Sunday, November 13, 2011

Day 1: Jerusalem, Lift Up Your Gates and Sing

Sunday is the first day of the Israeli work week, and we dutifully left the Hotel at 7:45 AM to drive to Jerusalem, the capital and largest city (750,000) in Israel. Our first meeting of the day was with the Trade Ministry and the Chief Scientist. It was the first time that I truly appreciated what a credible delegation that SC has. Russ Keller with SCRA stayed on after the meeting to try and negotiate a Memo of Understanding. Quote of the meeting. "Israelis are very direct. There is no word in Hebrew for 'tact.'"

Then, we split. I went with Tom Vogt, the Director of USC's Nano Center and Vincent Giurgiutiu, the Interim Dean for Research and Grduate Engineering, to visit 3G Solar. They have accumulated 13 patents on the dye solar cell as an alternative to silicon solar cells. I won't get into technical details, but Dr. Vogt, an expert in electrochemistry, was very impressed. If he were a venture capitalist, he said that he would invest.

We then joined the rest of the group at the Hadassah Medical Organization. This is an architecturally stunning medical school, medical research facility and hospital. In the center is a Synagogue with 12 large Marc Chagall stained glass windows. When I can figure out how to load a picture, I will include it in the blog. The luncheon was hosted by a law firm that specializes in intellectural property.

Our next stop was the Israeli Holocaust Memorial. Words will not adequately describe this experience. The museum winds through the Jewish experience from about 1933 until 1948. Six million Jews were exterminated, including 1.5 million children. Rather than describe it, the following link offers virtual tours.

At the end of the historical museum, we went through a special children's area. It is a cave, dark and with stars above. The names of the children, where they were from and how old they were, are being read. I'm not sure there was a dry eye when we came out. We then went to a special monument to a man who had established an orphanage for Jewish children. It lacks one arm, because he was unable to save them. Jonathon Zucker placed a wreath from SC on the statue. Jonathon lost 13 direct family members in the Holocaust and probably hundreds of cousins and other distant relatives. The only one to survive was his grandfather, who lost his wife, but met and married a childhood friend in Israel.

Quote of meeting #1. "It was the most highly educated people in Germany that chose to exterminate the Jews." Quote #2. "We would not be here if Jonathon Zucker's grandfather had not survived. Think of how many other families like the Zuckers never had the chance to succeed." Third quote: "We will never forget and never forgive. However, Germany has become our best business partner on Earth."

An example of the last quote. Israel placed an order for submarines with Siemans in Germany. The Germans decided to give the first two submarines at no charge.

From there, we went to the Old City of Jerusalem, which is divided into four quadrants: Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian. We walked three of the four quadrants and then spent an hour in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is on the site where Jesus was crucified, cleansed and buried. The management of the church is shared by the Armenians, the Greek Orthdox Church and the Roman Catholics. A large "bigger is better" tower by the Muslims is next door. At 5:00 PM, choirs for all three religions sing at prayer services. It was magnificent. Google the church for details.

We closed the day by going to the most holy of all Jewish sites, the Wailing Wall, at Mt. Moriah. It dates to the second century and was originally a magnificent temple some 530 meters long and 130 meters wide. The Wailing Wall is actually a retaining wall. The Jordanians controlled the site and prevented Israeli access until the 1967 war. The original wall was used as a foundation for a Muslim Temple. I suspect all of us prayed at the wall.

We closed the evening with dinner and an expert in current Israeli politics. He said that Israel's great failure has been their inability to attain peace in the Middle East. There are no agreements with any of the Middle East countries and the Arab Spring (a term for the recent uprisings) has created substantial uncertainty.

The Holocaust victims that survived the German concentration camps first tried to return to their homes in Germany, Poland and other parts of Europe. People occupied their former homes and threatened to shoot the Jews if they tried to take over. The British occupied Israel and would not accept Jewish immigrants. The displaced went back to the concentration camps and set up societies. Britain left Israel in 1948 and the United Nations partitioned an Independent Israel. The country was open to Jewish immigrants, only to have the Arabs in Isreal wage war two days after the Israeli Declaration of Independence. The Israelis had no military training, no arms, no fighting skills, but incredible motivation. Less than two years later, they won the war.

Maybe Tom Glaser of the American Israeli Chamber said it best: "To understand the phenomenal success of Israel, you must understand where they came from."

I'm sorry of the length of this blog, but I can't remember a more memorable day.

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