What Happened to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness?

Today is an unusual day, unlike many July 4th’s of years past.

What happened to all of our unalienable Rights, the ones written 244 years ago in our Declaration of Independence of July 4th, 1776, including Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness?

Well, maybe today is not so unusual, as never before do we have more of our unalienable Rights as we do today.

Life – we are alive, there never has been more live Americans in existence, our life expectancy and health standards have never been historically higher as human beings, and the sacrifices those are making on the front lines and the ones everyone else are making like quarantining and social distancing is helping to further increase the lives of others.

Liberty – more Americans have more liberty today than years past, and our digital connections and technologies have enabled us to further liberate ourselves and broadcast our voices in ways we’ve never had before without any physical limits or governmental restrictions.

The pursuit of Happiness – happiness is a tricky issue, as different people define happiness differently, but at the same time we have more ability today to create and maintain close relationships, do more with our free time, as well as having more access to increase our wealth, our education, our charity and acts of kindness, our health and exercise, and most importantly, our fun.

Today is our day to be as “American” as we can be, and our service today calls on us to take care of one each other, no matter if our government will or won’t, better listen and learn from one another, and bunker at home and wear masks outside. I’m sure all of our founding fathers as well as the great Americans, heroes, and soldiers of our past would have all 100% signed-up for our service in 2020 than the service they actually had to go through doing their part in defending and preserving the people of our great nation.

We also have an uncertain future ahead of us. There’s a lot Americans making their voices heard, whether its for no racism, no evoking race, no killing, no peace, no criminal behaviors, no violence, no justice, no looting, no police, no defunding police, no viruses, no inequality, no statues, no destroying statues, no anthems, no taking away anthems, no flags, no burning flags, no standing, no kneeling, as its in our DNA as Americans to stand up and say no, and protest, sacrifice, and fight for what we think is right, and against what we think is wrong, in our nation and in our world. This is Americans being Americans at its best, it’s our nature, and saying no is how we actually became Americans. We also need to always remember that no doesn’t mean we are not against each other, but with each other, as we are all in this together as one. And, when we all realize that we can say no, and that we are all together as one, we can actually connect and communicate with each other, and actually move ourselves and our country forward into an exciting new future together.

Happy Independence Day!

Our Role, Our Voice, Our Sacrifice

Today is June 7, 2020. On this day, twelve years ago, I remember when my New York City apartment burned down. It was a devastating day, and miraculously, I did not lose my life (you can read that story here).

Today I’m alive, I’m healthy, there’s lots to live for. This day serves to remind me how fragile life is.

But, for today, let’s not put anymore focus on my life.  Instead, let’s focus on the lives of others.

#BlackLivesMatter.

I think I can speak for everyone here, including me, who is in full support of bringing the necessary change needed to finally end the issues black people in America are facing and have faced in our country for 400 years, originating when black people were first horrifically kidnapped and imported here as slaves.  

I, like many of you, live in and love New York City. It’s the “Melting Pot” that brings together all the races and ethnicities of the world. It’s the “Center of the Universe”, a single spot where new ideas, creativities, and fashions come together. It’s the “Capital of the World”, the celebration of commerce, embracing success and entrepreneurship with companies from around the world introducing new and innovative products into our marketplace.

What was the first major product introduced to the brand new and exciting marketplace of New York City? The black African slave. Brought here by the Dutch West India Company in 1626, one of the most “entrepreneurial and successful” companies of its day.

Everything we enjoy in today’s new “Digital World” is built on code that run our computers and algorithms, but back then, our “New World” was built on the backs of slaves who were coerced, intimidated, brutalized, and dehumanized into forced human labor.

Each slave, a unique human being, was packaged as a product, and marketed to serve his or her master with his or her own unique abilities and skill set. Each slave was sold at auction to the highest bidder. That product was so successful, that by 1702, it was estimated that 42% of all households in New York City had a black slave.

Why did so many households have black slaves?

Think about all the Apps and appliances we have in our new “Digital World” that provide endless services to us within our home. Amazon Alexas take notes of our errands and deliver things to us. Google Nests monitor our home’s security, help us manage our busy schedules, and remind us of important things. Handy schedules household cleanings. Seamless orders fresh breakfast, lunch, and dinner. All our appliances like vacuum cleaners, dishwashers and laundry machines clean our homes, dishes and clothes. But back then, in the “New World”, we could have had all those services combined, and much more, with a single black slave.

I cannot imagine how horrible life was for them.

Even though I reference New York City, the issue of black slavery was not limited to America, it infected many other countries all throughout Europe, Asia, the Caribbean, South America, and North America, and even Africa itself. Horrifically, there are also place still to this day that still allows slavery and a slave trade.

One hundred fifty years after the first blacks were brought here as slaves, America declared independence from Britain in 1776, with the Declaration of Independence stating that “all men are created equal” with rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Two inspiring and truly revolutionary concepts, written at the time by one of our Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, a man who would also serve as our third President, and an owner of 600 slaves himself. But, we all know these phrases still didn’t apply to most Americans, especially black people, as blacks were thought to be racially inferior to whites. The mindset of racial slavery being a right or a wrong could be understood by Thomas Jefferson himself who later said “We have the wolf (i.e. the black slave) by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.”

After we declared independence, things started to change. A year later, in 1777, Vermont was the first state to abolish slavery, with other states slowly following suit.  

But still, eighty years later, there were only 19 free states in the North, with 15 slave states still in the South. I am from one of those southern slave states, Maryland, right below the Mason–Dixon line, which divided the northern free “Union” states, from the southern slave “Confederate” states.

Why was there a divide?

In today’s Internet and Social Media World, “Content is King“, a phrase first coined by Bill Gates in 1996, and rings more true today than ever. Think about all the $ billions of dollars invested globally in resources, time, and capital for the creation of content.

Back in the mid-1800’s, “Cotton was King“. Cotton was the #1 main industry in America, it was our top money maker and #1 exported product, accounting for 50% of all our exports. Americans spent decades eradicating the peoples and the lands of the Native Americans and replaced them with black slaves and cotton plantations all throughout the southern states. The slaughter and taking the lands of the Native Americans legally commenced with the Indian Removal Act of 1830, and it was lead by Andrew Jackson, our seventh President, who is also pictured on our $20 dollar bill.

Harriet Tubman, a black woman born into slavery, was a hero who risked her life in pursuit to free other black slaves secretly from the south and into the north via the Underground Railroad. Her portrait was slated to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill in 2020, but the plan was indefinitely delayed by President Donald Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Donald Trump has both a portrait and a sculpture of Andrew Jackson in the Oval Office, the only man being depicted there twice.

Both the Northern and Southern states were heavily profiting from the cotton industry, and it helped lead our young country into greater real estate expansion and financial growth and flexibility, enabling our government to also borrow money from abroad.

In other words, America economically went from zero to hero.

The Northern states provided the services needed to maintain the industry, including the banking, insurance, legal, marketing, shipping services. The Southern states provided the actual cotton products needed to maintain the industry, including the massive agricultural land and human slave labor necessary. It was estimated that 1 million black slaves were sent from the north to the south to fuel this growth, with 4 million black slaves in total, 1/3 of the population. The invention of the Cotton Gin enabled even greater productivity to this industry. As the value of the industry continued to increase, so did the necessity of the institution of black slavery.

By then, 1861, there was a complete stand still on the issue of slavery. America was so politically and economically divided on slavery that all that tension exploded into what is called the Civil War.

North vs. South. Union vs. Confederate. American vs. American.

The Civil War ignited immediately after the election of President Abraham Lincoln, the first president of the brand new Republican party, whose mission was to end slavery. Believe it or not, it was the Republican party that was created as the anti-slavery party, and, it was the Democratic Party that was created against the abolition of slavery. After the Civil Rights era is when we get to the parties we know of today, which I’ll get to).

Every institution of the south was tied to slavery, including economically, culturally, institutionally, legally. The end of slavery was perceived to be the end and destruction of the southern way of life and livelihood by the north. Since the northern states were more economically and culturally a service oriented society, they viewed slavery more as an individual and micro issue, as historically the black slave in the north was typically a household servant vs. the south that saw slavery as the most critically important macro driver of the engine of their economy and their entire way of life.

It might make sense then, as to why, immediately after the election of Abraham Lincoln, the Confederate southern states succeeded from the Union northern states, elected their own President, Jefferson Davis, who established a new country, the Confederate States of America, with its own constitution and currency, waving a new Confederate “Battle Flag” (you can read my own personal story of my first encounter with a Confederate flag here), organized an army, and invaded the Union via the Battle of Fort Sumter in South Carolina – the “Pearl Harbor” moment of its time.

It’s very hard for me to actually conceptualize what happened, why it happened, and how it happened, as the slave issue was so polarizing.

But if I can just make a comparison to what happened in 1861 like what happened in our most recent 2016 Presidential election. It’s a terrible comparison to make, as it has no truth. But, let’s say the Democratic party which lost the election of 2016 acted like the Confederacy in 1861. As a comparison, remember, this is a bad comparison, after the Democrats lost in 2016, they would have declared their states are no longer part of the United States. They would have renamed themselves as a brand new country, with a new flag, constitution, and even currency. They then elected a new president, who then directs troops be organized, and then declares war against the Republican states, and immediately sets course to invade and defeat those states. The goal was total military takeover, and anyone standing in the way was to either be part of the new nation or be killed. Troops on both sides would immediately be organized to defend and wage war against each other. I’m not talking about a Twitter war of words between Republicans and Democrats, but an actual war of organized military, firearms, and death. I am not advocating for any of this to happen, remember, this is all just one big bad comparison just to help put it into our context.

As shocking as all this might sound, it’s not the end of it.

For four gruesome years, the northern states and the southern states fought, and by the end of the Civil War, 655,000 Americans were killed.

To give even more context, more Americans died of their desire to free black slaves or maintain black slaves than all those Americans who died from all our major wars with all our foreign adversaries, combined. Revolutionary War (25,000), WWI (116,000), WWII (405,000), the Korean War (36,000), the Vietnam War (58,000), and the Afghanistan & Iraq Wars (7,000). When you add it all up, 647,000 Americans killed in 56 total years at war.

What a tragic fact we have in the history of America.

Americans killed more Americans in America due to the issue of black slavery then all Americans killed in defense of American against every major foreign enemy America has ever faced in our nearly 250 years in existence as a country, at a daily kill rate 14x higher than all the other major wars combined (56 years for the all other wars vs. 4 years of the Civil War).

Americans killing Americans inside America > Non-Americans killing Americans outside America.

We had so many Americans killed in the Civil War that the U.S. federal government in 1864 even had to create its own national cemetery, Arlington National Cemetery, just to provide a plot of land large enough to bury many of these dead. Yet, still to this day, there are more who died in the four years of the Civil War than those actually buried at Arlington National Cemetery throughout its entire history of over one hundred fifty years.

Even thought this is the most tragic chapter of American history, and it happened over one hundred fifty years ago, our country has still not gotten over the Civil War.

Americans still honor and celebrate the Confederacy all across America.

Here is just one example: monuments, statues, state flags, military bases, the names of our cities and schools. I am in no way am I saying that this is the only proof that we still haven’t gotten over it, it is just one example out of many, and there are still many other examples.

