Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Next Stop, Israel

Yes, I gave it all away in the title of this post.

For the rest of you that clicked through to read about this topic, let me start with this story. This quite possibly may be my longest blog post I ever write. You have been warned.
Around 1994 or 1995 I was managing Citibank's Latin American Lotus Notes network. I visited numerous countries there and checked on our cc:Mail, Notes and OpenMail installations and personnel.
One trip scheduled was to Bogota, Colombia. In those years it was common, at least in Miami, to read about kidnappings and ransom notes, sometimes murders, by the drug cartels in Bogota. Nonetheless, I looked forward to going. My family and friends were not very happy, but having already been entangled with the military in the Dominican Republic, I figured this could not be so bad (ask me sometime over drinks if you want to know details about it). Besides, Citibank wouldn't let me go to a risky location, right?
Off I went. Bogota, by the way, is a beautiful city should you ever get there to visit. I spent shabbat down there and got my work done. While sitting with the team, they all asked me what it was like to live in such a war torn place like Miami. You see, in their papers, they only heard about the drug killings, the murdered tourists, the poverty and how brave I was to live there. When I inquired about what I "knew" about Bogota, they laughed and said, sure it happens, if you hang out in certain areas or with certain people. Funny right? There's more.
I returned home to my family and friends and went to the office the next day. I went to my manager at the time and asked for vacation time for Passover, I was going to in Israel and would need about 10 days. After letting me know that the vacation was approved, he said to me, how can you go over there with their bus bombings and some other events that had occurred. After looking at him for a few seconds I smiled and said, funny that's what the Bogota team asked me about Miami.

Why do I tell you this story from 20 or so years ago? Because some things never change. 

The views one has tend to come from our education, our parents, our geographical locations, our experiences, what we read, what we hear and for some, what we experience.

Whether or not you agree with the Israeli side or the people of Gaza's side, you have an opinion, so do I, try to be truthful and respectful. 

One of the things, I hope, that helped me become an IBM Champion, is my drive to not back down from a competitive discussion and led me to my numerous FudBuster Friday posts. If you want to be biased or bigoted, at least have proper arguments and present the truth. I am not going to spend time on this blog about what is true, or not, regarding the situation in Israel. My other social media efforts push some of that information. What I am going to try to explain is why my family and I are moving to Israel, and why now after all these years.

Many of you know I previously worked for Lotus EMEA, prior to that I was in Israel from 1996-1998. I was working, even back then, remotely for US clients and did some high level advisory in Israel. I met some great people, some I still see regularly online and in person at the annual conference previously called Lotusphere, now called ConnectED, in Orlando in January.

I left Israel in 1998 at the request of Lotus to work on the European continent. However, I ended up on a large island and lived in London. If they would have let me work from Israel, which given the road warrior traveling I did for Lotus those years, I would probably still be working for IBM today, and still be in Israel today.

When I left IBM in 2001, weeks before 9/11, I wanted to return to Israel, but my wife wanted to come to Boca Raton. I lost the battle, as they say, but in the end, I won the war. When my wife said to me about 2 years ago she was ready to go back, I would have booked it then. But there are many things to be worked out, for me, her, the kids....the dog, that we eventually settled on this summer.

Why? I get asked this frequently these days. Why now? I get asked daily right now.
If you really know me, the question should be, WHAT TOOK YOU SO LONG?! 

Why now? I am amused how if we were moving back to London, or any other place, it would not be a big deal to most people. But you mention Israel, and people go crazy suddenly. Left, right, center, right field, we heard from all of you, and we appreciate everyone's wishes of luck, prayers and assistance.

For those that ask how can I go to Israel at a time like this? Don't I care about my family? My answer usually is to repeat the story above that started this blog post. And then add, have you read the papers and watched the news lately? Maybe we are not the crazy ones for going after all?

You might say those are real rockets they are shooting. This is true, sadly the area within 1-2 miles of Gaza gets about 50% of the rockets. The US Iron Dome system, patented and owned by the US, which Israel helped develop and is actively testing, has blocked about 40% of the rockets reaching deeper into Israel. Still not perfect, that is a lot of misses, but better odds than without the system.

Israel has long been building residences with safe rooms and bunkers in buildings to protect their people from those that, for whatever reason, can not live peacefully next to it. I have always preferred to know the bad upfront, so the rest is all great. When you walk down the street, do you think about how many people are carrying guns? Do you worry while your kids are in school that some crazy friend of theirs is going to hunt them down? Do you not shop in "those areas" because it wouldn't be safe for you to do so? Yes, there are scary events everywhere, the world is just not a safe place sadly.

