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Advertising Life: A Conversation with ARMDI's Marty Cooper

By Craig von Buseck Contributing Writer CRAIG VON BUSECK: You put this trip together. What was your motivation?

MARTY COOPER: I am in the marketing and public relations business, and I think that you can only really sell a product when people have had a chance to touch it, or taste it, or feel it, or experience it. For ARMDI, the 'product' that we are selling is the people of Israel, and saving the lives of the people of Israel, and giving them the equipment and the ambulances and the blood centers that are the tools that are needed. And I figured that the only way to motivate people is to get them to come with me to see what this place is. All they know about is what they hear on the news, bits of warfare, bits of the terrorist attacks. We don't catch the spirit of the people. People go on with their own lives in troubles like this. We were at the theater last night. There are no stories in the American media about how the arts and culture goes on. That is why I did it. As many people as I can get to try the 'product,' the more people who will agree this is something worth doing.

CRAIG: IT has been an interesting combination of the traditional tour and then these missions to these special places. Why did you choose the places to visit for this trip?

MARTY: Very good question. I don't think you can keep people's interest if you give them all of anything. If you get all military stuff, if this was a group of military affairs, that would be one thing. But I think these people wanted a combination. They knew that they were coming on a trip to see what Magen David Adom is, and why it is worth supporting. At the same time, you need to give people a broader context in which to put stuff. That's why I said, 'OK, I want to do some military things. I want to do some things about terrorism. I want to talk to the victims of terrorism. I want to take a walking tour through Jerusalem. I want to do something where we bring in the cultural life so that within a constrictive timeframe, instead of eating all from one dish, we had a little bit of a buffet, if you will.

CRAIG: I have talked to several people who told me, 'This is my first trip to Israel.' I am somewhat of a political junky. I am interested in the social makeup of people, so for me this was a very fulfilling trip because it wasn't your typical get on the bus, go to this place, get on the bus, go to that place. We got into the ideas and issues behind the scenes in Israel.

MARTY: And I think that is important. There were a couple of people who said, 'Oh, gee, I wish I had time to go to such-and-such museum. I understand that. It would have been nice if we had time to go to such-and-such museum, but you have to make those difficult choices when you are working with a limited timeframe. You can't make choices without keeping in mind what is going to be of interest to the greatest number of people.

CRAIG: What is the overall thrust for ARMDI right now. What are you trying to accomplish in your district and as an organization?

MARTY: Interestingly, most people who know of ARMDI in the States know us as the ones who provide the ambulances for Israel. That is the mindset. The reality is, though that is an important part of what ARMDI does, we do a lot more that people don't know about. Just like the blood center -- at a cost of 35 million dollars.

CRAIG: It is an amazing center. It really is impressive.

MARTY: People don't know that you can contribute to that if they still need money for various things. We send even the mundane stuff, like the medical supplies that go inside the ambulances, the refurbishment of the 58 first aid stations around the country, the training of the paramedics, upgrades every year with the new technologies and new procedures, communications systems. They are very proud of their communication system in Jerusalem, but you and I look at that and say, 'Give me a break!' They are several stages behind. They do not have global positioning. It is something that they want, but they know that they cannot afford it. One of the messages we really want to communicate is that right now, between now and September, we have enough ambulances here. People want to give ambulances. An ambulance costs about $55, 000. It is nice to see their name on the side and I can understand that. But the need now is greater for some of these other things, like supplies that go in these ambulances, things of that nature.

Two, the greater message, the overarching message, is this society is worthy of our support. Whether you are a Jew or you are not a Jew, it doesn't matter. The society is worthy of support. Is there a better way to support a society than help that society save lives? That is what we do; we are in the business of saving lives.

CRAIG: How would you encourage someone who is not a Jew that this society is, in fact, worthy of their support?

MARTY: Leaving aside the theological aspects of your question for just a moment, when I was taking journalism at UCLA, I had a professor who said when you guys get out into newspapers and do the things you are doing, you are all going to want to use the word unique. Don't use the word unique. Only God is unique. Unique is overused. Having said that, I think Israel is unique. Israel is unique for all kinds of reasons. The people have survived and persevered, which are different but similar. They have survived and persevered against the most overwhelming odds. And I am not just talking about the Arabs. This land was desert, and this land was swamp.

