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Chapter on 14: Books that Inspired Me

It matters not how strait the gate, 
How charged with punishments the scroll. 
I am the master of my fate: 
I am the captain of my soul.

-Invictus, a nineteenth-century ode to willpower, was a favorite writer of Winston Churchill, one of my favorite leaders in history.

My favorite pastime is reading. I am particularly fascinated with historical figures-leaders who overcame tremendous obstacles and succeeded. I relate to these kinds of people because I have faced so much tragedy, upheaval, and challenge in my own life. History is more than a timeline. I did not simply observe the historical continuum; I made himself a part of it. Three influential books are the biographies of Winston Churchill and Bibi Netanyahu and the epic War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.

As a Jew, World War II left a mark on my soul. Thankfully, my family was in Palestine and Iran during the War, and we escaped the tragic fate of our fellow Jews in Eastern Europe. But, as a teenager in the Hagenah in Israel, I was aware of the broader conflict, although the extent of the evil would not surface until the end of the War. My father was also a student of history, so it was natural for me to follow his example.

Because of my early bouts with illness, the protracted journey to have a child, and losing my assets in the Iranian Revolution, I needed a North Star. I found the guidance and inspiration I needed in Churchill and Netanyahu and the epic tale of War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.

Decades after my tumultuous teenage years in Palestine, I was drawn to the biography of Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of England during the War. On June 21, 1940, Winston Churchill was the most visible man in England. France accepted Hitler's surrender terms that day, and virtually all of Europe now was under the swastika; with the Soviet Union a Nazi accomplice, the United States isolationist, Britain, and the Dominions confronted the Third Reich alone. As the first minister to the Crown, he was the figure defending. As Prime minister for only six weeks, he defended almost one-quarter of Earth's landmass and nearly a quarter of its population. Despite all the problems he faced, he remained focused on his goals and responsibilities. As time passed and the dangers intensified, he became more assertive, not weaker.

In the battle against Hitler, Churchill told his countrymen, "If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free, and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands,

It is not coincidental that many American and Israeli observers have described Netanyahu's leadership style as "Churchillian." Winston Churchill's leadership was a classic example of democratic leadership. And Netanyahu is Churchill's most fervent pupil. The democratic leadership model requires a leader to set out his vision of where his country must go and convince the public to follow him. That is what Churchill did. And that is what Netanyahu did.

Of course, my life is on a smaller scale than these leaders, but I adopted their approach to leadership when I had to start from practically nothing after the Iranian Revolution. I wanted to solve critical health problems, so I focused on weaknesses in the packaging system for lab tests-something that seems mundane but is crucial to ending up with valid results that could end disease or save a patient's life.

Despite my struggles, I had a vision for the kind of business and life I wanted in the United States, the same way these leaders committed to being strong leaders based on democratic principles. Over the years, especially when I ran into difficulties, such as my patents being stolen, and facing s having to sue multiple companies to retain ownership of my inventions-or when we had employee difficulties or sales were low, I returned to their stories repeatedly.

Regarding Benjamin Netanyahu, I will never forget when, in 1976, Netanyahu's older brother Yonatan Netanyahu was killed. Yonatan was serving as the commander of Benjamin's former unit, the Sayeret Matkal, and died during the counter-terrorism hostage-rescue mission Operation Entebbe in which his unit rescued more than 100 mostly Israeli hostages hijacked by terrorists and flown to the Entebbe Airport in Uganda. His family made the ultimate sacrifice to show Israel's willingness to sacrifice their soldiers to save civilians and protect the Jewish State.

It is no secret that I support the Likud, party-the party of STRENGTH.

Without strength, there will be no Israel. I have followed Netanyahu's career since the 1988 Israeli legislative election, when he was placed fifth on the party list, then elected as a Knesset member of the 12th Knesset and was appointed deputy of the foreign minister. I admired the breadth of his education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I had wanted to follow a similar path to higher education in the United States. Still, my allegiance to my father outweighed my personal goals, and I returned to Iran to help him build the pharmaceutical business.

I continued to watch Israeli politics closely-although we left Palestine, I always considered myself a citizen of Israel-as did my father. Following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres decided to call early elections to give the government a mandate to advance the peace process. In the 1996 election, Netanyahu was the Likud's candidate for prime minister in the first Israeli elections in which Israeli's elected their prime minister directly, becoming the youngest person in the history of the position and the first Israeli prime minister to be born in the State of Israel.