Walking the streets of Israel, the Israeli army is there to protect you, the citizen or visitor, not just the government people. Almost everyone you see in Israel wore that uniform, many still do, even 20 years afterwards. They serve not to support a military dictatorship, but a free democracy that not only has Jews, Christians, Moslems and numerous other religions inside it, but also protect some of the holiest places known to the world. The army in Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and numerous other places could not understand the Israeli army mentality nor how it is there for us and with us.

My kids will eventually go into the Israeli army. Whatever role they choose in it, I will support them. But understand this, it is not just one family, it is an entire country that joins with them. The Talmud (Shevuot 39a), saysKol yisrael arevim zeh bazeh, meaning all of Israel are responsible for each other. When one soldier dies, the country as a whole mourns. I have heard it said there is no family in Israel that has not lost a relative to the wars, battles or terrorism. My family lost relatives in the 1973 war.

When your kids are in Israel, even strangers will watch out for them and protect them if something happens because everyone is responsible for each other.

This is true collaboration. When you can step away from being a separatist, or an independent or living in you own little silo of a home, and help everyone else out there, you have found your way in life.

When you can put your faith or feelings into someone else's situation, not just in times of trouble, but every day, you can feel some of what I feel, when I am in Israel.The sense of unity, working as one, even while we may disagree about politics or religion or sports. This post from yesterday put it quite well. While our friends and neighbors mirror these views, on a larger community or even city, state or national level, we have a long way to go in the US.

My kids in America, aged 12, 10, and 7 could never walk just 2-3 blocks to get ice cream from a shop alone. In Israel, kids 5 years old do it all the time. I make my kids at least go in pairs, I have some worries and responsibilities as a parent. But the people on the street or at the shop watch out for my kids, just as much as I watch out for theirs. None of us may know anyone's kids, but we all feel that responsibility should something just not seem right. Some of you in smaller turns or rural areas probably understand this better than city dwellers.

My work day will be longer, in order to support US times, my work week will also be shorter, since Friday for me will mean minimal US interaction by the time Shabbat starts. My holidays will have greater meaning in Israel for me and my kids. All the work I did in teaching them the last 2 years, and their various teachers before me, will come to fruition as they experience the good, and the bad, of events from the Bible, and see it play out in real life today. 

Are they scared? Sure, but they also have hope and are excited to go on this journey. Since they have not been there before, while my wife lived there for 7 years and I did for 3, they are just starting to understand it is not all desert and tents. Modern technology has also made it much easier for friends and family to stay in touch which should help them as well.  

They want to "adopt" a lone soldier, one that is serving in the army and has no immediate family or home in Israel. I have known a few people that were those soldiers and we look forward to helping them once we get settled. 

My kids are lucky, we spent a summer living in London, we spent a December too. They experienced things they never would in Boca Raton. My children will have even more experiences from living in Israel that will influence their view of the world.

Some people want to change the world, I want to help my kids do it by helping Israel grow and flourish.

Today is Tisha B'Av, the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, and a fast day.
This day has had so many bad things happen to the Jewish people over the millenia it is amazing we survived all this time. Because one is not supposed to travel or conduct business on this day, we will be departing from Boca Raton on August 6.

Our journey, 2 adults, 3 kids, and 1 dog in a van with about 15 suitcases and duffel bags will be making our way driving from Florida to New York. We will pass through Georgia and spend the night in Manning, South Carolina as our first stop. It is not the scenic route, just the I-95 one.

We then make a dash to reach Silver Spring, Maryland for Thursday night and spend it with friends after a stop in Richmond, Virginia for Lunch.

Friday we head to the Big Apple, New York City where we will return our van to Honda and spend Shabbat in Woodmere with a neighbor of one of my college friends. These people do not even know us yet, but have been gracious enough to let us stay with them through Monday morning when we head to JFK for our flight on El Al.

Sunday we will take the kids to Manhattan and enjoy all that it has to offer them so if anyone knows anything going on we should try to get to, let me know.

When we land on Tuesday morning there is a planned ceremony from Nefesh B'Nefesh which is broadcast live, about midnight Monday US EST time. Their site will have links closer to the date.

We will be offline for a few days while we get new phone service and internet hooked up at our new apartment, don't let that stop you from staying in touch with us.

We are moving to Rehovot which is just south of Tel Aviv and not far from Ben Gurion airport.

Why Rehovot?

We found a nice community that was mixed Israeli and Anglo. Having a great community is something we will miss from Boca and we think the one in Rehovot will be a good match for us. The schools for the kids worked out for us as well as everyone had only great things to say about the schools. Rehovot is also on the main train line making it easy to get to Netanya, Tel Aviv, Haifa and more locations on the coast line.

If you have made it this far, thank you for your friendship, readership and support. I hope to see some of you in January, usual place. Maybe get to Social Connections 7 in Stockholm in November and see you sooner.

I now return you back to my usual blog posts.

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