberec, in the woods in the dead of winter. They ended up in the displaced persons camp of Fürth.

My parents were married on March 12, 1946. (A few weeks ago would have been their 70th wedding anniversary.) The other refugees got together and gave them their sole wedding gift: a cup and saucer.

Three years later, the Truman administration admitted thousands of Jewish  survivors of the concentration camps into the United States. Many Jewish communities across America absorbed several refugee families, and that’s how our family arrived in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

My father started a dry-cleaning company, to be joined by his two surviving brothers Ben and Sandy and brother-in-law Steve Lederer. It continues to this day as Quality Cleaners.

DadR03My brothers Stan and Jeff and I grew up with happy childhoods, not realizing what horrors had transpired just a few years previous. (Here’s a picture from Hershey Park from Aug-1959; I know that because, in those days, it was on the B&W print.)

Dad was a hard-working, quiet, logical, tough-minded, disciplined, and highly pragmatic man, who believed a husband and father’s primary responsibility was to support his family, no ifs and no buts. He truly appreciated and loved America as the greatest country in the world and was puzzled by the protests of the Sixties. He would smile ironically if someone used the phrase “I’m starving”. “In America,” he said, “someone is considered poor if he doesn’t own a color television set.”

DadR04Here was a man who never finished high-school, much less university, but was well-read and thoughtful, intellectually inclined, and especially proud of educating his own three boys.

Though rooted in America and its wonderful freedom, he had a love and appreciation for Israel, too. When we made aliyah, moving here, he certainly understood, and I think he was also proud. He had an unsentimental view of the complex challenges facing the State of Israel. He was not, shall we say, overly optimistic about the intentions of our adversaries.

Dad once told me, “If I could somehow transfer to you one painfully acquired lesson, it would be this. If someone ever threatens your life or that of your loved ones, JUST BELIEVE HIM! Never ever say, he couldn’t, he wouldn’t, the world would never let it happen — because if he could, he would, and it does.”

DadR05Dad / Sabba lived to see the birth of seven grandchildren. When he was feeling pains in his chest in 1990, his doctor, I believe, sort of knew what might likely happen, and encouraged him to travel to his grandson Koby’s bar-mitzvah in California. The next week he was operated on and diagnosed with an aggressive case of mesothelioma.

Jeff encouraged him in his final struggle, saying, “Dad, you survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald, you can fight this cancer.” His only answer: “I was younger then.”

My mother nursed him bravely up until the end. He passed away a few days after the close of the Gulf War in 1991, on the eve of his 72nd birthday.

As I said the kaddish prayer in his memory today, I reflected on this very Jewish ritual, at the heart of Jewish remembrance and mourning. The words are יִתְגַּדַּל וְיִתְקַדַּשׁ שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא / Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei raba / May His name be sanctified. In other words, even in moments of grief, we must choose to see life as good and for life to go on. We must fill the void.

I was fortunate to receive maftir in our synagogue this shabbat, in my father’s memory. I woke up early Saturday morning to have a look through the weekly Torah portion, and I picked up off the bookshelf a gift from my father that he had given Diane and me right before we moved to Israel in 1983. He inscribed it by hand (remember that?) uncharacteristically in Yiddish — but for him this was a statement of tradition and faith, given from the heart to enter another’s.

Inscription3

May the memory of my dear father מֵאִיר יִשְׂרָאֵל בן יְהוֹשֻׁעַ ורִבְקָה be a blessing.

Reference

DadR00a

 

#8: In Loving Memory

Yesterday Diane commemorated the memory of her wonderful father, Aaron Glassman, who passed away 22 years ago (9 Adar, 5754). I had the privilege of getting to know him as my father-in-law. He was a gregarious and generous man, active in community causes and loving of his family, someone everyone looked up to. He loved gadgets and all things mechanical. There are many times when Diane and I look at some modern technology and think of what a kick her Dad would have gotten from it.
We’re also coming up in two weeks (26 Adar, 5741) on the quarter-century of the passing of my own father, Martin Rosenschein. He had a lot in common with Diane’s father, and the two of them got along exceptionally well. They were both modest, traditional, hard-working men, devoted to their families. In some ways they were different — Diane’s a born-and-raised American, mine a European immigrant. As we recently started watching “Band of Brothers”, we realized that one of our fathers landed in Auschwitz a week before the other landed on Normandy. I guess one rescued the other and here we are.
In Friday’s Wall Street Journal, I came across a wonderful column by a young book-review editor. I found it so deeply moving that I want to share it with you below.
May our fathers’ memories be a blessing.