There exists thousands of monuments, statues, state flags, military bases, and schools in honor of the Confederacy. The existence of the Confederacy lead to the most deaths we’ve ever had as a nation, and yes, we still honor them. Further, here’s a list of all the statues that honor and schools that are named after Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, enemy #1, leading killer of Americans in America, with Confederate “Battle Flags” still being sold as bumper stickers, t-shirts and symbols all across the U.S.

Would we build statues of Adolf Hitler and sell bumper stickers of the swastika after we fought in WWII? Would we build statues of Kim Il-sung, the founder and first supreme leader of North Korea (and great grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-un), after we fought in the Korean War? Would we use our tax money to maintain statues of Osama Bin Laden and fly the flags of Al-Qaeda and ISIS after 9/11 and our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Would we even create commemorations for COVID-19, which has lead to the recent killings of over 100,000+ Americans?

NO.

The obvious answer to this question is no.

HELL NO.

But, one of the greatest beauties of our country is that we’re actually free to do so. We can still legally display these statues and symbols, as they are all protected under the 1st Amendment. But, just because we’re able to do so, that does not mean it’s right to do so. We can all agree that’s not how we want to communicate who we are and what we believe in. And that’s also a reason why we as a country are still dealing with this issue.

Why can’t we just bury it into the ground and move on?

When a right or possession of ours at one point was legal, like slavery, and then we make it illegal, it’s extremely difficult for us as a country to bury it into the ground and move on. Take gun control, prohibition and alcohol, and drugs like opioids.

Likewise, when a right or possession of ours at one point was illegal, and then we make it legal, it’s extremely difficult for us as a country to bury it into the ground and move on. Take same sex marriage, abortion, and drugs like marijuana.

April 15th is the day we all know as Tax Day, the day our federal income taxes are due. But on this same date back in 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Our first President to be murdered in office was killed because of his leadership to finally abolish slavery in the U.S.  Three weeks after President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, the Civil War ended, and later that year in December, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was passed, which finally ended slavery.  

Digressing for a moment, February 12th is the date of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. It’s a birthdate I share with him, and I have always thought there was no better birthdate than to be born on the same date as this amazing human being and leader that can serve to all of us as an inspiration.  Each one of you is also invited to my birthday party next year.

February is also celebrated as Black History Month in the U.S. In elementary school, I was asked to present my favorite black inventor to the class.  Today, we all have Google to help us with this search query, but back then, you had to flip through many many books to research and find your answer.  My pick was Garrett Morgan, who among his many inventions, created the first automatic, electric traffic light.  Yes, that same red, yellow, and green traffic light that everyone knows and relies on all around the world.  This is just one contribution of countless others the black community has contributed to our society.

Sorry for the sidetrack. Now, back to the story.

After slavery was abolished in 1865, we all know things didn’t end there.  

Instead of allowing blacks to live under the phrase “all men are created equal” as its written in our constitution, another system was created for blacks, which was known as “separate but equal“.  This segregated blacks from whites, and greatly limited their abilities to enjoy everything that this country has to offer, including liberty, education, and economic growth.

They are called the “Jim Crow” laws.

Today we have “social media influencers” who provide us with highly entertaining content with a click of a button. Back then, there was no internet, no TV, no radio. Instead, our country had “minstrel shows” which consisted of comedy skits, variety acts, dance, and music performances that were performed by white people in blackface. These minstrel shows traveled all around the country and their characters were as well known as any A-list celebrity of today. One of the most famous minstrel show actors was Thomas Dartmouth Rice, a white man in blackface, whose character was “Jim Crow.”

Even though slavery was abolished in the south, absolutely every aspect of society became legally segregated, including schools, parks, transportation, stores, restaurants, restrooms, and even drinking fountains. After COVID-19, we will be seeing lots of signage in places like these with sayings like “Maintain Social Distancing” and “Stand Six Feet Apart”. Back then, we would have seen lots of signage saying “Whites Only” and “No Blacks”.

American was still very far from a land resembling “freedom”.

It then took another one hundred years for the Civil Rights Movement to finally be realized in the 1950’s and 1960’s, which was an organized effort by black Americans to finally end racial discrimination and gain equal rights under the federal law.  Activists and leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. (who advocated to work within the legal framework and for blacks to work with whites) and Malcolm X (who dismissed the legal framework and advocated the superiority of blacks over whites) helped lead the movement, albeit from different extremes. This movement lead to more federal laws and judicial verdicts that finally ended legal segregation and discrimination in the U.S. The most well known being the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that ended racial segregation.  

Activists like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. were also assassinated, with Martin Luther King, Jr. being the most well known and celebrated leader of the Civil Rights Movement. In the U.S., the 3rd Monday in January is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which honors his birthday and his leadership, as he is best known for advancing civil rights through his inspiring words and speeches, like “I Have a Dream“, promoting nonviolence and civil disobedience, inspired by his religious beliefs and the nonviolent activism of Mahatma Gandhi, who helped free India from colonial British rule (who also was assassinated).  

The assassinations didn’t stop, next was Robert F. Kennedy, President John F. Kennedy’s younger brother (President John F. Kennedy was the latest President to be assassinated in office), who was slated to potentially become the next President of the U.S. in 1968 and was celebrated as being able to even further advance the issues of civil rights.

Unfortunately, our history books end the Civil Rights Movement in 1968, this same year Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were killed. The former football stadium of the Washington Redskins, a stadium I went to as a kid was named RFK Stadium, in honor of Robert F. Kennedy. It was also at this time that what we think of now as the Republican party became the Republican party, and what we think of now as the Democratic party became the Democratic party, with Southern states becoming more reliably Republican in presidential politics and the Northern states becoming more reliably Democratic.

Since our founding, we have not stopped dealing with race serving as our biggest issue diving this country.  

This is such a weird concept to both Americans and non-Americans a like, as America is supposed to be the “land of the free and home of the brave“, a phrase we recite from The Star-Spangled Banner, our national anthem, and the land of the “tiredpoor.. masses yearning to breathe free,” a phrase inscripted on the Statue of Liberty.

Yet, we all know that even though black people make up a strong minority of our country (42 million people, about 12% of our population), they still face a strong majority of the issues people in our country face, especially with issues in regards to financial and economic security, education, personal liberty and freedoms, as well as with police brutality, criminal justice, and incarceration.  We also know that even things that shouldn’t be tied racism at all like COVID-19 is still killing black people at a disproportionate rate.

And still unfortunately, only a couple weeks ago, on May 25, 2020, we have all seen the shocking and horrific murder of George Floyd by a group of Minneapolis police officers, shared on social media.  His “crime”, using a fake $20 dollar bill.

Here’s what a “fake $20 dollar bill” may look like, it looks pretty legitimate to me. The U.S. Treasury should finally commence printing this $20 bill in honor of George Floyd.

I also remember seeing my first murder by police, shared on social media. It happened on July 17, 2014 in Staten Island in New York City, when Eric Garner was horrifically put into a chock hold and killed by a group of NYPD officers.  His “crime”, selling a loosie, a single cigarette sold out of a cigarette pack, probably for a $1 dollar bill.

But even 65 years ago, we had other names, like Emmett Till, who on August 28, 1955, was a 14-year-old boy who was taken from his bed, beaten, shot and dumped into the river by a group of white men, all of whom were later found innocent by an all-white jury.  His “crime”, whistling at a white woman.

These are just three names, out of countless others from our past who were victim of police brutality and lynching.

I’ve heard people ask whether the true motivating factor of these murders was racism. It’s a good question, since none of us actually know. Since we are not actually the killers, we don’t actually know where their actual minds are at.

So, even though all the victims were black, and the perpetrators were not, let’s just completely remove race from the picture, and let us just all agree upon the basic facts…

  1. A group of people who held a more superior status in society forcefully took possession of another person.
  2. They restricted that person’s ability to move, inflicted extreme pain and suffering upon him, and ultimately killed him.
  3. To the victim, any efforts to save his life failed. He might not even have known he was in grave danger and that he was going to die until it was too late.
  4. To the killers, there were indications that the victim was in extreme pain and may even die, but no one from the group changed the course of their actions or had shown any mercy.
  5. The magnitude of the horrific method of murder doesn’t match the magnitude of the actual “crime” the victim may have actually committed.

To put it another way…

Will I, Jon Harari, ever be in a situation where a group of powerful people, forcibly take possession of me, inflict extreme pain upon me, and kill me without any mercy for the “crime” of using a fake $20 bill, selling a loosie, or for whistling at a woman?

NO.

The obvious answer to this question is no.

HELL NO.

To deal with everything going on right now is absolutely unprecedented and complicated. And, if you’re still reading this, you may be thinking to yourself what’s the answer, how can we change this?

Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer. I don’t have the magic potion.

All I know is that there is a bright side.

There’s always a bright side.

I know for certain, is that each and every one of us possess two of the most powerful tools to create an impact.

We all have 1) our voice and 2) our ability to sacrifice.  

1) Our Voice

When we see something we don’t like or agree with, we have a voice.  

When we see something we support, we have a voice.  

There’s many ways to use our voice.

As human beings, we are all empowered to communicate with our voice, including our actual vocal cords which allow us to speak, our fingers which allow us to write and type, our body and movements to non-verbally communicate, and our actions which inspire others.

There’s also lot of technologies in the world the empower us to communicate our voice, which include internet technologies like the emails we send, the images and videos we share on social media, and the content we share on websites.  There are more artistic ways we can communicate our voice through art, theatre, tv, and film.

That’s just a small sample of the options in how we can use our voice.

For those of you that use your voice, and there’s no one single textbook that teaches us how to best communicate. We just need to use our voice, and the more that we use it, the more we learn how to use it.

2) Our Sacrifice

When we see something we don’t like, we don’t have to sacrifice for it.

When we see something we do like, we can sacrifice for it.

There’s many ways to sacrifice.

Some of us sacrifice our time. We work, we volunteer, we help others, we attend meetings, we stand in protest, we stand in support.

Some of us sacrifice our wealth.  There’s many ways to donate and financially support things we believe in.  It’s so easy now with the internet to click and support, even just by sharing a link.

For those that sacrifice, there’s never any amount that’s too small, and there’s never any amount that’s too big.

Some of us even make the ultimate sacrifice, our lives in pursuit of what we believe in.  I, in no way, advocate for anyone to sacrifice their lives.  I just recognize that there are many people that have paid the ultimate sacrifice for standing up for what they believe in.

So, what’s changed? How is this moment different than those from the past?

The sacrifice has been there, that’s clear from our history, and there are so people continuing the sacrifice.

The different now is the voice, never before have so many voices been heard.

Given today’s technologies, more people are given more ability to project and amplify their voice in ways that have never been achieved before.  

That’s what gives me hope.

We all possess the most powerful tools that we have for positive change, and I hope we can all continue to use them to make a positive difference in our lives.  We all have our roles.

At the same time, we also see in our history where our voice and our sacrifice is used not for good, but for evil. We always need to be careful of those that use our most powerful tools for the wrong purposes.

That being said, I 100% believe that the issues like racism that we still face as a country can 100% be solved.  Remember, we are all >99% the same, we’ve known that now for a long time. To anyone getting a grade on a test, we all know that getting 99% is an A+, it’s like getting a 100% perfect score. We’re all pretty much the same on the inside, no matter what we look like on the outside, and we all know that none of us wants to be judged by how they look on the outside when we all want to be judged is by who we are on the inside.

And I look forward to the day when our future generations look back at us and mock us.

