Friday, December 21, 2012

Municipal Crowdsourcing

Last week I participated in a great event planned by the Holon municipality to involve the city's residents in shaping its future. There were free refreshments (hot beverages and tasty cakes) after registration, an exhibition of the city's future plans, mingling with the mayor and other dignitaries walking around, then some speeches followed by workgroups where the residents' comments were gathered by city officials.

I was impressed by the quiet and polite atmosphere in my workgroup (Economic Growth), the civilized discussion and good ideas raised. There is a flurry of building in Holon's large industrial area. High rise office buildings are raised alongside shopping and leisure areas. We debated the types of businesses Holon should attract: hi-tech, medical centers, workshops, services (dentists, lawyers, accountants, alternative therapists)? Today 60% of the residents work in other cities, how do we lower this figure to 40%? How do we preserve and improve the city center?

Holon is a well-managed city, continuously getting prizes for its financial management, its parks and other aspects. It branded itself as the city of children and design, and has numerous cultural establishments.

The municipality reps seemed very professional and knowledgeable about their subjects. They invested a lot of thought in planning the city's future and the event. At this point you are most probably waiting for a "BUT", as everything I described sounds almost too good to be true.

At the end of the event, I congratulated one of the city officials in my workgroup for a job well done. "Our residents tell us for free what consultants would tell us for a lot of money."

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Pillar of Defense Moments

I live in the center of the country, reachable only by Hamas's long range rockets. When I first heard the siren (alarm) going on, I was next to a big glass door (a big non-no when things are about to explode). I couldn't believe my ears and staid put. Next times I went into inner rooms or staircases.

One alarm caught us while walking in the park, with nowhere to hide. After the siren, we saw two Iron Dome missiles heading towards the Hamas rockets and one interception. If it wouldn't be deadly, we could have enjoyed the fireworks.

My end of the operation: a young reservist in a TV news piece talking into his mobile phone; "Mom, I'm coming home now".

Hamas is more interested in destroying our lives than bettering their own people's life claiming that Israel is the cause of their situation by its sheer existence. No solution.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Jaffa Tour Brings Back Lost Memories

Last week Dan took us on a guided tour to Jaffa. He told us many stories, showed us interesting places, one of them being the American-German colony, a tiny neighborhood I never knew existed, although I have heard about the Lutheran Emmanuel Church that hosts organ concerts.

The church brought back a long forgotten memory from 1976. Imagine Israel in 1976. Imagine Peter, then 22, coming to visit his aunt and uncle in Beer Sheba from communist Romania. There was no telephone connection and he could not tell his family when exactly he will be landing. He had no money and did not speak the language.

Next to him on the plane sat a Romanian speaking man originally from Braila.  He asked Peter whether anyone was waiting for him at the airport and found out about Peter's problem. The man's name was Baal Izidor and he was an employee of Emmanuel Church in Jaffa. He took Peter home from the airport, to 10 Hadoar street, Jaffa, where he lived with his wife and son, gave him dinner and a place to sleep. Next morning, after breakfast, he took Peter to the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv, bought him a ticket to Beer Sheba, put him on the bus and told him to go to the watch shop in the Beer Sheba bus station, where the Romanian speaking shopkeeper (a friend of his) will further guide him to a local bus in Beer Sheba.

We could not find this man ever since to thank him for what he did. All we can do is tell this amazing story of divine providence sending a guardian angel in the form of a total stranger. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

NYC Vacation Aftermath

After several years of outdoors-style vacations, getting used to Manhattan's hustle and bustle took me some time. About 20 minutes. My jet lag wore off in a week.

Manhattan is both constant and changing (construction sites are only outnumbered by eateries), providing a different aesthetic experience every time I visit. My queen of style and aesthetics and hubby's cousin, Marion, and her family, made our stay especially enjoyable as we were able to spend quality time with them both in the city and at their lovely house in the Hamptons. Thanks to them, we stayed in a stylish Manhattan apartment, above their Tribeca business. Describing their kindness, lovingness and style is way beyond my writing talents, so I'll stop right here.