Watching Over My Grandmother

By Bari Weiss
http://www.wsj.com/articles/watching-over-my-grandmother-1458256719
@bariweiss
How do the rituals of death teach us how to live more meaningful lives? As religions go, Judaism is far more concerned about what happens in this world than the world to come. But as I learned this past weekend while burying my grandmother, Jewish rituals can serve not only to sanctify the dead, but also to humanize the living.
My grandmother, Sandy Steiner, who moved in with my family from Los Angeles 25 years ago to help raise my three younger sisters and me, was 81 years old when she died at home shortly after the Sabbath began on Friday night. In Judaism, a dead body is never to be left alone between the time of death and the time of burial. It’s a tradition called shmirah, or guarding, which dates to an ancient time when fear of rodents and grave-robbers was real.
Typically, the task is performed by volunteers, member of the community’s hevra kadisha – holy society – who do the watching in the funeral home. But if a person dies over the Sabbath, the body cannot be buried or even removed.
And so my grandmother’s family became her guardians: over a 24 hour period, her body covered in her bed, we watched over her.
My grandmother’s younger sister kept watch over Friday night. In the early morning hours Saturday, I sat with my younger sister. In the afternoon, my father sat with my uncle, followed by other family members who took her turns as the shomer or guard.
Traditionally, the shomer is supposed to sit quietly and recite Psalms. Our grandma was not so into the Psalms, but she could give you chapter and verse about the latest doings on E! and Bravo. And so we shared funny anecdotes about her, when we weren’t browsing through her copies of Vanity Fair or People. Surrounded by her books and family photos, we were reminded of a full life lived, as we sat beside the beautiful vessel of this woman we loved.
An hour after sundown on Saturday, which marks the end of the Sabbath, her body was taken from the house by members of the hevra kadisha. These are not strangers, but people we sit next to in synagogue – my father’s doctor, my best friend’s mother, volunteers all.
The members of this holy society prepare bodies for burial according to detailed rituals meant to honor the deceased and preserve their modesty. (It is for this reason that Jews prohibit open caskets.) Men prepare the bodies of men; women prepare women. The atmosphere in the room is quiet; only prayers are spoken, in Hebrew, including a final one asking for forgiveness if the dignity of the deceased has been violated in anyway. First the body is washed, then there is a ritual washing, before it is dressed in simple linen shrouds.
Judaism emphasizes that all are equal in death, but for a time Jews lost sight of this spiritual reality. By the second century in the Holy Land, the funerals of the wealthy had become so ostentatious that the poor, ashamed that they couldn’t keep up, left their relatives unburied outside the walls of Jerusalem. Rabbi Gamaliel, the leader of the Jewish community and a wealthy man, insisted that he be buried as a pauper in a plain shroud. His example of simplicity and humility in death has endured to this day.
My grandmother was buried in a plain wooden box. In keeping with Jewish law, the coffin had no metal – even the sides were connected by wooden dowels. The aim is to ensure it’s complete disintegration, fulfilling the verse from Genesis: “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
At the burial, her family and friends filled in her grave. In shoveling the dirt we were performing a chesed shel emet – a true act of kindness – because it is something that cannot be repaid.
My grandmother’s life’s work was as a caretaker for her family – in addition to bringing up three daughters, she helped raise four of her grandchildren. Diapers, meals, car pools; Saturday nights spent watching blockbuster rentals with us so my parents could have a date night.
It is the natural way of things that those who have been caretakers ultimately become the cared for. In the last few weeks of her life – diagnosed with terminal cancer after already having survived bouts with the breasted lung cancer, she didn’t cry – she was tended to around-the-clock by my mother and her two sisters, who made sure she died at home, surrounded by family.
When so much in modern life is outsourced, there is something clarifying, maybe even purifying, about witnessing a loved one’s final days. In caring for someone after death, and being expected to take part in rituals at once deeply uncomfortable and comforting, I realized the Judaism was forcing us to examine our own lives and deed – and to ask ourselves: are we putting our own vessels to their best use?

Ms. Weiss is an associate book review editor at the Wall Street Journal.

Also see WSJ interview with Bari Weiss and column by Brett Stephens: A Lesson before Dying.

#7: My Happy 2nd Re-Birth-Day

2nd-birthdayNow I don’t think that I talk too much about surviving my heart attack and emergency surgery, but Diane says I talk about it all the time, so you can guess who’s right. Two years ago today. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t  sure that cloudy morning when they wheeled me into the O.R. exactly where I would end up next!