You have heard stories of the Jewish group that has planted millions and millions of trees so it is now a green country. When I was here in 1971, I stood on a hilltop or a small mountain and I could see between Jordan and Israel. I could look to my left and I could see Israel, and I could look to my right and see Jordan. No one had to tell me which was which, because -- this is the truth -- I looked to my left and it was all green; I looked to my right and it was all brown. I think the existence of this country is the representation of the human spirit. The themes of resurrection of a land, which is what we have done here, in terms of turning it from brown to green, is a theme of building a society from, as they were less than a century ago, a bunch of farmers mostly from eastern central Europe into a society that is acknowledged as one of the most technologically-advanced in the world.

This is also a society that has placed a very high premium on human life. I think that is a universal attitude. Look at the length Israelis go to save a life. We have heard so many stories about the importance of saving a single life. Somebody said to me, what makes the Intifada so dangerous is the difference of view of the Muslim, Arab, and the Jew. To the Jew, the most precious thing is life. To the Arab, the most precious thing is honor. So the Arabs are, in some cases, willing to lay down their lives for honor, where, to a Jew, there is nothing more precious than life. In the Jewish religion, you are allowed to break almost every law if it will save your life or the life of someone else. I think that those are the reasons people should be supportive of this country.

CRAIG: Before this trip, I had never met a holocaust survivor. On this trip, I met four, and I have really gotten to know Nina. I think that we have all fallen in love with her.

MARTY: adopted her.

CRAIG: Yeah, she is our new mother.

MARTY: Our Jewish mother!

CRAIG: I have a Jewish mother now. That's good to know.

As I watched her on this trip, for me, one of the things I want to write is about these three generations and how this trip is affecting them each in special and unique ways. What have you been thinking as you have been observing this?

MARTY: In the old "B" movies in the '30s and '40s, the black-and-white detective movies, whenever the bad guy was going to break into a safe, he would always take his fingertips and run them over sandpaper to take his fingertips more sensitive to the numbers on the safe. That is what Nina is. She is more sensitive to life -- the good parts, the bad parts. I am sure she cries more. I am sure she laughs more. I am sure she values life because she has been part of being in a pit, literally, of death.

That is the first thing that strikes me about holocaust survivors. All of them hold life more precious than all the rest of us. I think that is admirable. I think even more admirable is that they can be teachers; they can teach us to hold life more precious.

The other thing that strikes me about Nina every time I look at her -- you know that clich "good things come in small packages"? When you think about survivors, you think about big, strapping men, and here is this tiny, literally little old Jewish lady. She is probably 4"10' and slight. But the indomitable will is so strong that it overcomes her stature. I think that is wonderful.

CRAIG: It is interesting. Carol actually told me that one of the issues that they have observed among her friends who are holocaust survivors is that not all of them are able to let go. Some of them feel like, 'I have paid my dues. I have nothing more than I owe,' Yet Nina says, 'I have paid my dues, but I want to keep paying.' She has chosen to forgive. She has chosen to keep contributing.

MARTY: I think that when you have something occur to you beyond what you and I can conceive that is natural because all human beings are individuals as well as part of a species, a race, and that we all react differently to it. We always say, 'You don't know how you are going to be when you are under fire for the first time.' You are a coward, and you are so afraid you will be a coward. I think that is what happens to them. For years and years and years many of them didn't talk about it to their own families. Others go on and on and that is their catharsis. For a lot of them there is a trigger mechanism. For a lot of them, the trigger was Schindler's List, interestingly enough. That is what led Steven Spielberg to start his Shoah Foundation.

CRAIG: It is an amazing organization.

MARTY: That became a trigger mechanism that allowed them to say, 'I don't have to hide it anymore. I wasn't a bad person. I don't have to be ashamed of it.' The opposite is true. The human mind is so complex that it is understandable that they would react like popcorn -- all kinds of different ways.

CRAIG: Tell me about your impression of her seeing the ambulance that she donated to Israel today (in honor of her late husband). What was that like for you?