Since we already saw the city's major attractions, our program highlights this time were the High Line, the LongHouse Reserve (in East Hampton), 3 guided walking tours (highly recommended!), different markets, a Broadway musical, the NY Public Library and Bryant Park, a [too short] walk in Central Park, the South street sea port, the Frick Collection (a top aesthetic experience), and a bit of shopping. Left plenty of interesting sites for future visits. 

The most interesting part of any vacation abroad is human connection. Regular tourists usually only talk to hotel receptionists and waiters, very few talk to locals. We were lucky enough to dine with friends of our relatives and even visit one couple in their special East Hampton house. A sweet elderly lady sat next to me on a bench in Washington park and we talked. She recommended me a book I intend to order and read. Not surprisingly, she is Jewish and has relatives in Israel. Not surprisingly, because 3 million Jews live in NYC. One can live a peaceful Jewish life there at any observance level (was interesting to see a minyan in a corner of Grand Central), work less than in Israel, earn more, and not serve in the army for 3 years (with all the implied meaning). So why do Jews live in Israel and not in the USA?

One possible explanation is that Israelis are a bunch of masochists. Possible, but I think not.

If I'd be in my righteous mood, I'd say because we need to keep up (and continuously perfect) this country for any Jew who wants to come either because of persecution or antisemitism (now it's happening in France, but it can happen anywhere) or because of economical or Zionist reasons. True, but today I don't feel righteous.

There is this nationwide homeyness before and during Sabbath and holidays, even if you are secular like me. You don't feel different observing a holiday and don't have to explain to others what that is. You literally walk in the footsteps of our biblical ancestors. You get goosebumps when the guide prays in the Western Wall Tunnel at the place closest to the the Holy of Holies. All true, but not the entire story.

In Israel there is more to your life than the usual ingredients of personal happiness (family, work, friends, vacations...). Contributing to the unparalleled re-building of the Jewish homeland after 2000 years fills your life with true purpose and meaning. It's not always easy, even scary at times, but an experience unmatched by any amount of fund raising, donation or expression of solidarity (all very important). It's the real thing.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Criticizing Again

Although I promised in a previous post to leave politics to politicians and leave politics out of this blog, after much self-struggle I decided to learn about politics from the inside, and ultimately improve life in my country. As a modest beginning, I started volunteering for a new party of non-politicians, that seems trustworthy in their pursuit of a better life for the dwindling working, taxpaying, country-serving middle class. So now I am part of their local branch of volunteers, performing simple, administrative and field tasks. I enjoy being involved, although I started seeing 'signs' followed by the dilemma of whether to blog about them or not: criticizing the party in public could be counter-productive on the one hand, but an opportunity for improvement on the other.

The head of volunteering at the party's HQ came to our last branch meeting. He said what he wanted us to hear and left, without hearing what we have to say. He told us his rank in the IDF and asked about the military past of the younger men in the room (why on Earth is this related and why does this remind me of other parties?). He said that our branch is a challenge for the party because the lack of our political experience (isn't this what the party is about?) while at the end of the day this is the only thing that matters for achieving results. And the one and only result we have to achieve is X number of votes on election day. Nothing else counts. So we have to bust our asses for the 'competitive' people at HQ to land a job via the party or am I being too cynical here?

Let me tell you something, Mr. know-it-all: when you give orders in the army, the soldiers execute them, but this works 'a bit' differently with volunteers. I know from experience.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Special Wedding

Seven years ago, Tali, the daughter of our best friends, brought her boyfriend Alex to a friends' picnic. Most of us pretty much ignored the boy, thinking there will probably be other, more serious boyfriends. Besides, he didn't speak Hungarian - a major deficiency in our group. Yesterday we attended their wedding.

Special wedding is almost an oxymoron. Weddings tend to follow patterns: the rabbi trying to humor up the ceremony with witty comments, people, food, music and dancing. So what made Tali and Alex's wedding so lovely? Nice location (a kibbutz garden in the North not prohibitively far away from us), not too many people (pleasant schmoozing with old acquaintances), not too much food, in short, just the right balance of everything. At some point we even had the bride and groom sitting and eating at our table for a few precious moments.