So I’m happy to tell you that I’m still here — eating / breathing / sleeping / working better, walking 10K steps a day, and feeling overall healthier than I have in several decades.

But I do want to tell you something about superlatives and denial — and how they connect.

Mentions-unbelievableThe English language is rich in exaggerated words that once meant something else, such as awesome, awful, terrible, and fantastic. My personal favorite is un·be·liev·a·ble, defined as “not able to be believed; unlikely to be true” or “so great or extreme as to be difficult to believe; extraordinary”. (Here is a graph of usage of the term over the past two centuries.)

Connected to unbelievable is another phrase which we all love to use: “Can you believe that… [fill in the blank]?” We use this gut phrase when we know that we are right about something or wronged by someone else, which is roughly 100% of the time. Robert Wright put it best in his book, “The Moral Animal“:

“One might think that, being rational creatures, we would eventually grow suspicious of our uncannily long string of rectitude, our unerring knack for being on the right side of any dispute over credit, or money, or manners, or anything else. Nope. Time and again–whether arguing over a place in line, a promotion we never got, or which car hit which–we are shocked at the blindness of people who dare suggest that our outrage is not warranted.”

The trouble with unbelievable or incredible is, well,  that they’re not. If the human race learned nothing in the 20th century, it’s that the unthinkable isn’t.

Jan-KarskiHere’s a story which speaks volumes about this problem. In 1942, a Polish resistance fighter named Jan Karski escaped Europe with documentary evidence about the vast extent of Nazi war crimes and mechanized death camps. He made his way to Washington D.C., where he was received by the (Jewish) U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Felix Frankfurter. Upon disclosing his horrific discoveries, Justice Frankfurter replied, “I don’t believe you. . . . I do not mean that you are lying. I simply said that I cannot believe you.”

Which brings us back to the cannot-believable. Daniel Kahneman has written, “We are blind, and we are blind to our blindness.” You see, there ain’t no deception like self-deception!

Of the untold things to which we’re blind, the biggest are the everyday dangers. Reasonable caution notwithstanding, it’s better not to spend all day thinking about the car crashes, bankruptcies, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, violent crime, and a long list of horrible diseases and catastrophes. Not that they’re unthinkable — just that it really won’t help to dwell on them. It’s healthier to live with a limited denial of the real world. Not only does it not help to wallow in the negative, it leads to damaging stress and incapacitation.

No, you shouldn’t stay indoors your whole life; it entails other adverse effects, and it won’t eliminate those dangers anyway. For example, helicopter parents don’t realize that their overprotectiveness actually damages their children’s capacity for independent growth, just as over-dieters suffer from their own eating-disorders. But we are all naturally blind to our blind spots.

We deny the unbelievable (1) because it’s too painful and (2) because we’re human! This is not a bad thing. We need to find the right balance between optimism, pessimism, realism, and naïveté.

joy1So my random connection of a level of healthy denial, our relentless use of superlatives, and my outstanding mood on the 2nd anniversary of surviving come together. Enjoy — appreciate — your loved ones. Never fall into the trap of being too inhibited to tell them you love them.

We live in troubled times, but you must keep fighting, keep going. Grab life and never let go.

Here’s a short video on the subject of Music and Life (thanks, Mort Meyerson).

One last quote: “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breaths away.” (Maya Angelou 1928-2014)

 

 

#6: New Curiyo Launch

Bob Rosenschein visits Scobleizer

September was a hectic month: Jewish holidays and our Curiyo product launch.

By far, the most stressful part was waiting 11 days for Apple’s routine iOS App Store approval. To be fair, they state it could take 1-2 weeks, but they really mean it! Compared to the Google Play Store (Android), it seemed forever. Anyway, the apps was both finally approved — download them here — and we were able to announce, in 15 international languages.

We were lucky to get some positive press, which you can see here. But the most fun and most widely received coverage was an interview I did with the Robert Scoble, a.k.a. @Scobleizer. We covered a whole range of topics, including Curiyo, content discovery, Jerusalem, Israel, internationalization, and startups.

Bob Rosenschein visits Scobleizer

Here it is: https://www.facebook.com/RobertScoble/posts/10153613733914655

#5: Days, Years, Generations, 21340

TrumanA friend asked me over lunch yesterday how the Rosenscheins settled in Harrisburg. That’s an easy one; in 1949 the Truman administration admitted thousands of European Jewish refugees, and Jewish communities across America opened their hands and hearts to these war-shattered families. The Joint Distribution Committee found ours a very welcome new home in Central Pennsylvania.