MARTY: Well, I knew about it in advance, and I deliberately stood by the exit to the bus because I wanted to be there when she got off the bus. As she got off the bus, she was looking down to make sure she wouldn't trip, and as she started to look up, there was someone in front of her. I knew that she was close enough to the ambulance at that point that she could see it. So I put my arm around her and said, 'Come here, Nina, I want you to see something,' and I sort of pulled her in front of that other person. She saw it and I could feel her start to shake. That was her first reaction. I just felt her shaking as my hand was around her shoulder. I think that she was so overcome with emotion of extremes -- incredible sorrow that her husband wasn't here, but she was so happy to see it at the same time. She didn't start to cry right away. She held it in. Only later, when she went up to the ambulance and put her head down on the seat is when she really started to cry. Her daughter Carol put hands on her just to comfort her. It is both incredibly happy and incredibly sad. It is the extremes of emotion.

CRAIG: It is the human condition.

MARTY: She was 100 percent surprised. She had not a clue.

CRAIG: That must have been special for the entire family.

MARTY: I was so happy too that I could be a part of arranging it. I will teach you a word in Yiddish: Kvell. Kvell is the feeling you get inside when your son takes his first step, that welling up of positive emotion.

CRAIG: That was a Kvell, no question about it.

If we could switch gears back to ARMDI for a minute. What are the ways that you communicate with people and give them the message and encourage them to give?

MARTY: There are thousands of worthwhile charities that people can support. What I like about ARMDI is that you don't have to sell ARMDI. You just tell people we save lives in Israel, and we do it by funding ambulances and medical supplies, and by making the paramedics available, not just for terrorist attacks -- that is what people focus on -- but for the woman who has got to get to the hospital because she is going to have a baby, the workman who falls down and breaks his collarbone. People get it right away. In communicating that message, you don't have to explain something difficult. It is very easy to get. So my general approach is to let people know what we do, to communicate to them that we have a Web site and a newsletter, we do some, but not very much, advertising, particularly in the Jewish media. There is a Christian organization, at least one that I know of, that we have communicated with that has a monthly newsletter. The head of the organization is very supportive. We want to forge more links with the Christian community. I don't think ARMDI has done as good a job as it could and should and hope will in forging those links. I think that sometimes people in the Jewish community worry about the theologies -- why do the evangelical Christians support Israel? But no matter what, lives deserve to be saved. I do a lot of speaking. I enjoy speaking, as you might have guessed.

CRAIG: I would have never guessed that about you, Marty!

MARTY: I do a lot of public speaking to groups, and I like that particularly because I can interact with them. It is not like an ad or a newsletter where it is one-way communication. This is two-way communication. I can listen to their questions and try to answer their concerns. I think a lot of it is, and this is a concept I know that you would understand, you bear witness. When it is appropriate in a conversation and someone asks, 'What do you do?' I don't say, 'I own a public relations agency that makes this much money or has offices in these cities.' I say, 'I help save lives in Israel through ARMDI.' That is my kind of bearing witness.

CRAIG: What would you like to communicate to the audience?

MARTY: It is wonderful that people who see Christ as their Savior and acknowledge Him, as we kiddingly say, as a 'nice, Jewish boy' and see that their religious belief and the tree of their religious belief has its roots in this country is all about -- not Judaism as a theology, but what this country is all about. There is a great connection between the people of Israel today and history and the Bible. We have heard all the time about how the people here make decisions, archeological decisions based on the Old Testament. That is incredible, and they were right. That is incredible. I want your people to realize that what they care about and what they believe in and what they support and what they think is important, except for what I would call little bits of theology, are synonymous with people here. I believe that. When I say little bits of theology, I am not demeaning anybody's belief. It is just that if you took everything that a Christian believes, in terms of man's relationship with man and man's relationship with God, and put it all on a computer matrix, what the Jew believes about man's relationship with man and man's relationship with God, you would find very, very small differences. We are more together than what separates us.

CRAIG: Exactly. That is why we call it the Judeo-Christian world view.

MARTY: I would like to get every person that I can get to spend five days here. I wouldn't have to say a word.

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Craig von BuseckCraig von Buseck is Ministries Director of Send him your comments on this article. More from Craig on

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