Last night, I was up fairly late doing work (I wanted to take advantage
of the overlap with the US business day), but finally was ready to go to
bed just after midnight. I had had the TV on for background noise, and
was flipping through the channels aimlessly before turning it off, but
the program on Channel One caught my eye and I took my finger off the
What they were showing on screen was a passage from the Torah (probably
from this week’s parasha, though I couldn’t tell), with a yod
pointing to the words as they were being read, almost as if it were
being done during services (almost — there were illustrations on the
scroll, which is not the case with a real Torah).
After that, they went to a still shot of the words (in Hebrew,
of course) “Lilah Tov
m’Yerushaleim” (Good Night from Jerusalem), and I realized that they
were about to sign off for the night. I was ready to turn off the
set, but before I could, the screen changed again, showing
an Israeli flag waving, with the Israeli National
Hatikvah, playing, and the words scrolling up the screen.
Much to my surprise, I found myself singing along, with
tears forming in my eyes — and that’s something that never happens when
The Star-Spangled Banner.
I’d had much the same reaction two years ago when our tour group stopped
at Herzl’s grave and we sang Hatikvah together (it was the first time
I’d sung it since finishing Hebrew school, many years ago — they made
us sing it there during every
class, and once I learned to sing it well enough to get by, it bored
I thought it was largely due to the intense environment — we’d just
come from Yad Vashem
(the Holocaust Museum), and we’d spent a couple of
Israel in a very Jewish environment, so I was clearly primed to react,
and I thought no more about it.
But this time, it was just me, alone in my room on a business trip —
hell, I’d just turned off my laptop after dealing with
a day’s worth of e-mail, so I definitely shouldn’t have been affected.
But I was. Somehow, without noticing it, I’d turned into an ardent
Zionist, and I felt truly at home, involved, and committed. Not
committed to the extent that I have any plans to make aliyah
(Diane will probably be relieved to know that!), but I certainly
than casually invested in what goes on in Israel, and I’m very
spending more time in Israel and visiting more frequently than I’ve done
in the past — and that doesn’t just mean arranging more short
business trips like this one (though I do think IBM has gotten
significant value on my trips so far).
Watching TV can be dangerous.
Thinking about safety
When I originally planned this trip, it had three purposes. First, I
was going to speak at the official opening of the Israel Office of the
World-Wide Web Consortium. Second, I needed to meet with the team in
Hursley, England, who will be hosting our internal WebAhead
conference this fall (I’m the co-founder and permanent co-chair, but all
the hard work gets done by the folks in Hursley — I just fly in, talk a
lot, and visit pubs in the evening (that’s why we picked England for the
conference in the first place: the beer is better there than at home)).
And the third reason was to attend an internal meeting in Paris,
where the people in the CIO’s office will be planning how IBM’s
computing environment will evolve over the next year or so (my role
there is simple; I’m a spy). Because the dates of the events in Paris
and Israel were set by others, I found myself with a few spare days, and
I decided to spend two of them at IBM Haifa and the weekend between
events playing tourist in Paris.
Two weeks before I was to leave, terrorists set off a bomb in
Netanya (between Haifa and Tel Aviv, on the coast, well inside the
original boundaries of the State of Israel). And the W3C folks thought
it might be better to postpone the grand opening for a few months. And
I nearly cancelled my trip — or at least the Israel part of it — but
after talking with my hosts in Haifa, I decided that they’d put together
an interesting agenda, and that I wanted to come if it was at all
So I kept a close eye on the news (mostly the
Jerusalem Post, but also other
Israeli English-language Web pages and the BBC). And I kept talking
with people who were well-connected to Israel, like the Rabbi and her
husband (who’s a physicist and makes frequent visits to his colleagues
in Israel). And made sure my manager was still willing to send me.
And, of course, I stayed in
touch with my hosts in Haifa — I was using instant messaging with them
right up until the car service came to pick me up at home last Sunday.
Everyone said that I should be OK, and Diane didn’t seem too worried, so
off I went…nervously.
Then I landed at Ben-Gurion Airport, and I noticed that all of the
Israelis I talked with were proceeding with life as usual. Sure, there
were incidents reported in the paper and on the news — and the
“situation” (as everyone calls it) was always the lead story — but
for the most part, it seemed to have much less effect on the people I
was with than the energy situation in California has had on my family
(and so far, we haven’t been hit with a blackout). People were
shopping, taking buses, going to work, planning vacations…business as
usual. And pretty soon, the situation receeded in my mind, too.
I don’t want to make light of the danger — it’s quite real, and
eventually, the Israelis and Palestinians have to figure out how to live
in close proximity. They may never be
friends, but they either have to figure out how to live together or plan
to continue dying together.
But while I was there, I didn’t feel that terrorists were a significant
danger. Israeli drivers, on the other hand, scared me every time I went
outside — and especially when I was on the road (this trip, I chose not
to rent a car, so I didn’t even have the illusion of control). The
most popular bumper sticker in Israel isn’t political — it’s a small
sticker on the back of about half the cars which reads “Sh’mor
Mirchak” (keep your distance). It doesn’t work, of course — and there
are far more deaths in Israel from traffic accidents than from
At the airport today, I had to go through Israeli security. I arrived
in plenty of time, and even had a letter from IBM Haifa confirming that
I’d been specifically invited to meet visit them so that I could show it
to the agent. Clearing security only took about five minutes, including
opening my bags to verify that everything in there was mine (I had left
them in a semi-public area today, so I couldn’t say that they’d been
under my control the whole time), and I didn’t even have to use my
letter. I suspect having other Israeli stamps in my passport helps;
flying Business Class probably didn’t make the quiz any less thorough
(I wish I knew why they asked whether I have any family in Israel),
but it did mean I didn’t have to wait in a very long line for my turn.
And now I’m on my way to England, where foot-and-mouth disease is the
big story, and supposedly the entire country is depressed by it. I
wonder if that’s exaggerated, too.
Five minutes to play tourist
One advantage of clearing security so quickly was not having to
rush to make the plane; instead, I walked back outside to enjoy the good
weather for a few minutes. I even had time enough to cross the street
and look at the Dali Menorah outside Arrivals:
While I was taking my pictures, some other Americans walked up,
and we started talking — they were just arriving to start a ten-day
tour (since they were planning to spend time in Tiberias and mentioned
the Sea of Galilee as a special place, I doubt they were with their
synagogue) and were worried about terrorism. I told them that I’d felt
safe on that score while I was there — but to watch out for the
drivers. Perhaps I would have been more effective at setting their
minds at ease without making that last remark!
And here I am at the lovely Heathrow Marriott
I upheld my tradition of getting lost on my way here, but this time I
recovered within only a couple of minutes (I think the Hertz person gave
me bad directions) and had hardly any trouble thereafter. I may have to
switch to automatic cars, though; I’m way out of practice on
shifting and clutching.
Tomorrow, it’s off to Hursley. But for now, time to face a day’s worth
of e-mail. Oh, boy!