As I age, I appreciate the variable speed of perceived time. We quantify it in days, hours, minutes, and second(ary-minute)s — and especially years. But I think that generations are the way to go, especially since they overlap so deliciously. I figure historically a generation was roughly 25-30 years. Lately it’s gone up amost 10 years; thankfully so has life expectancy. (See The Invention of Grandparents.) It’s interesting that our generation was born just a few years after WWII or, for that matter, 12 years after the death of Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859-1941)… Or that the last WWI veteran, Florence Green, died at 110 in 2012.

I am fascinated by juxtapositions of dates. My mother was born April 9, 1921, the 7th day of Passover, a scant 56 years to the day after the Confederate surrender of Robert E. Lee to Ulysses Grant at Appomattox. Little could she imagine growing up how crucially the USA would figure both in deciding a later war and granting her a new life.

My maternal grandfather, Samuel Bleier, for whom I’m named, was born in 1885 in Mukachevo, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He married Shaindel Shimshovitz, and together they raised nine children, seven daughters and two sons. Mom was their youngest daughter.

They made it through the war unscathed–almost. But, in 1944, the Nazis caught up with Hungary’s Jews, executing their deception in carefully planned stages. On the 7th day of Passover (14-Apr-44), the order was given for all Jews in town to move into a closed-off (ghetto) neighborhood, to scrounge for a roof over their heads and figure out what of their life’s possessions they could drag there. One month later, they were marched to a factory on the outskirts of town, where they sat on the ground for three days, waiting for the cattle-cars that would “resettle” them. Then the train… 3 days… terminating at Auschwitz (27-May-44).

I won’t tell you the longer story here of four grandparents’ last hour on earth.

Nowadays my mother no longer goes to synagogue for the yizkor memorial service—because it doesn’t give her enough time to silently remember her long list of loved ones lost. She survived the horrors together with one older sister and one younger brother. Today these three’s descendants number hundreds; she is the last living survivor of her large pre-war family.

Samuel BleierMy grandfather Samuel Bleier was murdered at the age of 21,340 days. From where I sit right over the other side of 60, it doesn’t sound so old anymore. I catch myself wondering, do I treasure each loved one, each day, each breath enough?

Diane and I visited Poland in 2007 on a trip led by the remarkable Aryeh Geiger ז״ל. My saddest moment was on the train platform at Auschwitz. This year, Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation produced an outstanding must-see short video about Auschwitz, narrated by Meryl Streep. The whole film is worth watching, but the juxtaposition of the train tracks then and now [at 5:40] moved me to tears.

Tonight and Thursday, we commemorate יוֹם הַשׁוֹאָה, Holocaust Memorial Day. We can try but will never fathom the magnitude of what transpired in the death camps, even as modern regimes deny one holocaust while planning another.

Mom ended the war half-starved, half-dead from typhus in the infamous Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, two months after Anne Frank died there of the same disease. She once told me that the Nazi female guards were shooting Jewish girls with pistols even as British soldiers approached the barracks.

Today America marks exactly 15 decades since Lincoln’s assassination (also 7th day of Passover), but April 15 is also 7 decades to the day since my Mom’s liberation and rebirth.

I dedicate this #notsilent post to four grandparents — Yehoshua and Rivka Rosenschein, Shmuel and Shaindel Bleier — and the dozens of aunts, uncles and cousins whom I never knew. Also to my Dad, Martin Rosenschein ז״ל, my Mom עמו״ש who turned 94 on this April 9 (6th day of Passover), to my brothers and their families, to our wonderful sons, daughters-in-laws, and grandchildren, and especially with love to my Diane!

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#4: How a 14 Year Old Schoolgirl Brought the Beatles to America Two Months before the Ed Sullivan Show

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I couldn’t resist writing this fun post about something that happened 51 years ago today.

Most people think that America discovered the Beatles on their debut on the Ed Sullivan Show (see it here). But did you ever wonder how they achieved that much noise on their first visit?

The story really goes back earlier – to a report filed by Alexander Kendrick, CBS News’ correspondent in London, where Beatlemania had already erupted. You can watch the original story here, called “Beatle-land”. He talked about juveniles who fainted when the tickets run out and used fancy descriptions: “Besides being merely the latest objects of adolescent adulation and culturally the modern manifestation of compulsive tribal singing and dancing, the Beatles are said by sociologists to have a deeper meaning. Some say they are the authentic voice of the proletariat…” Watch the 5-minute report, especially the interview with Ringo, Paul, George and John.