Just like we might look back at past generations and say how terrible it was that they had to use fire, instead of electricity, just to light up a room. How terrible it was that they had to use donkeys, instead of vehicles, to transport themselves. How terrible it was that they did not believe in washing their hands as a way of cleaning themselves.

Future generations will also look back at us and say how terrible it was that people in our lifetime had suffered from racism because we did not have the proper technology to share our voice.

Let’s also quickly address some other issues at this moment.

First and foremost, this is a story of all lives mattering. Black, white, blue, and every single color and shape and size you can find.

I feel for all those affected by COVID-19 and all the lives globally that have been lost. I have family on the front lines, and know friends that have had their love ones lost.

I also feel for all those who have economically lost. 35,000,000 million are unemployed in the U.S. I have friends who work and own restaurants, bars, clubs, hotels, real estate, and businesses that have all completely shutdown.

It is heartbreaking for me to see the windows of the stores in New York City and around the country being smashed, the stores being looted, and retailers being boarded up. As CEO & Co-Founder of WindowsWear, the beauty and celebration of window displays is what our company was built on. I also feel for the brands, their employees, and stakeholders.

Everyone has their own struggles and challenges, and we cannot all change everything we want to change in the world.

Instead, we all have the power to, at the very least, change ourselves, and potentially help change someone else.

All I know is that our most powerful tool is that a) we are all alive b) we all have a voice and c) we all can sacrifice for what we believe in.

We do not possess all the reasons why others use their voice or make their sacrifice. 

All I know is that our role is to listen to their voice, and be inspired by their sacrifice.

My Father: The Hero of Hummus

I hope you are all well, and that you and your family are safe and sound!

I, like many others, have been quarantining at home. At home, I love to cook, but like me, are you also at home cooking often? If so, do you feel that the more you cook, the more creative you want to be in how you cook?

If “yes”, then you also know that it’s wonderful to have millions of recipes at your fingertips online. You can find extremely entertaining top rated chefs with impeccable images and tantalizing video tutorials, but what about all those hidden recipes you can’t find online but can only be revealed through your parents and your family heritage?

Since today is May 13, the official international day of hummus, I’ll share with you my hummus story, and my father, Oded Harari, who to me, is the hidden hero of hummus. At bottom of the article below, I also include a link to my father’s 3 minute audio recording on how to make “the best hummus you can eat,” which is also “is very simple” to make.

It started back in the the late 1970’s, when my parents immigrated from Israel to the U.S.

Back then, you couldn’t find hummus anywhere in America. People never heard the word “hummus” or even knew what it was, it was just a weird sounding dip from a tiny region of the world.

Even though I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., one of the most ethnically and racially diverse areas of the U.S., there was no hummus.

But, this would not deter my father, who loved hummus very much. But, in order for my father to eat hummus, he had to make it hummus, from scratch. Not having hummus to buy wouldn’t stop him from eating hummus, and my father took a lot of pride in his hummus-making abilities.

Why was hummus hard to find?

Hummus had many challenges for an American consumer culture that craved popular brand names and familiar packaged products. People just thought hummus was just the most odd-looking and odd-sounding item to consume. Even though hummus was popular in countries like Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Turkey, and the Middle East, hummus was an underdog in the U.S.

Why?

1. Hummus looks like mud.

I remember my friends and their parents found it strange that my father would take vegetables and dip them into mud. Remember, this was over 30 years ago, and no one knew hummus. The more normal and American thing to take was a potato chip or nacho and dip it into a more normal thing like ranch dressing or salsa dip.

As a kid, I remember witnessing adults dip vegetables into hummus for the first time of their lives. No one ever seemed to know what to do with assorted fresh vegetables and a bowl of mud dipping sauce when my parents put them on a plate when entertaining guests. My father had to explain to them it was a Middle Eastern dish and told tell them it’s perfectly okay and healthy to eat, even though many were reluctant to do so at first. The way hummus looked was suspect to so many people.

2. “Hummus” sounds horrid.

Hummus never sounded appetizing to anyone who knew what it actually was.

Americans love names that sound good. Out of all the things to eat, this sounded like the most disgusting option. “Khoo-mus”, with leads with that Hebrew and Arabic sound “KHEH”, didn’t sound appetizing to the average American.

3. Hummus didn’t have a cool brand or fun packaging.

It was cool to buy or to eat foods made by brands with cool packaging. With hummus, there was nothing cool about the brand or packaging of garbazno beans (the check peas, which hummus is made of, and tahihi, toasted ground hulled sesame). Snack foods like Pringles, Ruffles, Lays, Tostitos, and Fritos had great brands. Hummus did not.

4. Fresh vegetables weren’t trendy.

As mentioned previously, snack foods with great brands and packaging were cool, vegetables were not. Vegetables just came unbranded from the produce section of the grocery store. My father didn’t go for the snack food brands with cool packaging, he instead went for the unbranded vegetables without any packaging.

My father also knew how to pick vegetables, as only the best vegetables were to be used for dipping into his hummus.

He also knew how to inspect each vegetable and how each should feel.

Others in the produce section would just take into consideration how the vegetable visibility looked. They would quickly go through the aisle picking the best vegetables which were the best looking with the least visible flaws.

My father, on the other hand, would spend hours in the produce section. He spent a lot of time picking up, looking, touching, and analyzing each vegetable. I thought it was unusual for my father to be touching and feeling vegetables.

To me all these vegetables all relatively looked the same and it didn’t matter to me which were better, it wasn’t that important. To my father, picking the best vegetable from each bin was very important, even if it took more time to do so. He would pick them up and put them down, when ever other adult was just using their eyes, my father would use his hands.

Every time I went to the grocery store with my father, we were always in the produce section for the longest amount of time out of everyone else in the store.

5. Hummus is weird to make.

Hummus is made with blenders, and blenders are marketed to Americans to make fun things like milkshakes and smoothies, using exciting ingredients like ice cream, strawberries, and chocolate.

My father, on the other hand, would use his blender to blend chick peas, tahini, and garlic. While the parents of my friends used their blenders to blend desserts, my father used his blender to blend assorted vegetables.

But now, hummus is everywhere.

I cannot believe the triumph of hummus in the past 30 years – going from nowhere to everywhere.

It went from looking weird and sounding weird, to trendy and cool. It went from only being eaten by a tiny population in a tiny part of the world to now eaten by people all over the U.S.

Hummus is in every grocery store and can be found at a restaurant in every city in the U.S. Hummus hits on all the recent food trends like organic, gluten-free, vegan, healthy, etc. In New York City, there are even restaurants named Hummus Kitchen and Hummus Place.

Hummus should be one of the great American rags to riches stories.

Here’s Jamie Oliver introducing Americans to how to make hummus with a blender using garbanzo beans, just like my father did 30+ years ago.

Hummus also now has a cool brand, called Sabre. They have even introduced their own hummus condiment to compete with ketchup and mustard.

I also have friends like Dana Arschin and Lauren Epstein that are such lovers of hummus that even have their own Instagram posts or accounts dedicated to hummus.

View this post on Instagram

First time making homemade hummus and it was a huge success!! ✅ There are SO many ways to make hummus, but here’s what I did. First I emptied a can of garbanzo beans/chickpeas into a strainer and rinsed them. Then I steamed them for about 20 min. Then I threw them in a food processor with half a cup of tahini, one garlic clove, a few spicy chile peppers and some water (I just poured a little in, but not a specific amount). After it was all blended together, I poured the hummus on a plate and added some chili powder and red pepper spread on top. The red pepper spread (@tuttocalabria from @wholefoods) is marinated in a spicy oil which added a nice extra kick. Some other suggestions to add flavor to your hummus: add salt to your liking, lemon juice, EVOO, paprika, parsley or other spices. In my opinion there’s nothing like warm homemade hummus!! 🙌🏼 #ChowOrNever #DISHcover #NYC

A post shared by Dana’s NYC Food Journey (@chow_or_never) on

What was weird is now normal.

Think about all the challenges hummus had to overcome to be so widely available in the U.S. and the heroes like my father to make them from scratch and introduce them to Americans for the first time.

My father’s story taught me that we all have our unique qualities and experiences that differentiate us, and to be who you are and do what you love, no matter how it appears to anyone at moment.

I also love how hummus has built common threads between Jews, Muslims, and Christians, taking an ancient dish and making it modern, all the while promoting health and wellness.

Listen to my father’s “Best Hummus You Can Eat” recipe!

Ingredients:

  1. Two cans of chick peas
  2. 1 jar of tahini
  3. 2 lemons
  4. 1 clove of garlic
  5. Extras: olive oil, salt, paprika

My father’s 3 minute hummus recipe:

  1. Take the two cans of chick peas, put them in a pot, and heat them on the stove (don’t boil it, just heat it so the chick peas become soft)
  2. Blend the chick peas in a blender
  3. Put half a jar of the tahini in the blender
  4. Squeeze the lemons into the blender
  5. Put half clove of garlic in the blender
  6. That’s it!
  7. You can serve the hummus with olive oil, salt, and paprika

It also makes me think, what food or drink exists out there, that has been around in a different part of the world for a while, that millions of people in the U.S. will love, that’s just not quite there in our hands yet.

Which one will be next?

Happy New Year!

Wow, it’s 2020!  As a kid, I envisioned the year 2020 as marking the start of a new & futuristic world.  In this future world, I was convinced that we would be visited by aliens that ride in spacecrafts.  

Maybe it’ll happen one day, but for now, we’re not there.  And, instead of engaging with lifeforms from outer space, we have all of us humans, right here, right now.

And, for the success of our new & future world, I want to wish that each and every one of your dreams will come true in 2020, and want you to be extremely successful with whatever makes you the most passionate.  The more success you achieve, the more you will shine a light upon yourself and onto others, making the world a better place for all of us.  But, dreams are dreams, and some come true, and others do not.  Therefore, even if you do not realize each and every one of your dreams, you still have the power to help others realize their dreams.  And sometimes, it is actually more fun and enjoyable when we focus on helping others realize their dreams as well.

So, instead of a world of aliens and spacecrafts, we have a world full of our dreams and achievements.  I am looking forward to seeing you realize your dreams and helping others realize their dreams in 2020.  The world of the future is waiting for them.

Happy In”Dutch”pendence Day!

Today is July 4th, the Independence Day of the U.S. As an American and New Yorker, I would like to give thanks to our amazing country. And on a day like today, I also like to reflect on who we are and where were we came from. But with all the differences between us, is there really one place, one point on a map, where we can all say yes, this is who we all are and where we all came from?

There are many different places to chose.

Are we British? We speak English and lots of our heritage comes from there, including those that originated from the 13 original colonies.

Are we Spanish? Many of us speak Spanish and are from Hispanic and Latin descent. The Spanish also colonized southern states like Florida, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.

Are we French? At one point, half of America was the colony of Louisiana (New France), extending as south as New Orleans and as north as Hudson’s Bay in Canada.

Are we German? It’s very American to eat hot dogs (“wieners” & “frankfurters”), hamburgers (named after Hamburg, Germany) and drink our beloved “American” beers like Budweiser (Eberhard Anheuser & Adolphus Busch), Coors (Adolph Coors), Pabst Blue Ribbon (Frederick Pabst), Schlitz (Joseph Schlitz), and Yuengling (David & Frederick Yuengling).

