#15: A Tale of Two Memorial Days

My wife and I enjoyed a fun Memorial Day picnic in New Jersey with our children and grandson. But on the flight home last night from EWR to TLV, I thought about that combination of words—“fun Memorial Day”—and about a cultural contrast, after 36 years here, between my native and adopted lands.

America is a vast country with 330 million people, protected by giant oceans, friendly (yes) borders, and a mighty (since WWII) army. That’s one reason that 9/11 shocked everyone: intense, murderous intense, murderous destruction– hatred as much for successes as for failures.

Israel, on the other hand, is home to just 9 million people in the same area as New Jersey, vulnerable in an unforgiving neighborhood, and there are people who are actively committed to killing us all! Power may be required to survive but doesn’t win us any popularity awards. as Golda Meir once said, “Better negative press than positive eulogies.” My Dad, a concentration camp survivor, put it differently, “When somebody threatens your life, just believe him.”

The U.S. has a tiny fraction (0.5%) of its 350 million population in uniform. Israel has 1.8% of its 9 million citizens on active duty right now, not counting 5.2% on reserve duty, and most of the rest are veterans. That’s why Israel has no Veterans Day. Like your mother used to say, “Every day is Children’s Day.”

But the real difference between the two countries lies in a phrase from the Passover Haggadah: “In every generation they try to destroy us.” American Jews enjoy the luxury of questioning that phrase in the disturbing light of recent Jew-hatred; Israelis just nod. In this little country, everyone seems to know each other and has a family or friend touched by that most permanent of sadnesses.

There’s one more contrast—timing. The U.S. has Memorial Day at the end of May, Independence Day on July 4, and Veterans (“Armistice”) Day on November 11. But let’s face it, unless you’re part of the tiny percentage experiencing that personal blow, you might pay respect to the armed forces, but it’s a still a long weekend for picnics and discount sales. Maybe we all hope to get to that place.

In Israel the juxtaposition is severe by intent. Two weeks after Passover comes Holocaust Memorial Day, a reminder of the direct link between powerlessness and mass murder. A week later comes Memorial Day to remind us of the wrenching sacrifices that (help) guarantee national freedom. And the next day, at sunset, to be precise, it all switches in the blink of an eye from mourning to the celebration of Yom HaAtzmaut, Israeli Independence Day. The three are intricately connected, for better or worse.

There are sirens on both Israeli Memorial Days and people stand at attention wherever they are. Even drivers on the highways stop and get out of their cars to observe a minute of silence and remember. Because, however fractured our politics, we all grasp the true stakes as one.

Nowhere have I seen this phenomenon explained more movingly on film that this short clip from Simon Schama’s brilliant “The Story of the Jews” (Episode 6).

So, you see, there are advantages to both big and little countries. Let’s dream of a happier future when Memorial Days are distant memories of the very personal sacrifices for independence.

#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.


#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