Wed when Israel was born, pair reflects on 50 years

Shoshana and Mike Melman have a special reason to celebrate Israel's 50th anniversary: It is also their 50th wedding anniversary.

It was just over five decades ago when Mike, recently discharged from the U.S. Army after a period of service in wartime Europe with General Patton's troops, wed Shoshana, a sabra he met at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.

Mike probably never would have met Shoshana, let alone married her, had it not been for the G.I. Bill of Rights.

Although he had been a student Zionist before his induction, that alone wouldn't have brought him to Palestine. What did bring him there was Uncle Sam's decision to subsidize the education of World War II vets — not only at U.S. universities, but at a number of overseas institutions, among them the Technion.

Things were more or less normal during Melman's first academic year.

But in February, 1948, with large-scale fighting to defend Jewish settlements in Palestine already in progress, the Technion shut down and Mike found himself in uniform once again, this time as a member of Israel's nascent army.

Before that happened, however, Mike had a chance to attend the annual students' ball, where he fell for Shoshana and she for him. To be sure, Shoshana, still influenced by the pioneering ethos of the period, was taken aback by Mike's desire to jitterbug rather than to polka or do the hora.

But she reluctantly accepted his strange American ways, both in civilian life and during the period when both served in the same Israeli army unit.

She eventually learned much more about U.S. culture when the Melmans spent several years in the States. Mike, by then a qualified engineer, joined a team building an early computer at the University of Illinois.

As a result, he was later able to play a key role in constructing two generations of Golem computers — named after the mythical creature — at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot.

The Golem machines, it should be noted, laid the groundwork for the subsequent development of Israel's world-renowned computer industry.

Shoshana, meanwhile, was making her own contribution to the development of Israel.

An architect by training, she specialized in rural development, helping to plan the layout of the hundreds of agricultural settlements created after the establishment of the state. Later on, she points out, Israel's approach was copied in a host of Third World countries.

The three Melman sons — Oded, Eitan and Noam — all spent years as kibbutz members before entering the high-tech industry. And while Shoshana and Mike are pleased with the way their children have turned out, they are less pleased, in some respects, with the way the country has turned out.

For example, they regret the decline in social cohesion and the tendency to "glorify improvisation when long-range planning is required." They believe the influence of the Orthodox to be excessive and hope to see a separation between church and state.

But their grumbling remains low-key. Overall, they are proud of what has been accomplished in the five decades since they were married and Israel was born.