Are we Italian? It’s also very American to eat pasta, pizza, lasagna, and spaghetti & meatballs.

And that’s just naming several of the European places. How about all the Native Americans who were here before the Europeans, and how about those that descended from the slaves from Africa, and all the people who descended here from Asia and other places?

Can there really be one country, one place, that everyone can point to and say yes, this is who we are and where we all came from.

Yes, there is.

For anyone living in America, and especially New York City, there is a place that we can all point to, no matter what differences there are in our ethnicities, religions, and backgrounds.

It is a country called The Netherlands.

The Dutch influence in America is actually the biggest hidden and most interesting historical secrets of the U.S. and especially New York City.  It’s one that has daily and consistent influence in our lives, also one that is rarely discussed or mentioned in any of our history books.

Believe it or not, by the time you read the rest of this story, it’s impossible to not be convinced. And if you’re an American (and certainly for anyone who is a New Yorker), maybe you’ll also be convinced you may also be a little Dutch too.

A Land of Economic Opportunity

The Dutch came to the New World strictly for one reason, to create economic opportunity.

Unlike the British who came to the New World to escape religious intolerance and set-up their own distinct religious communities, like the Puritans in New England, the Quakers in Pennsylvania, the Catholics in Maryland, and the Baptists in the south. And the Spanish and the French to the New World to further extend the influence and reach of their kingdoms.

New York City (previously known as New Amsterdam), was actually settled by the Dutch West India Company. Therefore, was strictly a business decision to come to the New World and create economic opportunity for its company, employees, and stakeholders. Those that came to New Amsterdam did so from different cultures, ethnicities, races, and religions backgrounds to work together for a common purpose and for the corporation. Anyone who wanted to conduct business was welcome.

How many hundreds of millions of people have since come to America and New York City for that same value of economic opportunity.

A Land of Immigrants

We have a value in the U.S. that that anyone can come here from anywhere and work hard, and they can succeed, no matter who they are or what their background is. That value first originated in the U.S. from the Dutch West India Company when it settled in New Amsterdam. As long as you came to work hard, they would have you, no matter who you are or where you came from. Within the first year of the New Amsterdam settlement, it was reported that over 18 languages were spoken.

Since then, millions have immigrated to the U.S. from many different places around the world, with hundreds of millions of people in America holding that same “American” value.

Freedom of Religion

Since the Dutch colony in America was founded for trade, and not for religion like the British colonies, when the colony tried to recruit settlers, they realized that religious intolerance would keep many prospective settlers away. Because of that, New Amsterdam was more tolerant of those with different cultures and religions.

The First Amendment guaranteed freedom of religion when it was adopted in 1791, but it was actually about 150 years earlier in New Amsterdam that allowed Jews to worship and own land.

This Land is your Land, This Land is my Land, From California, to the New York Island.

In many countries, and even still to this day, the king or the government owns the land. It’s not your land, it’s their land. The same was true about places like England, Spain, and France.

But in The Netherlands, this land is your land, and this land is my land.

Since the land is below sea level and it is also very flat, the land tends to flood, rendering it useless to live on. It is due to this natural geographic condition that forced the Dutch people to invest their resources in creating infrastructure that served not only their own individual interests, but also for their community.

The Dutch were innovators at creating dams, bridges, dikes, and canals.  All the big budget infrastructure projects we have including highways, bridges, airports, and in the future it’ll be universal WiFi, 5G, and the internet of things that connect us all.  Those connections and building infrastructure for all of our common use is what helps makes America and New York City great.

Corporate America

There are millions of Americans working for Corporate America, and when we think America and New York City, we think about big companies doing big things. Well, the biggest company in the history of companies doing the biggest things in the world was actually the Dutch East India Company back in the 1600’s and 1700’s.

The Dutch actually created the concept of a corporation with the Dutch East India Company being the world’s first and biggest multi-national corporation. They also created a Dutch West India Company in New Amsterdam to trade with the New World.

Since the Dutch organized labor and investments through corporations, the salaries and profits did not necessarily go through a king like in other countries, and therefore, capital would be more evenly distributed among the middle and working class. Start-ups and new companies can also more be easily formed. The Dutch East India Company was also the world’s first publicly listed company, allowing anyone to invest and own a part of the company.

That being said, these Dutch corporations did serve a dreadful role as they also dealt in the slave trade.

Wall Street

Wall Street originated from the Dutch word “de Waalstraat”, which was the name of the street that was derived from a wooden wall on the northern edge of New Amsterdam, built to protect against Native Americans, pirates, and the British. That street later became the home of the New York Stock Exchange (the Dutch also created the world’s first stock exchange).

In New York, places like the Hudson River, Coney Island, Staten Island, Brooklyn, Bronx, and Harlem, are also named after Dutch people and towns.

Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus right down Santa Claus Lane

How American is our annual Santa Claus tradition? Indeed, it was the Dutch explorers in American who dedicated their first church in New Amsterdam to “Sinterklaas”, and the story of Santa Claus coming into town, asking children if they’ve been naughty or nice, and riding around town giving gifts to children has continued its Dutch tradition in America (when the British took control of New Amsterdam, they merged Sinterklaas with Christmas).

On a day like today, you will probably be eating cole slaw “koolesalade” (Dutch for “cabbage salad”), and maybe even cookies “koekje” (Dutch for “little cake”) or doughnuts (Dutch for olykoek, meaning “oily cake”) for dessert, all of which are Dutch.

You also are probably celebrating today because your boss (“baas” is the Dutch word for master) gave you the day off, or you’re still in school (“school” is the Dutch word for a school of fish).

If you’re reading this far, do I really need to continue, or can you see how if you’re an American and / or a New Yorker, you may also be a little Dutch, too.

Death of the Yellow Page Directories

Do you remember the yellow pages?

Believe it or not, exactly 10 years ago today, on May 29, 2009, marked the death of the yellow page directories with the bankruptcy of R.H. Donnelley, one of the largest yellow pages publishers in the U.S. with 80+ million directories circulated across the country.

For years, R.H. Donnelley was one of the main clients I worked on as an investment banking analyst at Lehman Brothers (yes, which is also now bankrupt).

Just before it collapsed, R.H. Donnelley was worth billions of dollars. But, I knew it was only a short matter of time for R.H. Donnelley to go south. With both R.H. Donnelley and Lehman Brothers now gone, let me share you my story and the details of the exact moment I knew something was wrong.

But first, why were yellow page directories like R.H. Donnelley worth billions of dollars?

From the time of the invention of the telephone, over a century ago, yellow page directories were virtually a monopoly. As the telephone served as the only technology that can be used to contact anyone in the world in real-time, the telephone number listing and organization of all the services in the world were only accessible through the yellow pages. They were the company’s online website, Google.com, Craigslist.com, HomeAdvisor.com, Relator.com, Cars.com, and every other [Service].com directory search engine, combined.

If you had a business, you just had to list yourself in the yellow pages, it was the single and most basic and important way to advertise yourself. If you missed out in being printed in the annual yellow page directory, it was as if you didn’t exist for the entire year. For those loyal advertisers who continued to feature themselves year after year, they would get added benefits like being listed above their competitors or even have larger sections in the directory. If the advertiser ever stopped paying, it could mean that they lose these benefits to their competitor.

For the consumer, when they received their free yellow page directory, they kept it in their home in a safe place, as the yellow pages served as a valuable reference for every possible service that someone may need. Even though the book was very large and heavy, they never would throw it away as it served as an important resource.

What happened to R.H. Donnelley?

Since the company had historically stable revenue with large profit margins (all you had to do a print a large book with the names of all the people that paid you each year and mail it out to everyone which also served to reinforce the marketing of the yellow pages), the company was able to take on billions of dollars of debt to purchase other yellow pages companies and increase its physical footprint as each yellow page directory served a specific, localized market (i.e. the yellow pages in Cincinnati, OH were different than the yellow pages in Washington, D.C., and each had their own print production, market distribution, advertising clients, and sales staff).

In the years before its collapse, R.H. Donnelley continued to double down on buying more and more yellow page directories, increasing its physical footprint, but not spending any money investing in its digital footprint or offering new products and services (at the time of its collapse, R.H. Donnelley had over 600 different directories across the U.S and a massive sales staff of 2,000 people). As a result, from 2002 through 2007, R.H. Donnelley’s debt grew from $2 billion in 2002 to a whopping $10 billion by 2007 (yes, that’s a ton of advertisements that would need to be sold just to cover debt).

As an investment banking analyst at Lehman Brothers, in 2005, I worked on R.H. Donnelley’s biggest deals like R.H. Donnelley acquiring one of its main competitors, Dex Media, in a $9 billion dollar deal, and the year thereafter, in 2006, I then worked on a $1.1 billion secondary equity offering of R.H. Donnelley’s stock of two of its largest shareholders, Carlyle Group and Welsh, Carson, Anderson, & Stowe. Here is my Lehman Brothers lucite (i.e. deal trophy) from the successful closing of this deal.

Looking back at it today, it would seem rather crazy for a yellow pages company to spend all their time and money buying other yellow pages directories and not investing in their own technology, continue to operate its legacy business model, and do nothing meaningful in regards to digital innovation.

In the his last quote as Chairman & CEO, David Swanson stated that the company’s “growth-through-acquisition strategy never anticipated the cataclysmic collapse of the U.S. economy and the local advertising market.” It seems that Mr. Swanson’s final statement and legacy was to put the blame on all of us (the entire U.S. economy), and his clients (the local advertisers), and not on R.H. Donnelley’s strategic direction or business model.

Simply put, the death of R.H. Donnelley and all the other yellow page directories is due to one simple thing: the internet, and not adequately adapting to it quick enough. The company may have a little more time to figure out its internet strategy, but remember, the company took on 5x more debt over the course of 5 years so it really didn’t have any added time or cash to focus on anything but paying down debt given its existing business model.

When did I know that R.H. Donnelley would be in trouble?

As I mentioned, I was part of the deal that helped sell $1.1 billion of stock of R.H. Donnelley which was held by two of the company’s largest shareholders that took place in New York City in the Fall of 2006. With all the investors that are physically located in New York City, this served as an important opportunity for the $1.1 billion secondary stock offering.

To make this happen, I helped put together the roadshow. A roadshow is a term used to describe the process in which the executive team travels across the country to meet with investors and pitch to them the terms and benefits of the offering (“road” as they are traveling around to meet investors and “show” as the company needs to put on a great show to then get those investors to invest in the company).

It was also a relatively fun experience for me because many times I had to work on the presentation but never got to see how the presentation would actually be presented live at the roadshow. In regards to this roadshow, this would be the opposite, as the roadshow presentation was already completed and I was just there to help organize the actual event.

On the day of the roadshow, my boss invited me to sit next to him in the audience. I was very excited and honored, and for a moment it did not seem like I actually was working, as now I got to experience the roadshow for myself as a member of the audience, just like all the other investors who were seated around me. I was also excited to listen to a seasoned CFO who ran a billion dollar company performing on stage, trying to rally investors in raising money for the company.

The CFO did a great job walking through lots and lots of slides highlighting how great the yellow page business model was, especially how it was very stable and consistent like a utility company. These companies had strong valuation multiples because of their consistent earnings so that was a key highlight for investors.

But, there was only one slide dedicated towards R.H. Donnelley’s internet strategy.

