On the last day of my most recent trip to Israel, I found myself near Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl (where Theodor Herzl, the visionary of the State of Israel is buried). I have a fascination with Herzl, although my psychiatrist friends might characterize it more accurately as an obsession.
I own the world’s largest collection of Herzl memorabilia, commissioned Theo the Herzl mascot who participated in June’s Celebrate Israel Parade in New York City, and developed a special relationship with the Theodor Herzl Public School in the North Lawndale area of Chicago. I have created a Herzl hockey bobblehead, produced the documentary film “My Herzl”, commissioned Herzl socks, and made Herzl bracelets – that were distributed to the students of the Herzl Public School – that quoted Herzl’s motto “If you will it, it is no dream” and Martin Luther King’s famous saying “I have a dream”.
So being so close to Herzl’s grave, I had to go and visit.
Mount Herzl and Herzl’s grave are situated in a very symbolic spot. On one side is Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre. On the other side is the Military Cemetery of Jerusalem. This geographical layout takes you from the powerlessness and disaster Jews experience when we do not have our own homeland, to the tombs of Herzl and other leaders of the nation who symbolize the dreaming and effort that was needed to create that homeland, to the huge daily sacrifices required to preserve this homeland.
After visiting Herzl’s grave, I continued to walk towards Yad Vashem. I have been to Yad Vashem many times before but had never gotten there this way. Mount Herzl and Yad Vashem are linked by The Connecting Path. In the direction I was walking, the path serves as a symbolic backwards journey from rebirth to catastrophe.
On the seam between Yad Vashem and Mount Herzl there are two signs. The left arrow points you to the Holocaust memorial. The right arrow points you to Herzl. Behind the signs is a forest. At that moment, this line from Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” came to mind: “Two roads diverged in a wood.”
Quite the divergence. Left is death. Right is survival. Left is destruction. Right is revival. Left is pain. Right is pride.
There is so much to be proud of when it comes to Israel. Earlier in my visit, I attended the OurCrowd Global Investor Summit. 5,000 delegates from 80 countries came to Jerusalem to hear about Israeli innovation and collaboration. An Israeli start-up, Medaware, uses analytics and algorithms to reduce prescription errors and save lives. An Israeli start-up, Dario, developed a personalized glucose meter and related app that operates through a smartphone. An Israeli start-up, intuition robotics, developed a robot to help older adults stay healthy and engaged. This continued for eight hours, often with presentations in multiple rooms at the same time.
During my trip, I met with Yosef Abramowitz, the Chief Executive Officer of Gigawatt Global which develops solar fields in Africa. Its first field, in Rwanda, alone increased the country’s electricity-generating capacity by 6%. A new solar field currently in development in Burundi will increase the country’s electrical capacity by 14%. A field in Kenya is also in the works. Israel is truly a light unto the nations, literally bringing light to nations in Africa.
There is so much to be proud of in Israel. Naturally there are things to worry about too. Standing on the seam between Yad Vashem and Mount Herzl, I was vividly reminded of the fundamental need for the State of Israel. With all the startups and IPOs, medical discoveries, political dramas, protests and conflict, we sometimes forget why there is an Israel, where it came from, and why we still need it. We may not be happy with everything that happens in Israel (and those of us who live outside Israel probably feel the same about our home country) but we are all better off having it, helping it and protecting it.
We know what happened to us when we didn’t have an Israel. Having the State of Israel means Jews today are no longer powerless. We have agency. We are actors in our own history. We are no longer victims with no place to go.
And that makes all the difference.