Wishing this couple a long and happy life together, good health and prosperity.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Sugar Plus

Tom reported about a second incident of groats in our demerara sugar pot. "My coffee had groats in it, then in a hurry I made another one with white sugar that turned out to be salt." He spat out the first sip in an instant and ended up leaving the house without his morning coffee.

In order to fully understand this, you should know:
1. That I only buy demerara sugar that comes in transparent containers
2. The groat incident from last Passover.

Last Passover after the meal, we were serving coffee. The sugar pot was on the table and our guests started sweetening their coffees. They tasted the coffee and looked puzzled. It wasn't sweet. I explained that brown sugar is less sweet than white, so they added some more. The "sugar" didn't melt, the coffee was still not sweet and undefined brownish material started aggregating at the bottom of the cup. With the guests half worried about possible poisoning, I rushed to the kitchen for a quick investigation and concluded that hubby added groats to the sugar. The groats were stored in a container that previously contained sugar and they looked similar to his kitchen-untrained eyes. The incident finished with relief, much laughter and embarrassment and a fresh round of coffee with groat-less sugar.

Since then, I finished all my groat stock and didn't buy anymore, so I was positive the sugar could not possibly contain any. This time it was couscous. How it got into the sugar container is still a mystery.

When I open a package of dry food (rice, pasta, whatever) that comes in a paper or nylon bag, I like to store the remaining contents in tightly closed Tupperware or glass containers. I store different types of flour in identical Tupperware containers and I put a little label (cut out from the original paper bag) inside the container, so I can reuse the containers for different contents without worrying about external labels glued to them. As a lesson learned from the groat incident, I added a little label for salt in a former sugar container. Hubby thought that wasn't enough and glued an additional big fat label on the outside as well.

But when in a hurry, who has time to look at labels? Not to mention applying logic before the morning coffee.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Here are two things I hate in conversations: people talking mostly about their illnesses (usually older people, touched on this in a previous post) and people continuously talking about themselves and not listening to you or being interested in you.

Recently we lunched in a very nice steak restaurant with friends and family. On the way back, Peter asked me to summarize the event (something we usually do) and I said the food was very good. He agreed.

Would have been nice for the person we invited for lunch to at least thank us. That's the third thing I hate.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Healthy Involvement?

I got an email from my health fund. Based on data in my file, they recommend that I undergo different tests to keep things under control. I thought that is very very nice of them. I like the idea of preventive medicine, so I decided to take 2 of the tests they suggested.

After some minor difficulties with the appointment (went to the wrong branch, but got admitted anyway), and after being done with the tests, the nurse looked at my file and suggested I take a pneumonia shot. Since I never heard about this vaccination before, I told her I want to read about it on the net, before deciding. As I mentioned in a previous post, I don't like taking decisions on the spot, especially regarding matters I don't have enough information about. But she didn't give up: "It prevents you from being hospitalized and lying with high fever on an overcrowded hospital corridor ". So then the real reason for the shot is not to avoid illness, but to ease the medical staff's work (how about adding more beds and staff, huh?). When she said "at your age", I stopped listening. The nurse wrote "The patient refused to take the [...]" in my file. What's next? Being ambushed by two gorillas and vaccinated against my will?

While right-wing US citizens think that forced health care insurance is anti-constitutional, most Israelis enjoy its benefits. The vast majority of our hypochondriac nation even buys additional health insurances from the health fund and private ones as well, to extend the basic coverage, which is less than it used to be before the health insurance law was passed in 1995, but costs more. 

After reading some articles on the net, I discovered that the pneumonia shot is inefficient. The main reason for its popularity is the manufacturer's successful marketing activity and health fund branches administering it in high numbers are rewarded internally. Need I say more?

On that happy note, here is a real SMS I got from the vet:: New! Early detection of illness in your cat by discounted geriatric tests".