I found it puzzling to focus so much attention to a yellow pages directory and not talk about the future in digital and online listings. During the presentation, the CFO showed us one page and talked about how they would have an add-on for each advertiser (remember, R.H. Donnelley had over 600,000+ advertisers at the time) that would charge an annual fee of $50-$100 to maintain their website listing on the R.H. Donnelley website.

Believe it or not, the average advertiser of R.H. Donnelley spent $3,500 per year in the physical yellow pages directory (yes. that’s 600,000+ total clients paying on average $3,500 per year, which equated to about $2.1 billion in annual revenue in that physical yellow pages directory each year).

How can you justify this price? Well according to Ben Braun, a friend who read this article, states “many successful small businesses that have been around for decades, built their business almost exclusively on Yellow Page directories.”

The CFO argued that the physical yellow page directory would continue to be the company’s most important asset, and the digital online listing was just a small add-on.

I found this was odd for a number of reasons.

First, it was 2006, and any business at the time could create a free website listing on their own website, on a search page like Google or Yahoo, or even on social media like Facebook (and not have to spend a whopping $3,500!). I found it strange that they would also want to charge their advertisers an extra fee for this essentially free service.

Second, I found it odd that even if the advertiser didn’t pay the additional fee of $50-$100, then R.H. Donnelley’s online website would be weaken as it would essentially contain less content (I also could not imagine anyone paying $50-$100, let alone any price for this service). It seemed like they actually needed to list as many advertisers as possible on their website to actually make it useful (even for free). But, at the same time, R.H. Donnelley would struggle to get paid for this, because the advertiser could do it free online and with all the other new website competitors. It seemed like the value proposition of simply posting that your business existing, which is all what the yellow pages really did, would be exterminated by the internet, and R.H. Donnelley had not articulated a solid strategy of how they were going to tackle this during the presentation. It seemed to me that their internet strategy might just be dead on arrival.

As I was listening to the presentation in the audience, I made some quick calculations. Even if all 600,000 advertisers paid $100 per year, it would equate to $60 million, which is nothing as compared to the total debt of $10 billion, it would take them 167 years just to use all that revenue to pay down their debt every year. They really needed to figure out a strong business model to maintain a customer base of 600,000 advertisers paying $3,500 per year or things would not be very good for them.

At that moment, I felt like I was back at The Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, listening to an interesting case study. I had graduated only a couple years prior and I was now seated in the audience. So, I raised my hand and to ask him a question about their proposed internet strategy.

Even though everyone else was asking questions about the other things he highlighted in the presentation, my question was focused on the one quick slide I felt most important, the internet.

I raised my hand and got excited when he, the CFO of a multi-billion dollar company, actually called on me.

I asked him about the validity of their internet strategy and the incremental value R.H. Donnelley would have to give vs. other free sites on the internet to make people want to actually pay for the service, and when everything goes online, what would then happen to the future of the print directory they relied on so much.

I could see he was taken aback, as he answered in a fumbled way.

I said to myself, wow, I actually asked a smart question in a sea of other, older, more experienced Wall Street investors. I took a risk and it paid off, as asking a question could have been embarrassing to me if it sounded stupid.

But, as he was answering, it didn’t seem like he had a strong strategy or even knew how to articulate a good answer. After addressing my question, I had some follow-up, as his answer did not seem complete, so I raised my hand again as he was finishing his response to ask a follow-up question.

When I was in school, I was encouraged to ask smart questions. I was also taught there was no such thing as a stupid question.

But, it was at that same exact moment when my senior banker, my boss, and a person I very much admired and actually had invited me to attend the presentation and sit right next to him, forcibly grabbed my arm and pulled it down.

He was one of the most happy and exciting bosses I have ever had. He was a very carefree and fun guy. But as he looked at me, there was anger and rage in his face.

As I locked eyes with him he categorically says to me: “STOP EMBARRASSING THE CLIENT!”

I was taken aback.

I thought to myself, what did I do to embarrass the client? I do not want to harm anyone here, and I certainly did not come here to embarrass anyone.

I was shocked and puzzled, what did I do wrong?

The entire rest of the presentation I could not focus my attention on anything other than to understand what had happened and I was constantly reliving the moment, tracing my steps back and forth wondering what I did to embarrass the client.

It was at that moment that it suddenly clicked.

R.H. Donnelley is our client and we are their banker. The goal of this roadshow is for our client to raise as much money from the investors in the room. My question and his response could harm that, as it was not in our position to challenge the client. It was the role of the investors, not the bankers, to ask questions and figure out what stocks they want to buy or sell.

I looked around. I saw a sea of people much older than I was.

These investors were probably not as sophisticated with the internet. They probably had no idea what an internet strategy was and how to even compare what he was saying with the realities of an online offering.

It was at that moment I realized that asking a smart question was actually stupid.

Further, I also realized maybe it was smart to be stupid.

We did not want to lose a client, and we ultimately wanted our client to succeed. Banks like Lehman Brothers could also make at least a 1%+ broker fee from the total offering, which at $1.1 billion was $10+ million in fees. Yes, get paid $10+ million to make the client look good while keeping your mouth shut.

I always was taught the phrase that there were “no stupid questions”. At this point, yes, I did realize there is a carve out for stupid questions when raising those questions actually go against your interests.

As a 24 year old, it seemed like the realities of business were now more complicated. Now I have to think about the ramifications of the questions I ask, as if I would have to build a decision tree to understand what questions I may ask and to whom I can ask them. I was naturally curious about my question to the CFO, but now I realized I could not ask the questions I wanted to.

In 2007, R.H. Donnelley’s top executives got paid millions in total compensation. The two owners who sold their 26% stake in that secondary equity offering I worked on in November 2006, Carlyle Group and Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe sold their stake for $60 per share, and got paid $1.1 billion. As the executives made millions and these owners made billions, for that next year, my question did in fact seam stupid, as R.H. Donnelley’s stock hit a high of $67 in July 2007.

But then in 2008, R.H. Donnelley started cutting costs by firing 10% of its employees, then in September 2008, Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, and in November 2008, R.H. Donnelley started to freeze pension plans, and then a month later, on the last day of 2008 on December 31st, the New York Stock Exchange suspended the trading of the company’s stock, rendering it worthless. The CEO made millions and these owners made billions just a year prior to the employees and long-term shareholders getting nothing.

In June 2008, I left Lehman Brothers 80 days before it went bankrupt, my apartment burned down in a fire, and I joined a hedge fund, Aurelius Capital Management, that solely focused on specializing in investing in bankrupt companies (all these events happened in that single month in June 2008). I found my calling as no more a banker, but now as an investor. When asked why I wanted to leave Lehman Brothers, the hedge fund loved my R.H. Donnelley story in my interview, and very much valued people asking critical questions to make smart, analytical decisions.

Did I want R.H. Donnelley or Lehman Brothers to go bankrupt, of course not, no one did. Too many people lost too much, and both companies had been in operation for over a century.

But, smart questions always need to be asked, and in life, things always change. Both R.H. Donnelley and Lehman Brothers are now bankrupt, and I do think there is a correlation. At the end of the day, being silenced is stupid, and asking smart questions is the key to success.

Israel is an Awesome Product, Packaged Awfully

What does the average person think of “Israel”?

They may think something positive like its beautiful beaches, ancient history, and great food. But from my experience, the average person is more likely to think something negative like war, terrorism, and the Mideast conflict. Google the word “Israel” (the aggregate of everything being written and posted online), and we will likely see similar headlines which negatively influence the perception of the country.

But, these are just the negative perceptions of Israel, and are not actually Israel.

Anyone that actually visits Israel is 100% more likely to experience Israel’s beautiful beaches, ancient history, and great food, and will never experience anything negative.  The negative perception of Israel does not match up to positive reality of Israel.

In my opinion, this perception is due to Israel’s packaging and branding, but not as Israel as an awesome product. It is the external perception of Israel vs. what actually is Israel. But, this perception actually reaches and influences a significantly larger amount of people in the world than all the other people in the world that have actually had first hand experiences with the country.

Why is Israel so awfully packaged and branded?

Israel has a tiny population (less than 9 million, 0.1% of the world’s population), with only an additional 3-4 million that visit the country each year.  Now contrast that with the billions of other people who have never visited Israel (99.9% of the world’s population) and have been exposed to all of the negative perceptions.  If you click on that Google search result, you will see there is an astonishing 1.2 trillion search results for “Israel”, with many generated from those with different biases and negative agendas, especially Israel’s neighbors that do not even recognize that the country even exists.  There are not as many people in the world with first-hand experiences visiting or living in Israel that can actually spread the positive.  All of the negative perceptions influence the average person who might actually want to visit Israel if they actually perceived and knew of all of the awesome positives.

Israel is a challenging country to understand with many internal and external complexities (see below Conan O’Brien’s attempt to summarize Israel’s unique history in one minute).

On top of that, Israeli people themselves actually do not care as much about the packaging and branding as we do in the U.S.  Israeli’s are much more focused on the actual product than the branding of that product, as a typical Israeli can care less about what you think about them.

But when you visit Israel, you will see first-hand how amazing the people are and how beautiful and diverse the tiny country is.  But people cannot be inspired to visit Israel if all they see is negative headlines and content.

Now take a look at another Conan O’Brien video.

So what can be done to change the brand image of Israel?

Three things come to my mind.

#1: The Celebrate Israel Parade in New York City. There is no reason why it should not be the most exciting and celebrated parade in New York City and the world.  Being replicated in other major cities around the world.

The annual parade celebrating Israel in New York City is called the “Celebrate Israel Parade,” and this year it takes place on Sunday, June 2, 2019.  It is the single largest public celebration of Israel in the world. There are millions of people that are genuinely enthusiastic about Israel living in New York City who are well suited and energized to share the positives about the country.  Further, the location of the parade should also distinguish the parade as being the best in the world, as the parade takes place on Fifth Avenue (the greatest street in the world) in New York City (the greatest city in the world).  Yet unfortunately, on this global stage on Fifth Avenue in New York City, the Celebrate Israel Parade is one of worst parades in New York City.  This huge opportunity is not being properly utilized, and when the parade is actually successful, it can be replicated in major cities around the world.

Why is the Celebrate Israel Parade one of the worst parades?

The Celebrate Israel Parade is a dull, long, boring experience for the spectator.  It is poorly choreographed and staged.  Even though the parade has taken place for decades, the Celebrate Israel Parade always seems like it is being assembled at the last minute, with no standard of who can march, what message is being conveyed, and how it is being executed.  There are thousands of different parades and public gatherings that take place and world class entertainment at our fingertips, 24-7.  On top of that, we have billions of impressions of digital and social media content competing for our attention span.  Even worse, the parade does not engage or excite anyone outside of the standard Israeli or Jewish circle to be inspired about “Israel” or even the parade itself.

To illustrate this, below is the video last year’s Celebrate Israel Parade.  You can fast forward to anywhere, it is basically all the same (Dr. Ruth riding in a convertible at hour 1:16 in the video is one of the few Instagram-worthy moments of this entire three hour long parade).  No movie director will show you the same clip for three straight hours, it is unwatchable.  Every float is basically the same of the previous float, and it goes on over and over again.

Below is a screenshot. There is no energy, choreography, or excitement. Not one person in this photo is even smiling, and they even seem bored and confused where to look and direct their attention to.

