Unlike many Israelis who immigrated to the United States with dreams of making it big, Miri Shepher never wanted to leave her beloved homeland. The day before she left, she composed an eight-page letter apologizing to the family that looked after her on the kibbutz where she was raised and educated, promising to come back within two years.
That was in 1975.
“Actually, to this day, I can’t understand how I managed to find so many words and so many ways to convince my family that it was absolutely OK to leave Israel,” said Shepher, who was 26 at the time. She had made aliyah with her family from Tunisia when she was only a baby.
Shepher left for the U.S. with 4-year-old son Ofer and her husband, Isaac, the son of Holocaust survivors and a successful businessman who wanted to try his luck in the States. He had promised his wife that they would return home in a couple of years.
But life in Los Angeles was challenging and exciting, and in 1987, they founded the company Life Alert that would forever change their lives and add an unforgettable catchphrase to American lore: “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”
The company, whose name can be read in huge letters atop its Encino headquarters on Ventura Boulevard, offers access to emergency services prompted by medical problems or other issues such as a break-in. A bracelet or necklace with a small wireless “help” button allows the user to be patched directly into a call center. Other emergency monitoring services have been added since.
“The idea for the company came after an experience we had with home invasion,” Shepher recalled. “We were sitting in the living room watching TV when I see Isaac’s face turn white. I turn my head back and I see two men wearing black and holding guns. When you are facing a danger like this, you don’t think, you just freeze. Later on, Isaac was telling me how he was thinking he wished he had something that he could have pushed and call for help, and that’s how the idea of Life Alert came about.”
The business became a huge success, catering to the elderly who are prone to falls and other health problems. Former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop was a spokesman, and, in 2007, USA Today named the company slogan the most memorable of the last 25 years.
Today, the couple lives in a villa-style home in Bel Air. Huge statues welcome visitors at the entrance to the villa, alongside a fountain. Inside are amazing muraled ceilings.
Economic success had allowed them not only to live well, but to give back to the community and especially to Israel.
“Isaac and I never forgot our homeland, and I never forgot what was instilled in me during my childhood by my family and by the kibbutz: Israel exists thanks to the people who actually live there, and thanks to those who help it from the outside,” Shepher said. “We were also inspired by our beloved friend Shimon Erem, may he rest in peace, who once told me that every day he wakes up and asks himself: How can I, Shimon, help the survival of the State of Israel today?”
Her husband admits that, as the son of a Holocaust survivor, it is particularly important for him to support Israel any way he can.
“I came from a family that basically all perished during the Holocaust. My father’s first wife and three daughters all perished during the Shoah, as well as cousins, aunts, grandparents,” he said. “After the war, my father married my mother and I was their only son, and I was brought up on those stories and the horrors of the Holocaust all my life. That’s why it is so important for me to do whatever I can to support Israel, the only place in the world where Jews can feel safe and at home.”
With their three grown kids — they added son Oren and daughter Helena over the years — and their company well established, the couple has found more time to give back. They are members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) who donate generously and travel regularly to Washington for the pro-Israel lobbying group’s national conferences. Other Jewish organizations they’ve been involved with are the Women’s International Zionist Organization, B’nai B’rith International, Stand
WithUs, Larger Than Life (which supports kids with cancer in Israel) and ORT. Shepher also is a board member of the Israeli American Council, and she and her husband were honorees at the organization’s gala earlier this year.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” she told the audience then, “and with your help today, we will succeed in achieving the goal I set
for myself early in my childhood: to make sure that the State of Israel will always be strong.”