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Tile Tale

I like our floor tiles, but lately the grout became dark and ugly. From the
mosaic studio owner (remember the post about the mosaic?), Peter found out how to clean dirty grout: with toothbrush and citric acid. This really tedious work consists of applying the acid with a toothbrush, then removing it so the acid "eats" the dirt on the surface but not the grout itself, then apply sealer, leave it to dry and apply a second layer of sealer. 

OK, so now the grout was clean, but with holes in it (the construction workers did a really sloppy job). He marked the holes with dark pieces of tape, cleaned them, filled them with new grout (this reminded me of filling dental cavities), removed the surplus from the tiles and applied 2 layers of sealer. Crazy work. I helped a bit with the sealer, Tom helped more. This went on during a few Saturdays.

If we'd knew then (when the tiles were laid), what we know now (that there is a method of laying the tiles very close to each other, without grout), we could have saved all this. Why is it that you don't get experience until just after you need it?

Saturday, June 16, 2012


After years of not wearing any jewelry, I started off by setting some old stones I got, in casual pieces. After years, the inlays got loose and I lost a few small stones, a ring cracked, another ring I inherited from my late mother in law was too small and so slowly but surely I got to the no-wearable-piece point. Searched and searched for jewelers to fix my old pieces, but nobody wanted or could deal with them.

In my frustration, I bought a silver ring with a yellow stone and casually asked at the shop (behind which Bili Silver Jewelry manufactures tasteful silver designs) if they knew anyone who could help. They gave me a name and told me to google it. This is how I found Maziar Yeshurun, an Iranian Jew owning a business next to the Diamond Exchange in Ramat Gan, who turned out to be THE expert in the field as he wrote the textbooks and also teaches courses in this field.

After being amazed by the myriad of different tools at his place (Maziar is a heavy tool collector), a wonderful story unfolded as he and Peter (a tool collector himself) kept talking. Turned out that in the early 80s, Maziar worked at Tenim Ltd. (a Tel Aviv firm that sold equipment and supplies for jewelers and watchmakers) to finance his studies. Tenim was owned and managed by the resourceful Missis Tannenbaum, a remarkable Hungarian Jewish lady, who managed to free her family during WWII, by bribing their Nazi keepers with solid gold bars. According to their deal, the bribed Nazis turned a blind eye to her family members swimming out of the ghetto in up-to-the-chin raw sewage.

During the same period (80s), Peter was an oleh hadash (new emigrant) in Dimona, a godforsaken desert town in the South of Israel, attending Ulpan (intensive Hebrew school). His uncle, Lebovits Andres, worked for Tenim as an accountant. To help Peter, he suggested him to contact Meir Schwartz, a Romanian Jew owning a watch and clock shop in Dimona, who used to come to Tenim once a week for buying supplies for his shop. Peter befriended Meir and his family and made his first, modest income by fixing radio clocks for Meir and later learned how to fix clocks and watches too. After leaving Dimona, Peter visited his uncle at Tenim frequently and even bought an expensive engraver's ball he used maybe once.

With two things is common- tools and Tenim - Peter and Maziar were unstoppable. Maziar kept telling us how modest and wise Missis Tannenbaum was, how he enjoyed his years at the firm and loves everything Hungarian ever since. Peter got all nostalgic about tools, and mutual respect between the two occurred in an instant. I slipped into the secondary, supporting role, but hey, at least all my jewelry is now professionally renewed.

Weekend Culinaria

We've decided to temporarily replace the weekend routine of cooking 15 boxed lunches, with eating out and making meals for just the weekend. This is how it went this weekend.


Peter heard two radio journalists speaking about a special meal they enjoyed at a beachfront Bukharian restaurant in Tel Aviv, so he ordered a table for Friday lunch. After the parking nightmare, we entered the pretty much empty place. The staff was attentive and helpful, the decor basic. The food was not remotely worth the NIS 600 they charged for our 2 samosas, 2 salads, an ethnic bread, a small platter of toof-toof kebab (fried micro-kebabs and fresh onion slices in a pool of oil and vinegar), 4 desserts, a bottle of label-less white wine and a coke. Green tea on the house.