Further, the parade in its current form is actually not anything “Israel.”  Watching the “Celebrate Israel Parade” is more like watching an “Israel Pride Parade” or “Summer Camp of Jewish Americans that Support Israel Parade” since most of the “Celebrate Israel Parade” consists of tens of thousands of Jewish Americans from hundreds of different synagogues and non-profit organizations, marching and waving Israeli flags, with each group wearing their own colored t-shirt, which appears to me like everyone is part of one big summer camp or one huge pride of Israeli supporters.

There is nothing wrong about an “Israel Pride Parade” or “Summer Camp of Jewish Americans that Support Israel Parade”, but if you brand this parade as “Celebrate Israel Parade” and you say you want to “highlight the vibrant and diverse State of Israel,” let’s use the parade as a rare opportunity to actually show and celebrate Israel!

The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) is the official organization that produces the Celebrate Israel Parade.  I do not actually know anyone there, but I hope to soon, as I have seen this parade experience take place in New York City for years in its current form without any growth or innovation.  I do want the Celebrate Israeli Parade to be the most celebrated and exciting parade in the world, but I believe the problem starts with the top.

To illustrate this, below is a video from the JCRC float from last year’s Celebrate Israel Parade.  To me, it is video is demonstrates the problem.  No one is smiling, no one is waving, people are on their phones, no one is really dressed like they are going to be on a parade float and broadcast on television (i.e. how is this “celebrating Israel”?).  The only person actually showing some excitement is my friend Irida Llambiri who is featured at 1:00 smiling and waving (she is not even part of the organization).  I do think something needs to drastically needs to change.

Here is the Creative Theme book that was distributed from the JCRC.  As you see from how these materials were put together, this is a parade appears to be organized by a teacher for their class of kindergarten kids (I know, because my mother was a kindergarten teacher).  This does not present a strong representation of Israel.

Creative Theme Book 2019

Further, here are the marching guidelines.  As you can see, it states on the last page “Good luck!” because “The whole world is watching!” Unfortunately, the whole world is actually not watching, and it’s actually the opposite, everyone but those who march in the parade are watching.

whole world

So as you see, the Celebrate Israel Parade in its current form is not visually appealing, exciting or fun to watch.

People do not actually want to watch it – have you ever planned to watch the Celebrate Israel Parade live on television?  In contrast, have you ever planned to watch the the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade live on television?  Are you right now in the middle of watching live the last season of Game of Thrones?  If you are reading this in Israel are you or someone you in the middle of watching Bride of Istanbul (the Turkish soap opera the has taken Israelis by storm)?

It’s a simple formula of showing great content vs. showing bad content. The beauty of great content is that it gets talked about, replicated, and shared. The danger of bad content is that it does not stay in people’s minds, it does not end up seeing the light of day, and eventually gets erased from all human memory and existence.

We are a long way from that happening, but in the short term, as people perceive that the “Celebrate Israel Parade” sucks, then they might also perceive that “Israel” must also suck.

The impression we give to those outside the Jewish and Israeli circles is that the Celebrate Israel Parade sucks, as the parade is boring and few people are actually watching or sharing it on the sidelines.  Since all these Israel supporters actually march in the parade vs. watch the parade, the parade always seems like no one is standing on the sidelines, which makes any spectator think the parade sucks even more because they do not see anyone actually watching it.

Therefore, almost all the people that currently march in the parade should actually be watching and sharing the content of the parade on the sidelines.

All these people are supporters of Israel, but the parade itself does not actually show Israel.  Do not get me wrong, it is fantastic that all these people have come out to support Israel, but nearly all the people that currently march in the parade should stand on the sidelines and take photos and share on social media the content of the parade anyone and everyone and share what Israel is all about. The parade should also serve as an educational experience so that anyone can learn more about Israel while watching the parade.

Now let’s take a look at one of the best parades: the Gay Pride parade.

The Gay Pride Parade is one of New York City’s most exciting and celebrated parades. It’s very colorful, the floats are exciting and engaging, and there is a ton of energy and enthusiasm.  The parade actually inspires and excites people to be part of the movement.

But, it was not always this way.

The Gay Pride Parade actually started from the Stonewall Inn riots just about 50 years ago, and the preceding decades were not welcoming times for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, and asexual or allied (LGBTQIA) people.  The LGBTQIA brand did not start with positive public perception, as many hid from their true identity, and there were even laws against homosexual relations and statutes that allowed police to criminally arrest people wearing less than three gender-appropriate articles of clothing.  Since then, LGBTQIA community has been fighting and continues to fight for its place in our society and has faced a huge set of challenges, including the AIDS epidemic in the 1980’s and 1990’s and today with equal rights.

The LGBTQIA community has fought to significantly improved its brand image in the past 50 years, embracing their identity, establishing their colored flags, and today the Gay Pride Parade is one of the most celebrated and exciting parades taking place in major cities around the world.

Israeli activists can learn a lot on how to change public perception, generate engagement and excitement, and create a strong positive brand identity.

So how do we do to change the Celebrate Israel Parade to drastically improve Israel’s brand image?

The Celebrate Israel Parade needs to completely scrape its format, starting off by taking almost all of its current parade marchers and put them all on the sidelines.  Yes, tens of thousands of people who currently march in the parade do not actually belong there.  They can do a better job for the parade by being on the sidelines, filming and sharing the content of a better parade experience with your friends on social media.

Now that we gutted out almost all of the current content, the parade needs to be very detailed and thoughtful about the projection and perception of the brand image of Israel.  To properly project the “Israel” brand, a Creative Director first has to think and reflect.  A good friend and Director of WindowsWear’s Workshop, Mr. Eric Feigenbaum, will advise that this Creative Director has to ask him or herself three basic questions:

“Who are you?”, “What do you have to say?”, and “How do you say it?”

Here are some of the responses I had when I asked myself these three basic questions of behalf of what is Israel?

Celebrity.
Let’s get Gal Gadot, Bar Refaeli, Elie Tahari, even Gene Simmons (aka “Chaim Witz”) in the parade. Dr. Ruth would also fit perfectly here.

Ancient.
The history told in the Old & New Testaments.  Let’s show ancient ruins, aqueducts, artifacts, or even a Noah’s Ark float.

Modern.
At the same time the country is ancient, it is only 71 years old, and is very high tech and modern. We should show that.

An Innovation & Start-up nation.
Let’s get Israeli companies who have made a significant mark in the world: Waze, Wix. WeWork, Via, WalkMe, & Israeli-born entrepreneurs. Each one of these brands should have their own float.

Technology.
Google, Microsoft, Intel, all have headquarters here. Let’s also show that.

In contrast, here is the float representing Israeli technology from last year. I’m sorry kids, your float does not publicly represent high-tech Israel technology, and this banner is better kept in your arts & crafts class.

Sexy people.
Let’s have a float filled with sexy men & women.

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פותחים את היום עם דויד אילון הלוהט 😍😍😍 @david_elon ✴✴✴✴✴✴✴✴✴✴✴✴✴✴ רוצים להופיע בעמוד?😋 1. עיקבו אחרי העמוד🕴 2. תייגו חופשי בתמונות מתאימות 3. שלחו תמונה מתאימה וברורה (ללא 😎)! 4. סבלנות 😏 זכרו שאתם לא היחידים ששלחו 5. פרגנו בלייקים לאחרים ובכך גם תראו נוכחות👀🙌 6. אשתדל לענות לכולם, אם לא עניתי זה פשוט כי אין לי תמיד זמן⏰ 7. לא כולם יפורסמו אין מה להיפגע🤗 8. תהנו 💋 ✴✴✴✴✴✴✴✴✴✴✴✴✴✴

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Beautiful beaches.
Let’s show how beautiful the beaches are in Israel.

Beautiful birds.

During the migration season, 500+ million birds pass through Israel, leaving Europe in the autumn on their way to Africa, making the long journey back in the spring.

Desert.
Let’s get some actual Bedouins riding down camels on 5th Avenue.

Falafel, pita, and hummus.
Let’s have some gigantic falafel balls floating down 5th Avenue and pitas being dipped into massive bowls of hummus.

Zahav.

Zahav means “gold”.  It’s also the name of an Israeli restaurant which was voted the #1 best restaurant in the entire U.S.

Matkot.

The paddle ball beach game that every Israeli plays on the beach.  Let’s get hundreds of people to play matkot down Fifth Avenue. Or even better, a live VR matkot experience with actual matkot players on Israeli beaches with those on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

A first-responder country.
The Israeli military partners with the American military for joint exercises as well as participating in emergency relief efforts around the world. Let’s get some delegations together of both American and Israeli service members police, firefighters, rescue workers (the solider on the right is actually my cousin, Zohar Moshe, who is commander of Israel’s Search & Rescue team).

A Nation of Military Victories

Let’s have soldiers march who have fought in the 1948 War of Independence, the 1967 Six Day War (which my dad served as a paratrooper officer and saved a fellow solider’s life), the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and more.

Color.
The green of the forests, the yellow of the desert and the blue of the sea. Let’s show each one of Israel’s many colors in a float.

Green.
Israel is the only country that entered the 21st century with a net gain in its number of trees.  Let’s show that.

Jerusalem.
The holy city for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. There is a Jewish quarter, Armenian quarter, Christian quarter, and Muslim quarter. Jerusalem and all of its diversity should be shown in in the parade.

Tel Aviv.
A sister city to New York City. There are so many similarities between Tel Aviv and New York City, and we can have a Tel Aviv tourism float.

New Yorkers can fly via El Al to Tel Aviv direct from JFK.  El Al should have a float.

Progressive.
Israel had a Female prime minister, a Muslim on its supreme court, and has most progressive gay rights in the Middle East.

Ethnic diversity.
The Israeli population consists of Europeans, Africans, Whites, Arabs, South Americans, and more, all living in peace. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.  Let’s show that.

Religious diversity.
There are Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze, Arameans, Assyrians, and more.  Let’s get some representation and delegations of all those religions in the parade.

Krav Maga.

There are tens if not hundreds of thousands of centers of Japan’s martial art, Karate, in the U.S. In comparison, how many are there of Israel’s martial art, Krav Maga? We should have a Krav Maga float and change that.

Orthodox Jewish men.
Let’s have a float of dancing Rabbis.

Orthodox Jewish women.
Let’s have a float of Jewish women.

A democratic ally and friend of the U.S.
Here we can have all the U.S. and state government officials that usually march in the parade like U.S. Senator Chuck Shumer, U.S. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, and more.  As you see below, it doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat or a Republican to support Israel.

What am I missing? I’m sure there’s even more and more!

Will identifying and showing what Israel actually is help create positive and authentic impressions of Israel while generating more engagement and excitement for Israel and everyone involved in the annual Celebrate Israel Parade?  I 100% do think so.

For all the people that currently march in the parade: it might sound impossible to tell all of you to stop marching in order to allow for a better experience. But, the parade is not about the brand of “you”, it is about the brand of “Israel”.  You are better off supporting and sharing the content of what Israel is, which includes many different things I mention above, instead of showing yourself marching in the parade. By doing that, we can all inspire others to better understand and appreciate all the different things that make Israel unique and amazing.

Better yet, if your organization currently marches in the parade, instead of having a float that focuses on your organization, have your float focus on a unique aspect of Israel, that combined together with the other floats, will provide a full picture of what Israel actually is.

If this happens, the parade will attract, engage, and inspire more people to understand what Israel is all about, and more importantly build the positive and authentic brand image of Israel to combat the negative perceptions out there.