Netanyahu's victory surprised many. The primary catalyst was a wave of suicide bombings by Palestinians, killing 32 Israelis, shortly before the elections in 1996. During the campaign, Netanyahu stressed that progress in the peace process would be based on the Palestinian National Authority fulfilling its obligations–fighting terrorism—and I supported the Likud campaign slogan was, "Netanyahu – making a safe peace," reinforcing Likud's position for security.

As prime minister, Netanyahu disagreed, and I, along with hum, with the Oslo premise that the negotiations should proceed in stages, meaning that concessions should be made to Palestinians before any resolution was reached on major issues, such as the status of Jerusalem and amending the Palestinian National Charter. Netanyahu said these concessions only encouraged extremist elements without receiving any tangible gestures in return. He called for concrete gestures of Palestinian goodwill in return for Israeli concessions. I totally agree with him. From my early days of standing up to antisemitic kids on the way home from school, I knew that showing strength was the only way to find peace-either for innocent children or an entire country.

My life is undoubtedly distinctive- having lived through so many historical periods in Iran, Israel, back to Iran and finally in the United States. I think that sometimes I read to find companionship on my unique journey. The novel War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy is a story that I see myself in.

The novel broadly focuses on Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812 and follows three of the most well-known characters in literature: the illegitimate son of a count who is fighting for his inheritance and yearning for spiritual fulfillment; the prince, who leaves his family behind to fight in the war against Napoleon; and the beautiful young daughter of a nobleman who intrigues both men. As Napoleon’s army invades, Tolstoy brilliantly follows characters from diverse backgrounds—peasants and nobility, civilians, and soldiers—as they struggle with the problems unique to their era, history, and culture. And as the novel progresses, these characters become some of the most moving—and human—figures in world literature. The characters’ journeys and the conclusion are like a mirror held up to my life. The story reminds me that people change-the characters, endure extreme experiences, and emerge as entirely different people at the end. Most importantly, the story tells me you must tolerate war to achieve peace.

Another influential book is Humans Created God-which was written by an anonymous Muslim writer. This is a history of all the religions-another passion of mine. Unfortunately, the Muslim writer could not reveal his name, or it would have meant a certain death. I like to study different religions and look for the similarities between them, rather than the differences. I believe Moses the prophet’s words: we must love every human being. Period. Love is the highest order and our deepest commandment.

"If I came back in a different life, I would choose to be Jewish."
--Dr. Abner Levy

I study a lot of other religions, Bahai, Islam, Buddha, Brahmin, and various divisions of Christianity. Other religions give the law and with no options to change the direction.

In the Torah in Devarim, chapter 11, Moses said, "These laws I give you: You must love every human being." He does not say that the person must be Jewish, Black, or White; he means any human being, which is what the Torah says.

In Judaism, you cannot change the ethic (the moral code behind the law.) But, if necessary, you can adjust the direction depending on the time. Even today, our focus must be changed, or in one hundred years.

Ethics and morals are essential. Human beings need to believe in something. Therefore, hope is life! To believe in something creates hope. I must be Jewish and in a religion with no fanaticism, that we are moderate. Israel is the first country in the world to change that capital punishment based on the Torah. I do not want to be part of a religion based on fanaticism.

The Shema is the most critical Hebrew prayer to me. I say it in the morning and at night. We need to be in love with a power that created the universe; there is no creation without the creator, whom we call God. The Shema tells us to be in love with the creator. The power of love can give you peace. Hope can provide everything. All the spirit is written in Shema Yisrael. This hope gives you a healthier, happier life.

Ever since I immigrated to the United States during the Iranian Revolution, I lay tefillin every day except Shabbat. I put the ten commandments here (between my eyes) to ensure I remember them.

One of the many eternal questions in Judaism is: "Do the Jews keep Shabbat, or does Shabbat keep the Jews?" My answer is that Shabbat keeps the Jews. This is the most important holiday for me. When I was a small child in Iran, my family kept Shabbat. It is an island of peace and rest-a time for the family to be together and grateful for each other, our lives, and God. We eat excellent food, play backgammon or cards, laugh a lot, and most importantly, no one rushes out to work or talks on the phone. We are truly present for each other, and this preserves our relationships. God designed this time for us to remember that love is all that matters. Between Shabbats, I worked extremely hard my entire adult life, but on Shabbat, I am commanded to rest and reflect.

Shabbat brings a special love to our lives, especially when my granddaughter Danielle calls each Friday to say, Shabbat Shalom. My stress from the work week drops away immediately-I am no longer a businessman, and my voice rises with joy:

"Shabbat Shalom, my love! You missed me last Shabbat. I love you so much, and thank you for calling. I have many emails and good things to send you. I need to show you how many Nobel prizes the Jews won worldwide! Take care of yourself and love everybody, bye, bye.

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