Even though I very rarely eat (at least I try) or buy potatoes, found myself with a sackful, never mind why. Peter came with the idea of making rösti (Swiss hash browns) and so he did. I added cold Hungarian cherry soup and zürcher geschnetzeltes (Swiss relative of beef stroganoff). To complete the experience, we finished the leftover beetroot and horseradish salad, drank chilled white wine and ended the meal with some Swiss chocolate. Green tea will be served later. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Four Short Stories for the Weekend

Unexpected Trail Angel
Tom has left with a couple of friend for a weeks' hike on the Israel National Trail. They started Thursday at the Dan trail head, and if all goes well, will end in Tiberias. After the first day's hike with their overweight backpacks, they spotted a small hummus joint. When the owner realized they are trail hikers, he gave them a free, air-conditioned room with bathroom and a bottle of cold coke. They could take a shower, dry their boots and socks and charge their cellphones. What a wonderful start!

Book Week Thoughts
The book market in the land of the people of the book is basically a duopoly. I still remember when a new novel's price was above NIS 80. Now you can buy 4 for 100. The masses can afford to go to bed with quality novels. Novelists go to bed hungry, unless they have a day-job.

Clothes Shopping
Today I acted as shopping adviser for Dan (25). We drove all the way to the Polgat outlet in Kiryat Gat and were the first to arrive. At unbelievable sale prices of dress shirts (2 for 40 - less than $5/shirt) and other items, the shop quickly filled with customers. In about an hour (that's all we had), Dan managed to buy 2 pants, 6 shirts and 4 pairs of socks at a price more than 3 times cheaper than during a previous such shopping 'expedition' a few years ago. Israeli consumers can afford wearing quality clothes, while textile workers in Kiryat Gat (a fraction of Israeli consumers) are unemployed, and Chinese textile workers feed their families from a monthly wage not enough to live a single week in Kiryat Gat. But who can think about the effects of globalization when Dan said he was happy with my services?

Wrong Address
This weekend I am exempted from kitchen work and so we had lunch at our neighborhood cafe. Got there at 12 and realized they serve breakfast only till 1 PM. The freshly squeezed orange juice was exquisite, the bread warm, the salad fresh and tasty and so were the spreads. My spinach shakshouka was average, all in all a good and filling experience. When we returned, we found grocery bags delivered to our door. Feels good that while we were enjoying our meal, the neighborhood grocery delivered the items we ordered. Well, almost. The only 'problem' is that we didn't order anything from them, so the items were not ours. A quick glance at the bags to realize the food in there needs to be refrigerated or it will get spoiled in this heat. Quickly picked up the phone and notified the grocery about the mistake. They came, collected the bags and thanked us. Shabbat shalom.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

From Non-Existent to Must-Have

A few month ago I started having serious wrist pain while using the mouse at work. Since hubby went through this a while ago, I decided to copy his 2-stage "battle-proven" solution: ergonomic mouse and local, alternative treatment to the wrist. The first stage went well. I ordered the mouse, started using it and it worked miracles. Apart from the minor nuisance of people walking into my office and talking about my "joystick", I was really impressed with the results.

The second stage was way more challenging as it involved contacting my doctor's office, the insurance company, dealing with paperwork, choosing a service provider, scheduling an appointment - much hated tasks. I'd really prefer someone else doing all this for me, but as my [fictional] personal assistant is on vacation in Hawaii, I procrastinated. The long, bureaucratic process was not without tragicomic turns. Communicating with insurance professionals is always a challenge for me as I don't understand what the hell are they talking about. I understand each word separately but cannot figure out, for the life of me, their combined "insurancese" meaning. Pour a useless website into the mix and the nightmare is compete.