When people perceive that “Celebrate Israel Parade” is awesome, then they also might perceive that “Israel” is awesome, too!  They might also want to be part of the movement, and we can replicate the Celebrate Israel Parade in other major cities around the world.

Two other things can also be done.

#2: Create a strong “Made in Israel” brand.

As you see from the above, there is no reason why people from around the world should not be as excited about Israeli products and services, the country has so much to offer.  But, in order to properly sell something, you have to properly show something.  And in order to properly sell Israel, you have to properly show Israel.  It is really not that difficult, it is really easy, it is just not being done.

Let’s take Italy as an example. 70 years ago (the same time when Israel was formed as a country), Italy was an axis power and enemy of the U.S. Since then, Italy has completely transformed its government into a democracy, its economy and trade, and its brand image from negative to positive. In the past 70 years, Italians have been very thoughtful about the “Made in Italy” brand to convey the best in luxury goods, fashion, cars, and food. Israel has also had 70 years, but has done little as a comparison in branding its name.

The good thing for Israel is that in the next 70 years, consumers will be more focused on technology and digitally connected products. Israel is the world’s innovator in technology and digital, and can capitalize on this trend. The way to stop the BDS movement is to actually brand “Made in Israel” on all Israeli made products and embrace it.

#3: Get Educated

As you see, there is so much misinformation out there about Israel and so much awesome information about Israel that is not being properly communicated and shared.

Fuel for Truth is an excellent organization where you can learn the facts. I took the 10 week boot-camp last year and it was an excellent source of content, facts, and understanding about what is actually going on in Israel and in the region.

In closing, Israel is awesome, and you should 100% go visit.

Israel definitely has its challenges as it relates to things like socioeconomic status, immigration, racism, but its key values with those of the U.S. include democracy, equality, freedom, capitalism, military strength, and the maintenance of world peace are similar.  It is also one of the few countries in the world that is a key ally and true friend of the U.S.

Actually seeing something for oneself is the best way to actually change someone’s opinion.  That’s why organizations like AIPAC send every new American congressman and congresswoman on a trip to Israel.  The Birthright organization has also hosted trips for over 600,000 people who have never been to Israel.  But as I described above, so little people actually go to Israel.  So, we need more and more impressions of all the good, including creating positive impressions through an exciting and inspiring Celebrate Israel Parade, branding high-tech and innovative products as “Made in Israel”, and being more educated will significantly improve Israel’s brand image.

For anyone that is in New York City on May 8th, I invite you to come celebrate Israel at the largest Israeli Independence Day celebration outside of Israel at LAVO!

The Colossal Crime Constantly Being Committed on Facebook

Today I will highlight a colossal crime being committed on Facebook.  This is a crime that I have known about for many years, and unfortunately, it has become more rampant over time with no end in sight.  Most people are aware of crimes on Facebook like Russia meddling in the 2016 U.S. election or even more commons ones like cyberbullying and stalking.  But, this crime is not being committed by Russian hackers hidden in secret, it is being committed by ordinary people to their closest friends out in the public.  We do not need the CIA or FBI to find it, this crime is so common that I confident you or someone you know has or is currently engaging in it.

Why am I speaking out?

I have personally fallen victim to this crime and know many others who have been as well.  I sadly have friends who have perpetrated in it and witness it taking place on Facebook all the time; therefore I know there are millions of victims out there each year.  Each time this crime has happened to me, it felt like a knife taking a little stab at me (and therefore in totality across all users of Facebook, that is like millions of little stab wounds per year).  By the time you finish reading this story, thousands more will be affected.

stabbing-gif

Before I share with you the details of this crime, I would like to give you some context.

When Facebook launched in February 2004, I was interning at Lehman Brothers in Menlo Park, CA.  During my internship, I made some friends at nearby Stanford University who signed me up with a Facebook account in June 2004 (Stanford University was as one of the first three schools that expanded Facebook outside of Harvard, where Mark Zuckerberg first launched it).  After my internship I went back to school, Indiana University, for my senior year, becoming the first student at Indiana University to have a Facebook account, introducing Facebook to my friends at school for the first time.

Facebook is a great way to keep people posted on what’s new, like the press, progress, and updates we have for WindowsWear.  I always valued Facebook for its ability to allow people to engage online and can meet them offline, as it is an easy tool to create large events and invite thousands of people.  But, Facebook is also constantly changing its policies, and now limits the number of people you can be friends with and how many you can invite to an event (to counter this, I had to create a second Facebook profile, Jon Harari II, just to be able to connect with more people).  Over the years as Facebook has grown, it has shown a preference to keep people engaged through its platform online vs. in-person offline.

Further, communicating through social media is usually non-visual and written, both of which are arguably the worst methods human beings can communicate with each other, as they lack the body language, nuance, and visuals (facial expressions, eye contact, body posture, gestures, tone of voice, etc.) which are critical to accurately communicate a message. Social media prefers to engage people online and not offline, as well as relying on addictive algorithms and notifications to continue to keep us communicating through their platforms.

Therefore I believe it is even now more critical to get people together and not be stuck on solely interacting with people on social media.  As a society I know we are craving more and more of these offline experiences as we spend more and more of our lives online.

Organizing events is a great way to do this, but, organizing an even takes a lot of effort and time and money.  Hosts take their events very seriously, as it is a moment to engage with the people they most care about in a big way.  The biggest worry for a host is not to have anyone show up or care about the event he or she is hosting.  That is a primary reason why people do not host events often.  On the flip side, if you are invited to an event, it is a very special honor, because you know of all the effort being made and how important it is to the host.

What is the colossal crime that is constantly being committed on Facebook?

The crime of a ‘person that is invited to an event that posts publicly a comment stating that they cannot attend that event.’

Each time someone made a comment like this on an event I was hosting, it felt like that person was inflicting a little stab at me.  It took me so much time, effort, planning, and energy to create the event and invite you to it.  I then personally invite you to attend it, and instead of privately expressing to me that you cannot attend, you publicly proclaim to everyone that you cannot.  Each comment also triggers automatic notifications to all the other attendees that are also prominently displayed on the event page.

Take a look at an example below (click on the video), and you can see all the carnage taking place.

In the video below, I highlight a Facebook event of a friend of mine that is turning 40 years old, and he has invited his closest friends to attend his birthday bash.  He only turns 40 once in his life and reserved the private room of one of the top venues in New York City.  I was honored to get the invitation to this once-in-a-lifetime event, as it is not to be missed.

Now take a look at the below video of his Facebook event page.  Look at many of the guests publicly commenting they cannot attend (highlighted by my cursor in blue).  There are in fact many people who have RSVP’ed that they can attend, but these people do not understand that no one actually cares that they cannot make the event, and by making a public comment they are sabotaging it.

I know from organizing hundreds of events on Facebook, that having someone publicly comment that they cannot attend is a terrible feeling and it feels like that person stabbing me.  Every time these guests post a comment, all the other invited guests receive a notification about the comment and everyone can see it publicly on the event page.  You not being able to attend as a guest is not that important to any of the other happy guests that are excited to actually attend.

Why are so many guests sabotaging the host?

Now scroll up and watch the video again, and you can see all the outreach and encouragement from the host to entice people to actually attend the party.  The host says he “can’t wait to see everyone”, and that “everyone is welcome”, and to “please add anyone to the list!”, and to “please RSVP as soon as possible”.  He is doing everything he can to encourage people to attend, but unfortunately, his message is being diluted and extra efforts are sabotaging it by the comments from everyone else saying they cannot attend.

No one cares about your excuses.

If you cannot attend the event then no problem, no need to explain publicly with reasons like you cannot attend like you spent “11 hours last night getting a tattoo and cannot put on a long sleeved shirt”, or that you “just recently saw this FB invite”, or that you “are in LA”, or that you are “hosting friends from out of town”, or that you “are really hoping to work it out but can’t”, or even that you “don’t think the doormen will let your pregnant belly in the door”.

Do you really think the host really cares for you to actually be at the event if you really cannot make it? 

The host was the one to invite you to an event.  The host just wants to efficiently invite all these friends to the event through Facebook.  If you cannot make it, then just say nothing and do not RSVP.  If you feel enticed to let the host know, why not send the host a private message?  If you really feel the need to let the host know you cannot make it through the  Facebook event page, there is a button that clearly states “X Can’t Go”.  Can you not see this?  If not, see below exactly where this button is, jut to the right of the “✓ Going” and “? Maybe” buttons.

Screen Shot 2019-03-09 at 11.01.54 AM

Why do you need to spend time publicly posting a comment?

You might think you are being nice to the host by explaining yourself through a comment, but in my experience, it actually achieves the opposite, as you are communicating to all the attendees of the event that you cannot make it, and what is your goal in doing that?  It is like taking a big megaphone to let everyone know that you cannot attend the event that the host graciously invited you to.  This event is the host’s big moment, that is why the host invited you.  You are hijacking that airtime away from the host and the host is trying to get people to attend the event and you are doing the opposite, you are proclaiming you want to stay away from the event and not attend.  The other guests do not care that you cannot make it, as everyone is busy, and no one expects 100% of the people that are invited to actually attend the event.

Why aren’t the guests actually attending the event commenting on how excited they are to attend?

The only public comments that are worth posting are for guests that are actually attending the event to publicly commenting that they are excited to attend.  If you get an invitation to an event, and you are excited about going, then publicly share that!  By doing that, you are giving encouragement to the host and also getting other people to be excited to attend as well.

I will always pre-approve any comments on my Facebook events.

For me, for every event I create on Facebook, I actually disable the ability to anyone to automatically comment on the event page without my approval.  Each time I previously would create an event and allow guests to comment, at least one person would make a public comment that they cannot attend, and this felt like a little stab wound.  Just think about all the millions of events on Facebook per year, and all the public comments being made on those pages by guests that cannot attend, and all the little stab wounds that are being inflicted.  Further, these public comments may serve to dissuade others from attending the event and meet off Facebook, which is a further crime being committed.  Facebook wants to keep you in its world, and the more we get sucked in, the more we need to actually get out.

I encourage you to actively support people who use social media to host and create experiences outside of it and to make others aware of those that are sabotaging them.  

One of the definitions of a “crime” is an action or activity that, although not illegal, is considered to be evil, shameful, or wrong.  I truly believe that engages with the behavior highlighted above is evil, shameful, and wrong.

Facebook is also at fault, as it is through the design and structure of their system that we act and communicate with each other like this.  They have all the abilities to design a better system, and I do believe their ability to have people comment and engage through Facebook is part of their design, and I don’t actually think they want people to spend time away from Facebook.

For anyone reading this that I highlighted in my above article, I do not know who you are, and I am sure you are great human beings.  I was using you as an example of what not to do, and I wish you never even made any of these public comments.  You were the ones giving me content for my article, as you were the ones who put it out there.  I also wish I did not ever have to write this story, but I did so because people like you who do not stop making comments and discourage people from creating or attending events, but your comments make people more stuck in the social media world.  I make mistakes, everyone makes mistakes, and I hope you can learn from this mistake and never do this again. 

Share this story with anyone who creates these comments and let’s stop the carnage.

Why You Should HEART on, not HATE on Murray Hill

Today is my birthday!  As I reflect on another year of my life, I recognize many changes, but I also recognize one big thing that has not changed: my love for Murray Hill. For those who are not familiar with New York City, Murray Hill is a neighborhood east of midtown Manhattan (see red arrow below), and I’ve lived here pretty much since I moved to New York City 14 years ago.