The story was scheduled to be aired on Walter Cronkite’s CBS Evening News on November 22, 1963, but President Kennedy was murdered that morning, and America went into shock and depression.

It was only two and a half weeks later, on December 10, that Cronkite decided the nation was ready for anything lighter, so the Beatle-Land story was shown.

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Carroll James with Marsha Albert (1984)

Enter Marsha Albert, a 14-year-old schoolgirl from Silver Spring, Maryland. She called up her local disc jockey at WWDC radio, Carroll James, and asked him to play a Beatles song. He obtained a record (remember those?) from someone traveling from England.

And so he played “I Want to Hold Your Hand” exactly 51 years ago today, on Tuesday, December 17, 1963. And Marsha Albert got the honor of introducing it on the radio (hear it here).

And that’s how Beatlemania began in the U.S.  The song hit Number 1 weeks before the triumph on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964.

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#3: Yossi Vardi and the Denmark High School

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People know Yossi Vardi as an Israeli high tech leader, for his role in the creation of instant messaging, for being an advisor to the CEO’s of AOL and Amazon.com, for his involvement in Israeli peace negotiations, and even his funny TED talk. Fewer people know that Vardi contributed to Sergey Brin and Larry Page the idea for Google AdWords, no less (see Auletta p. 90, Vise, p. 99).

My own involvement with him began back in 1998, when he gifted me the concept that became GuruNet and later Answers.com. He was also one of our first investors and always a generous connector.

Yossi has always been interested in education and helping underprivileged kids. He told me a story once about the remarkable Bialik-Rogozin School project in Tel Aviv, about which the Academy-Award winning “Strangers No More” documentary was filmed. It serves kids from dozens of countries, most of them immigrants, many of them refugees, teaching them Hebrew and integrating them into Israel.

Following the unimaginable Dolphinarium suicide bomber attack on June 1, 2001, and coinciding with world leaders like Bill Clinton visiting Israel that year to celebrate Shimon Peres’ 80th birthday, Yossi decided to take the Google founders to visit the school and inspire and cheer up the students. Now, Mikhail Gorbachev heard about this and wanted to come along, too. So did Shimon Peres! So, imagine if you will, Yossi Vardi, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Mikhail Gorbachev and Shimon Peres descending on a high school in Tel Aviv.  Gorbechev asked if he can address the students in Russian, which many of the kids and most of the teachers (and Sergey) spoke. He said, “Even though you have left Russia, I can only salute the special role of the Jewish people in opening up our country to democracy.” Imagine the tears in the eyes of those present upon hearing these words. When Page and Brin spoke, Yossi had the kids all stand up and shout at the top of their lungs “WE LOVE GOOGLE!

After our successful exit with Answers.com in 2011, Yossi suggested I get involved in some of his projects. I attended a graduation ceremony at Bialik Rogozin in June of that year, when Karen Tal was principal. I shot this very short video clip of kids from a dozen countries singing “My Favorite Things” in Tel Aviv in Hebrew.

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with Yossi at Denmark School

Yossi later got me involved as a volunteer at the Denmark School in Jerusalem, where Yonat Kaufman is principal and has done amazing things to breathe new life into a school once known mostly for its tough neighborhood.

When I received the invitation to attend the dedication of the new school library last week, I was not sure if I could make it. I’m pretty busy in my own startup getting ready to launch the next version of Curiyo. Fortunately, I made the time.

The library was being dedicated in honor of Heinz and Ruth Galinski, about whom I knew nothing. There were a few speeches, and students singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and John Lennon’s “Imagine”.

Yonat Kaufmann
Yonat Kaufmann

But the highlight for me was a simple, moving speech by Christian Lange, member of the German Bundestag and Parliamentary State Secretary at the Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection. He was kind enough afterwards to share his remarks:

“Ladies and Gentlemen,

I was delighted when Nathan Gelbart, Chair of Keren Hayesod in Germany, asked me if I would like to open the Heinz and Ruth Galinski Library, in my capacity as Parliamentary State Secretary, here at Denmark High School today.

Christian Lange
Christian Lange

While I have visited Israel on very many occasions as a member of the German Bundestag, being invited to open this library is a very special honor for me as a German parliamentarian.

Heinz Galinski was born on the 28th of November 1912 in Marienburg, West Prussia (now Malbork in Poland). This man stands – like no other – for the revival of Jewish life in Germany after the Shoah.

