Eisenbud ID 311.
(photo credit: New York Israel Consulate)
I’ve never really been from anywhere. Not in a conventional sense,
My father was a freshly minted Ivy League MBA and young executive
at General Electric when I was born in Schenectady, New York, in the early ’70s.
There, his corporate culture dictated that all true “GE Men” follow a
peripatetic path along their stock-option-fueled trajectory to corporate
greatness, lest they be seen as not having the right stuff.
them wanted to be viewed as a weak link in an otherwise incomparably powerful,
lucrative and efficient corporate juggernaut that took the world by storm during
the ’80s Zeitgeist – the very height of excessive power, prestige and wealth
that spawned the “Masters of the Universe” that the Occupy Wall Street
protesters now so vehemently denounce.
Indeed, in those days the GE
culture practically singlehandedly proved Darwinian theory, became the most
coveted paradigm for professors at the top business schools the world over and
made the guys from Mad Men look like featherweights in tutus, nursing hangovers
from their “girly” drinks.
GE guys were the true corporate warriors, end
FROM LIGHT bulbs and microwaves to nuclear warheads, you
name it, GE likely brought it to life – without an ounce of fat or waste (except
for that which was infamously, and surreptitiously, jettisoned into the Hudson
River. But nothing that a fat check couldn’t fix) – and plenty of
record-breaking quarterly profits to go around to reward those who helped live
But to me, it was like a corporate mafia where men didn’t go
to get a job so much as an identity and an elite career defined by all the
trappings of success one could ask for.
Luxury house in an upscale part
of town? Check. Membership to an exclusive country club? Check. Paid vacations
to tropical paradises – or any exotic locale you could think of? Check. Fancy
cars? Check. Tiffany’s express account for the nagging, neglected wife? Check.
Second home to vacation at when the first house (and first nagging, neglected
wife) just seemed too stifling? You bet.
The perks were endless and
awe-inspiring for high achievers like my dad, and divvied out by the
all-knowing, feared and respected Jack Welch, better known as “Neutron Jack” to
his detractors. (To the unindoctrinated, his nickname was due to his propensity
for miraculously eliminating employees while leaving the buildings they once
worked in, and profit margins, fully intact. A similar dynamic to the neutron
bomb – minus, of course, the profits.)
But for all you MBAs and students of
business out there, you’ll recall that Mr. Welch was just about as close
to the Wizard of Oz as it got in the most fertile capitalist soil of the late
20th century. To this day I practically give a reflexive bow in deference, just
a little bit, every time I hear his name.
HOWEVER, HIS reign resulted in
a circuitous and tumultuous childhood for me and my older sister, Deb. Indeed,
by the time she was a teenager and I was 11, we had lived in – and been abruptly
uprooted from – four communities along the northeast of the US, only to move to
a fifth “home” in a suburb of Philadelphia, where the prognosis of growing
meaningful roots, or even fitting in, was 50-50 at best.
That said, I
have never in my adult life spoken to, nor seen in person, a single friend that
I made before the age of 11. They very much existed in their own worlds,
but mostly became like ghosts in vignettes of Fellini-like recurring dreams that
I occasionally revisited – while I was busy being the proverbial new kid, with a
(now-corrected) speech impediment and weight problem to boot.
I was like catnip to
bullies on every playground I dared to enter and was hypersensitive. Ah,
the joys of youth!
It is only recently that the same friends who once defined
the happiest moments of my childhood have come back to life, compliments of
Facebook. The only catch is that now they barely remember me, and they look
exactly as I remember their fathers, or worse.
I can just imagine
catching up, too:
“Hey John! I see from your Facebook profile that you have a
herniated disk, type 2 diabetes, a job that you absolutely can’t stand, are
going through your second divorce AND have a son who really enjoys Judo!
you remember the time we skateboarded in Mr. Jennings’s empty swimming pool and
almost got grounded for life?!
“John? You still there...?”
It just doesn’t have
the same panache anymore, you know?
SO TO this day, anytime someone asks me
where I’m from, I always experience an awkward, almost Pavlovian, reaction.
After all, how do you tell someone, “nowhere in particular” without coming
across like a degenerate gambler, gypsy or fugitive?
This, coupled with being a
first-generation American on my mother’s side, left me unanchored
throughout my developmental years – and to a degree, to this
Compared to all the other kids I befriended on my many journeys to
new “Pleasantvilles,” who grew up knowing their best friends since their
mothers’ Lamaze classes, I was a man without a country. The very prototype of a
And I was always acutely aware of this fact.
I moved to Israel a year and a half ago, I have been able to piece together a
sense of belonging that had long eluded me. But it didn’t come
Indeed, I still typically wake up in the early morning hours at
least five times during any given week and have no idea where I am.
not that I was up partying the night before, or taking some kind of mind-altering
substance. It’s just that my subconscious mind still thinks I’m wandering
However, after a full year of jumping through Israel’s arsenal of
bureaucratic hoops and acclimating to its “tough love” social norms, I have
indeed gotten to the point where I feel at home.
This, of course, doesn’t
take into account the fact that I now live in what amounts to a matchbox on a
petrol-soaked football field, owned and operated by the most hostile,
pyromaniac-inclined neighbors on the face of the earth.
my great chagrin, I remain profoundly Hebrew-resistant, and always assume that
all the conversations going on around me are important and somehow mind-blowing
– like regular people are talking about highly-trained assassin camels, or some
prototype of a truth-serum humous that Baba Ganoosh is covertly working on with
The list of foibles goes on and on, my friends…
slogging it out here for a good chunk of time, I actually got a pretty good job
and made some of the best friends I have known since those short-lived “Wonder
Additionally, there is a seemingly endless chorus line of
well-wishers who invite me to their homes for Shabbat dinners and appear to have
limitless energy in the pursuit of finding me a wife.
I have also learned
that while Israelis may be the toughest group I have ever tried to infiltrate
(which is saying something), their friendship and loyalty, once earned, is
pretty much uncompromised.
That is one profit margin that pays dividends
in a way GE never could.
Indeed, there are moments – priceless moments –
when I walk down the street as the sun is about to set (as it only can in
Jerusalem), and feel like I have never been more home in my life.
finally belong somewhere.
AND WHILE I don’t have any of the monetary
trappings of success that corporations like GE once doled out to hardworking,
highly intelligent men like my father, I do have something that I thought would
dodge me for my entire life: roots.
They are a priceless commodity that
cannot be bought or sold for reasons that you’d have to live here to fully
And the best part is that these days, whenever someone asks
me where I’m from, I no longer hesitate to answer.
And in my heart, I know that truer words have never been