I love Murray Hill so much that I have tripled-downed on Murray Hill: 1) I live in Murray Hill 2) I work in Murray Hill and 3) I volunteer as a Trustee of the Murray Hill Neighborhood Association. I have had lots of crazy adventures living in Murray Hill, including surviving a fire that burnt down my apartment and living next door to madames that operated a brothel above my bedroom. Pretty much all my life over the past decade has consisted of living, working, and enjoying life in Murray Hill, and it seems like it keeps on getting better and better as each year passes.

But, for the same time that I have lived here, it seems to me that everyone in New York City loves to hate on people like me who live in Murray Hill.

There are a couple of big stereotypes…

The first is that Murray Hill is just a bunch of obnoxious, drunk, non-cultured, recently graduated kids out of college.  This video illustrates this stereotype (coincidentally, this video features people like me that a) live in Murray Hill b) worked at Lehman Brothers and c) went to college at Indiana University).

In the New York Times article titled “In Murray Hill, the College Life Need Never End,” reporter Joseph Berger interviews a resident who states that “Murray Hill is losing its coolness” and whenever someone asks her where she lives, she is embarrassed to answer Murray Hill “because she knows she is making fun of herself.”

If that isn’t enough embarrassment, the Midtown Uniform Instagram account has amassed an audience of over 100K+ followers and its sole purpose is to make fun of residents and people who appear to look like residents of Murray Hill (contrary to the caption of the post, none of the people pictured below resemble any of the actual Trustees of the Murray Hill Neighborhood Associaton).

The second stereotype is that Murray Hill is just “Curry Hill,” named for the overwhelming number of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi restaurants and spice shops on Lexington Avenue between 25th and 30th Streets (I actually don’t mind having all these restaurants and spice shops, as I love these cuisines).

But, given these stereotypes, here are THREE REASONS why EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU should actually HEART on, and not HATE on Murray Hill.

1) Do you HEART America?

Did you know that without the people of Murray Hill, there would be no America? Here’s the story…

On September 15, 1776 (only a couple months after declaring independence on July 4, 1776), the American army, led by General George Washington was terribly defeated in the Battle of Brooklyn and had to fully retreat in order to not be completely defeated as the British army almost wiped out the American revolt only months after it started. So in secret, in the middle of the night, over 9,000+ soldiers boated across to the river to Manhattan (they landed on Kips Bay, the area just south of Murray Hill). The next morning, as the American army was retreating north towards Harlem, the American soldiers passed through Murray Hill (which was then just informally known as the farm and residence of the Murray family).

Shortly later, the British army, led by Admiral William Howe, a known womanizer (we’ll get to that shortly), conquered Brooklyn (as the American army deserted) and then continued its conquest across the river in Manhattan.  As the British came running after the American army as it was retreating, they passed through Murray Hill.

That’s where Mary Lindley Murray, the quick-thinking matriarch of the Murray family, comes in.  She helped save America by slowing down the British.  With her Murray Hill charm, she invited the British officers to tea and cake at their home as their soldiers came through her family’s farm (see the depiction below).  The story goes that Admiral William Howe was so enchanted by the Murray family women that it allowed the Americans time to get away.  This succeeded in delaying the British troops for a period sufficient to allow a successful American retreat, and this gave General George Washington and his American army enough time to win.

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Remember, America did not win the revolutionary war in 1776, we just declared independence in 1776.  We actually won the revolutionary war in 1783 via the Treaty of Paris in which Great Britain agreed to recognize the sovereignty of the United States and formally ended the war.  We won because we dragged the war long enough and eventually won some major battles like the Battle of Yorktown in 1781 which caused British support for the war to fade in both the British Parliament and the British public, thus triggering this diplomatic peace treaty.  Helping drag the war long enough is exactly what Mary Lindley Murray did.  Unfortunately, Mary Lindley Murray passed away in 1782 (the year prior to the passing of the Treaty of Paris, but as you see in the plaque below, she credited as being a true Patriot that helped the Americans win the war (this plaque is located on Park Avenue at 37th Street).

2) Do you HEART electricity and light bulbs?

Did you know that without the people of Murray Hill, there would be no electricity and electric light bulbs? Here’s the story…

Banker JP Morgan was inventor Thomas Edison’s biggest financial investor, and they both wanted to bring the technological innovation of electricity to the world.  JP Morgan lived in Murray Hill, and his home (see pic below) served as a lab for Edison’s experiments.  His home was the first in the world to be outfitted with electricity and had at least 400+ electric light bulbs, and the house even had its own generator.  Before that, people actually used to light candles to see at night. The home had to be lit with candles, which was very dangerous and caused many fires and deaths.  Murray Hill served as the world’s window to the future, as Morgan invited many to his home to see the marvel of the electric light for the first time.  And, you are probably reading this article right now with some electric light bulb shinny somewhere near you.

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3) Do you HEART Christmas & holiday lights?

Did you know that without the people of Murray Hill, there would be no electric Christmas lights? Here’s the story…

One of the experiments that came out of Thomas Edison’s lab was electric Christmas lights. Before that, people actually used to light candles and put them on Christmas trees (see pic below). That all changed when Edward H. Johnson, Vice President of the Edison Electric Light Company, was the first in the world to display his Christmas tree, which was hand-wired with 80 red, white and blue electric incandescent light bulbs the size of walnuts, on December 22, 1882 at his home in Murray Hill (since Murray Hill was also the first section of New York City to be wired for electricity). Come each year’s holiday season when everyone enjoys the electric Christmas lights, we can remember to thank the residents of Murray Hill.

Now, do you still need even more reasons to not HEART Murray Hill?  I don’t think so.

So, as you see, if it was not for the amazing people of Murray Hill, the world might not have America, electricity, light bulbs, and even electric Christmas lights.  Of course, some of our Murray Hill residents are frequently drunk at the bars and recently out-of-college, and others that work at the are South Asian restaurants and spice shops on Lexington Avenue.  But as you see with my stories, there is a lot more to the diversity and history of the residents of Murray Hill.  Some are historically famous like Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt, Ayn Rand, and even Andy Warhol, and others are diplomats who serve at the nearby United Nations or at their country’s New York City consulate.

As you see below, I love living in Murray Hill so much that I do things like:

1) Planting flowers on Park Avenue.

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For the past couple years I've been honored to serve as Co-Chairman of Patrons of Park Avenue (POPA) as a Trustee of @murrayhillnyc. #POPA supports the care, maintenance and planting of the trees, plants, and flowers of #ParkAvenue in the #MurrayHill neighborhood of New York City. NYC is amazing and abundant in so many ways, but we can all agree that our concrete jungle lacks in greenery and nature – especially in trees, plants, and flowers. And with 8.6 million human beings living in NYC, we need all the nature we can get. #POPA is the doctor, surgeon, stylist, interior decorator, and pharmacist for the beautiful malls on Park Avenue. NYC also needs all those trees, plants and flowers to keep NYC looking it's best, which supports all the residents and tourists visiting the city. But, most people don't realize that the City of NYC doesn't have a budget to support the extra care and maintenance that trees, plants, and flowers really need. That's where John Chadwick, Chairman, and Irma Worell Fisher, Founder, Urban Arborists, and all the sponsors have done amazing work with POPA for the past 34 years. It didn't always look this way, and took a team effort. Next time you walk down Park Avenue between 34th and 39th Street, take a moment to experience the beauty and recognize all the hard work it takes to constantly make it shine. http://patronsofparkavenue.org

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2) Put up and take down the Christmas lights on Park Avenue.

3) Clean-up the trash and mulch the trees.

So, for anyone that is reading this that lives in Murray Hill, I encourage you to not ever be embarrassed by the haters and be loud and proud of where you live.  On top of that, if you are as passionate as me, get involved in doing great things for the neighborhood to make Murray Hill an even better place to be.

For everyone else reading this, I hope I inspired you to know something you didn’t previously know about what I consider an amazing place to live, work, and enjoy.

10 Years Ago Today, the Global Economy Crashed!

Today is the 10 year anniversary of Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy (the largest bankruptcy in the history of bankruptcies), which triggered the crash of the global economy!

I remember thinking that today that we might soon be living in a world of anarchy and chaos, marking the end of civilization as we knew it. It was a very scary moment, but it’s good that it didn’t happen. And because of that, I’m able to share with you some of my most memorable moments working as an investment banking analyst at Lehman Brothers, including:
* Sneaking into Stanford University and scoring a job at Lehman Brothers
* How Lehman Brothers’ conservative dress code and culture sparked my creativity and interest in entrepreneurship and fashion
* Smuggling beer in duffel bags and organizing secret weekly happy hours inside of Lehman Brothers
* Why I left Lehman Brothers 80 days before it went bankrupt

Even though Lehman Brothers is gone forever, I will always still remember the simple life lesson as to why this all happened. Banks like Lehman Brothers failed to follow the golden rule: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Banks did not treat their customers or their investors the way that they would have wanted to be treated.

What happened was in the years prior to Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy, banks found new ways of increasing revenues by lowering their loan qualification standards for homeowners by creating “subprime loans,” and marketing these loans to lower income and riskier “unsophisticated borrowers”. Because of this, previously unqualified people become now became qualified borrowers, and these borrowers used their loans to buy homes they really could not afford in the long run (“subprime loans”). Banks knew it was a long-term risk for these people to take on that debt but still sold it to them because of the short-term revenue they generated for each mortgage they sold. Because of this increased demand from new home buyers, home prices became artificially increased, which then made even more homeowners feel more wealthy, and gave even more people the confidence to borrow more money against the inflated value of their homes (which created even more debt in the form of “home equity loans”). As this was happening on a mass scale across the U.S., banks like Lehman Brothers were compiling, bundling, marketing, and selling these loans (called “mortgaged-back securities”) to investors who wanted a piece of this booming real estate market, and banks like Lehman Brothers were generating even more revenue by selling these securities to investors. This was happening for years, and bank profits were going up and up as the market kept booming, until this booming real estate bubble came to an epic, apocalyptic bust with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers.

The bankruptcy triggered an intense fear that the failure of Lehman Brothers would cause other major banks to fall like a stack of dominos in a major seismic wave, which would completely collapse the financial and economic world as we knew it. I did not work in the real estate division at Lehman Brothers, as there are hundreds of different divisions within a global investment bank, but it was because of the decisions made by this part of the firm that ended up destroying the company and the world’s economy.

And yes, this could have all been avoided.

Borrowers, homeowners, and investors should have all been treated the same way the banks should have wanted to be treated. When the banks didn’t don’t do that, and they were taking short-term value without properly giving long-term value, the world eventually corrected itself. And in this case, it was an extremely dramatic and cataclysmic correction. In business, it’s difficult to refuse new ways of generating revenue, and it is always important to do new things to stay ahead of the competition. But at the same time, it’s vital to always analyze how that new shorter-term business opportunity stacks up against its longer-term societal impact.

Lehman Brothers was a global prestigious investment bank that had been in business for over 150 years, and avoiding events likes these in the future should not be complicated. All we have to do is treat others the way we would want to be treated. Even though it was 10 years ago, the lesson of the collapse of Lehman Brothers is still extremely timely and relevant to the consequences of what may happen when we don’t follow the golden rule.