To issue a letter of undertaking, the insurance rep wanted to know what type of alternative treatment I need. "Listen lady, all I know is that my wrist hurts, I don't know what treatments are available, what's the difference between them and which one is helpful for my problem. My common sense tells me a professional should examine my wrist and determine the treatment". Following her "we don't provide assessment" laconic answer, asked hubby what worked for him, called the rep back and told her: deep tissue massage. "It's true that the deep tissue massage is listed in the alternative treatments dropdown on our website, but in fact it belongs to a different category and you have to pay NIS 100 for that. How many sessions do you need?" I really had no idea, told her I expect to find that out during the first appointment.

At the alternative medicine center I chose from their website (according to closeness to my office), they made me fill in a lengthy form, 2 people examined me, asked lots of questions about additional problems I have and then came the verdict: the health level of my body is 60%. My spine is bent, my hormones are messed up, the fluids are not flowing in my body, and I'm going to die in 2 days, unless treated by them (OK, I made that last one up, but you got the picture). To solve all my [real and fictional] problems would take at least the 16 sessions covered by the insurance, but they'll be more than happy if I want more. "What about my wrist?", I inquired. "We don't sell treatments, but rather a holistic health approach".

Pushiness (of problems I didn't know I have) and aggressive salesmanship have the opposite effect on me. I never take decisions under pressure. Even more so if I'm told I'll miss the chance of my life. Told him I need to think about it. He was disappointed. I asked what kind of treatment I need ("chiropractic for the insurance, but I'll assess your situation at the beginning of each session and decide accordingly"), paid the NIS 100 and left. The thought that I might actually be sicker than I thought and the speed of getting from non-existent to must-have took a toll on my mood.

It's not that I don't believe in alternative medicine. For a person brought up on one medical approach (Western), one type of yogurt, and no idea that ice cream can be bought in a supermarket (as opposed to a confectionery), I really came a long way. I got acupuncture treatment and herbal medicine in the past and found them helpful to an extent. I am open to what alternative medicine has to offer (except homeopathy in which I don't believe at all), but skeptical at the same time. They say it helps the skeptics as well.

Truth is that I'm really feeling kind of lousy for the last few weeks. This happens from time to time until the coin drops that I need to take blood tests for my hypothyroidism. It's all part of a ritual: feeling bad, realizing the probable reason, taking the tests, getting out of range results, my doctor telling me everything is fine, no need to change anything, but my doctor friend telling me to increase the medicine dosage, me increasing the dosage and starting to feel better shortly after. This guy might be an aggressive salesman but a good chiropractor. I don't trust pushy people, but what if he can really help me break the ritual?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Chain or Neighborhood?

International chains give you a feeling of consistency, of global citizenship. You can have the same coffee or hamburger whether you are in New York, London or New Delhi. But why? If you took the trouble to visit a remote place, why not enrich your experience and taste some local specialties?

Personally, I prefer neighborhood establishments to chains. They are usually smaller, more intimate, the staff knows the returning customers and they sometimes serve interesting house dishes. To my pleasant surprise, a new coffee shop opened in my neighborhood, which is really a big deal considering we don't have any shops at all, not even a simple grocery shop. We walked over to the cafe one evening and had a pleasant experience. The place is spacious, the service attentive, the dishes average.

A few days before, I met my Gvahim mentee (a nice French system analyst whom I'm trying to help finding a job) in a chain coffee shop. She arrived earlier and had coffee and cake. When I joined her at the table, no waiter asked me whether I want to order anything, although waiters were walking by our table back and forth. After a long while, I simply caught the attention of a waiter and ordered a decaf cappuccino. To my complaint about not being asked to order, he gave me the lousiest excuse I ever heard: "we didn't make eye contact".

Friday, April 27, 2012

Independence 2012

1. Good News
Tom got an excellence award for outstanding IDF service, a good enough reason to take a day off and go all the way to Zfat for attending the ceremony. With just a short coffee break at Alonim, we managed to get there on time for the modest but meaningful moment. After the ceremony we had lunch at nearby Bat Yaar ranch, visited Baram National Park, took a short walk in the Baram Forest and ended the day with coffee and cake at best friends in Karmiel.