I would like to say a few words on Heinz Galinski himself.
Heinz Galinski was born into a “classic” German family. His father was a merchant and fought in the First World War. In 1933, Heinz completed his apprenticeship to become a salesman in the textile industry.

After the National Socialists took power, the family set off for Berlin. They believed that anti-Semitism would not be as bad in a major city as it was in Marienburg.

And so, in 1938, Heinz Galinski moved to number 31/32 Schönhauser Allee in the Berlin district of Prenzlauer Berg, which today is marked by a commemorative plaque dedicated to his memory.

After being forced into slave labor in 1940, Galinski was deported by the Nazis to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in 1943, together with his wife and mother. Later on, he was sent to perform slave labor at I. G. Farben in Auschwitz-Monowitz. His wife and mother were murdered at Auschwitz.

In January 1945, Heinz Galinski was evacuated to Mittelbau concentration camp and, when Mittelbau was evacuated, removed to Bergen-Belsen. Heinz Galinski was liberated from the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen by British troops in mid-April 1945.
The fact alone that Galinski decided to stay in Germany in order to rebuild Jewish life—despite this terrible fate and despite such brutal experiences—shows just how strong he must have been.

From April 1949 until his death on 19th of July 1992, Heinz Galinski was Chairman of the Jewish Community of Berlin—German’s largest Jewish community organization.
Furthermore, from 1954 to 1963 and from 1988 to 1992, he was President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

As you know, Galinski rebuilt Jewish life in Germany, and he did this even in the face of great resistance on the part of Jewish communities around the world. His second wife, Ruth Galinski, whom I had the honor of meeting in Berlin, told me that this was a matter very close to his heart. Otherwise, the Nazis would have achieved their goal after all: a Germany free of Jews.

As a member of the German Bundestag, I feel a great sense of humility when I think of Heinz Galinski’s life, of his courage, of this resolve—without which there would not be a single Jewish community in Germany today.

Heinz Galinski was the voice of Jewish life in Germany after 1945. Moreover, people listened to him. His opinion was well regarded. He was greatly respected and was recognized as a man of high standing in German political circles.

When Heinz Galinski recognized injustice, he opened his mouth: “I did not survive Auschwitz to keep quiet in the face of new injustice”. This was his guiding principle.
In 1987, Heinz Galinski was granted honorary citizenship of the City of Berlin. And, when he died in 1992, thousands of Berliners gathered on the streets as his casket made its way from the Jewish Community Center in Fasanenstraße to the Jewish Cemetery in Heerstraße.

Heinz Galinski believed in a new Germany – even after surviving a letter-bomb attack in 1975, and despite needing round-the-clock personal security. We should also not forget that in 1998 his grave was the target of two bomb attacks which resulted in the almost complete destruction of his gravestone.

Ladies and gentlemen, today, Germany is once again a place where Rabbis are trained. We have Jewish kindergartens, Jewish schools, Jewish faculties, Jewish university groups – there is even a Working Group of Jewish Social Democrats in my party.

Today, several thousand Israelis live in Berlin, where they play an important role in the city’s social and cultural life and in industry.

I am sure that Heinz Galinski would have been very pleased with the way things have turned out.

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Heinz Galinski (1912-1992)

However, despite these positive developments, we should not forget that even today centers of Jewish life – from kindergartens to synagogues – require police protection. We should not accept this as the norm. Instead we must remain active in the fight against all forms of anti-Semitism. We are highly indebted to people such as Heinz Galinski on this front as well.

Heinz Galinski was a passionate Zionist. So was his wife Ruth. They were both regular visitors to Israel, which is why I am delighted that the Heinz and Ruth Galinski library is being opened here today.

I hope that your pupils will take great pleasure in using this library, and I hope they will learn who Heinz Galinski: a great Jewish German, to whom we all owe a great deal.”


Today is Yom HaShoah. Seven decades ago last week, my father ז״ל and mother were expelled from their homes to an unimaginable place in Poland known as Auschwitz. Sixty-nine years ago last week, on Sunday, April 15, 1945, my mother was liberated by British soldiers from the infamous Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany. She lost so many family members that the names don’t fit into the scant five minutes for the Yizkor prayer in synagogue. She is now the last surviving member of her family who remembers their names and faces.

May their memories, and especially the memories of our grandparents, Shaindel & Samuel Bleier and Rivka & Yehoshua Rosenschein, be honored today, as well as a new generation rebuilding Jewish life and Israel — and our friends around the world.