Cissie and Sissy

Today Sherazad Hamit and I were in the Bay Area to discuss OneVoice’s campaign for 2008 with several of our supporters.

When in San Francisco, we visited with Cissie Swig, an elegant and thoughtful leader of the Bay Area civic community (I think her family owns or used to own the famed Fairmont Hotel, and she chairs the Board of the Contemporary Jewish Museum).  One comment she made stuck with me.  Besides all the traditional geo-political arguments for why it is imperative to achieve peace in the Middle East, Cissie pointed to the critical damage that an upcoming Nuclear debacle could have on our planet.  The damage, as Cissie pointed out, would not be limited to Israel or Iran, say, if Iran were to attack Israel and Israel replied in force.  The entire globe would be impacted by radiation and nuclear offset. The damage would not discriminate.  We’d all be victims, and we’d all be at fault for not doing enough to prevent it.

An hour later we were with Ted and Sissy Geballe in the Palo Alto area.  Sissy is the daughter or Daniel Koshland, who together with Walter Haas helped elevate Levi Strauss into a multi-billion dollar retail powerhouse.  The Haas and Koshland families have been benevolent benefactors of the Bay Area community for many years, and a lot of what I do today I in part owe to them because shortly after law school I got a fellowship from the Haas Koshland Foundation to do research on economic incentives to encourage joint Arab-Israeli business ventures.  Had I not been given the encouragement to move in that direction, who knows if I wouldn’t have just stayed working at a NY law firm.  Instead, that trip to Israel set me on a path to set up my first business venture between Israeli Jews, Palestinian citizens of Israel as well as Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, Egyptians, and Turks.

What strikes me every time I visit with Ted and Sissy is how extraordinarily down-to-earth they are.  They live quite humbly.  They donate to so many causes, with enormous generosity and capacity.  As for their lives, they take the minimum necessary and live with humility.  They helped raise children and grandchildren, and now are multiple great-grandparents.  They are at quite an advanced age, and yet they retain the vitality of a young couple in love.  Ted, a Professor Emeritus, still helps guide the Applied Physics department at Stanford on a daily basis.  And they "adopt" students from all over the world, with particular interest in developing friendships and alliances with young students from the Middle East. 

Today it felt that both Cissie and Sissy (who are actually friends) "adopted" Sherazad.  Sherazad (yes, that is how she spells it) coordinates OneVoice’s outreach in the West Coast, and has a very cool background as a Sri-Lanka-born, Saudi-raised daughter to Malay and Moroccan parents who somehow became passionate about resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and joined OneVoice, initially as a student activist.

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