2. Memorial Day
My Zionist activity for Memorial Day 2012 was watching two Israeli movies: Beaufort and Late Marriage. There is something good going on in the Israeli movie industry during the last ~12 years.

3. Independence Feelings
Looked at my balcony decorated with flags, watched the fireworks and felt grateful for living in Israel. I will never take this for granted.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Fraudulent Coupon Yields Food for Soul

I get a daily Groupon mail. Mostly uninteresting stuff with incredible discounts. One offer caught my attention: a beginners' mosaic course: three 2-hour sessions in a studio, not too far from our house. Immediately thought of my husband, with his endless patience for meticulous jobs, inclination for art and golden hands. It has been a while since he did something for the soul, so I decided to surprise him.

Did some research on similar courses on offer, locations and prices, and concluded that the one offered is OK, although the coupon does not give real discount. The regular beginner's course offered by the same studio with no coupon is much longer (five 3-hour sessions) and not limited in materials. Talked with the artist on the phone, reserved a place for hubby, gave him a cheque in a sealed envelope and told him to be at a certain address on a certain date and time. Told him it's a present for no particular occasion and he should just 'go with the flow'. He didn't try to figure out what it was and ruin the surprise, just did as told.

As predicted, he enjoyed it. He really needed such calm, creative, anti-stress activity. In this photo, taken at the second session, you can see how absorbed he is by fitting together the small pieces he cuts out according to the design.

I'm so happy for him!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Trains, Contract Workers and Unions

Israel Railways operate only a few lines, most stations are far from city centers and have no parking. The trains seldom run on schedule, there are either maintenance or development works going on, or strikes. There were numerous train accidents, including collision and fire. Their Maffia-style union has repeatedly disobeyed Labor Court rulings and has acted arrogantly, thinking it can turn the train service off and on at will. The Transport minister is threatening to close the railways down and open them up anew.

Now the union is striking against outsourcing. Although Israelis love to hate the railway union, this time the union is fighting for a just cause. The maintenance work should be done by Israeli workers and not by the Canadian manufacturer. So Minister, if you don't like the existing workers, fire them all and hire new ones but leave the work here!

Many years ago during a job search, I was interviewed at a large state-owned company. They liked me and offered me the job. When we finished negotiating my compensation package, they surprised me with "Now you find yourself an agency to work through, they are basically all the same, here is the list of agencies we work with." Me together with a third of their workforce did the same type of job as their direct employees, worked harder, but made much less. We were not entitled to lunch coupons, to participating in fun days and other direct-employee-only activities and were subject to other humiliating conditions. No matter how good my work was, my status did not allow for any promotion or bonus. There was no future. 

Last week there was a 4-day general strike against employing contract workers. The employers of contract workers are agencies that do nothing for their workers, except exploiting them. The physical workplace tells them what to do and how to do it. Contract workers often work alongside direct employees doing the same job for a fraction of the direct workers' salary. For years and years. Many of these 'transparent' workers are janitors and security guards, but not only. There are IT workers, social workers, and even teachers. And the biggest such workplace is the government. Why do they do this? They claim they want to increase the state income by cutting expenses. What the over-zealous government bureaucrats forgot is that the state is not a for-profit organization. Please take pol-sci-101 again.

In many cases, the state would be better off paying direct employees and not agencies, so why isn't it doing just that? Because of Israel's best kept non-secret: it is almost impossible to fire a unionized worker. According to this twisted logic, the state pays a premium (while the workers earn less) for the option of firing the workers when they are not needed. Dear Union, you brought this unto yourselves, actually onto us! 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Ichilov Sale: Two for the Price of One

Imagine you are young and generally healthy. You have abdominal pain, are diagnosed with appendicitis and are awaiting surgery. You know it's a minor procedure and you expect to be dismissed  from hospital within a day. Waking up after surgery, you realize you can't breath. That's what happened to Dan a couple of weeks ago.

With Dan in recovery after appendectomy followed by pulmonary edema, Tom got permission from the Army to visit him. He skipped breakfast, took the first bus-train-bus and arrived to the hospital in the morning, a bit before myself. When he saw poor Dan attached to all those needles,wires, tubes and monitors he fainted.

Now if you are about to faint, the best place to do so is in Ichilov's recovery. Seeing him collapsing by his brother's bedside, the nurses asked him whether he suffers from any diseases. Halfway down, he answered 'yes' to the imaginary question "do you feel bad?". The nurses panicked and called a doctor to come and save him. They put him into a bed on the other side of the wall, hooked him to IV and gave him a cup of tea.

Since I was the last one to see Dan the previous night and knowing that visits are extremely restricted in recovery, I offered Peter to be the first one that morning. His "you're stronger', you go" surprised me somewhat, but didn't have time to philosophize too much over it. I headed towards the receptionist and was surprised she had been almost expecting me. The story of the two brothers spread like wildfire in the entire ward. Went in, put on that ridiculous robe and shoe-thing and jumped back and forth between the boys, until Dan was transferred to intensive care and Tom recovered.

After almost a week in hospital (most of it in intensive care) and a small pharmacy in his veins, Dan could breath by himself and was finally dismissed. Tomorrow they take out the stitches.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Bus Stories

With Dan hospitalized in Ichilov and crazy parking fees in Tel Aviv, last week I traveled by bus - something I rarely do.

I get on the bus near work with a banknote of NIS 100. The bus driver says he has no change. I offer to sit behind him and wait until other passengers pay and he collects enough change from them. He refuses. I ask him what should I do. He claims it's against the law to pay with a banknote more than 10 times the price of the ticket. I apologize, telling him I don't know about that law, I rarely use buses. He rants about the general lack of civilized behavior in Israel. A women gets on the bus and changes my 100 for two 50s. I'm saved.

I'm walking towards the bus station in the morning. A few meters before the station I see the bus coming towards me, after it left the station. I realize I missed it and I know it's not supposed to stop, except at designated stops. I'm frustrated. The bus stops at a red light while I am near it. The door opens and I get on. I thank the driver and ask him whether he is a mind reader. He says that's part of a bus driver's job. What a counter-experience!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Mobile Victory

After reading my previous blopost on mobile phone dilemmas, many asked me what phone I bought. Samsung Galaxy S II. This was back in July 2011. While paying for it, I accidentally found out in the shop that my mobile operator is supposed to reimburse me for it because they were not selling this model yet. Called them up and indeed, after asking me to fax the paperwork, they promised to start reimbursing in monthly installments. So they said. I waited a month, two months, three months, nothing. Called them up from time to time and always got the same answer: "next month". After about three months and the same lie, I asked the rep to check what's really going on. "You are not on right plan for getting the reimbursement". I didn't know there is a 'right' plan for it, but they assured me there is. Of course the 'right' plan was much more expensive than my current plan. In fact, the data part of it was so expensive, I decided not to buy it at all and just use Wi-Fi for Internet. Naively, I believed what I was told and forgot about the issue completely.

Last month, Tom came across a ynet article on this very issue and sent me the link. No mention of linkage between plan and reimbursement, but a handy list of options for contacting the Ministry of Communications for complaints. So I complained.

My operator's call followed shortly. I repeated my story to their Nth rep and was offered all sorts of inattractive plans, with thousands of minutes and SMSs I don't need. What I do need is a reasonably priced 3G connection. This time they claimed there is no 'right' plan, but I simply don't speak enough to reach the reimbursement threshold. So now there is a threshold. After a few more uninteresting offers, I was frustrated and ready to get back to the Ministry. Just before acting on my frustration, the operator finally offered a reasonable data plan. Since the reimbursement is higher than the price of the data plan, I signed up immediately.

Started using Waze. The first time, it navigated me home using the same route I use every day. Beginners' luck. Since then I'm happily following its proposed routes. Now I just have to learn how to disable the annoying messages and understand the meaning of all the cute icons. And use all the features of my smart phone I don't even know exist...