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Friday, August 31, 2007

Death of a powerbook

Not all of the spotty posting can be attributed to our recent travels in Connecticut, Manhattan and Fire Island.  No, some of the blame falls on my now-defunct computer. 

OK, technically my trusty Mac Powerbook G4 isn't dead... it just can't remain conscious for more than a few minutes at t a time without passing out.  According to the Mac guy I saw while we were in the US, the problem is somewhere on the part of the logic board that runs the fan.  So after a few minutes of using the computer the processor overheats and shuts down.

So, yeah... for all practical purposes my 'puter is dead.

We're gonna check with our Israeli Mac technician and see if he can do anything for me... but I'm not holding out any hopes for a quick, or cheap, fix.

In the mean time, my wife has generously offered me unfettered use of her new, blindingly fast wide-screen Macbook Pro.  She just got it a few weeks ago and had it tricked out with the fastest processor, max memory and largest hard-drive possible to be able to handle all her design work.

For me... it's a lot like having a Ferrari just to get to the mailbox at the end of the driveway.  Overkill doesn't begin to describe how I'm under-utilizing this machine!

Needless to say, if anyone out there is planning to buy the next big thing on the Mac horizon and wants to find a good home for their old Mac notebook (any kind, so long as it works)... I'm willing to pay a reasonable price.  Keep in mind that reliability is much more important to me than processor speed, memory or storage since I'll really only use it for writing and surfing the Web.

Regular posting to (hopefully) resume on Sunday.  Shabbat Shalom.

Posted by David Bogner on August 31, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Rather than respond in the comments...

... I've decided to write a fresh post on Thursday's topic.

First of all, thanks to everyone who weighed in with opinions, anecdotes, counter-opinions and clarifications.  As always, it is inspiring to see people from such diverse backgrounds sharing insights and respectfully disagreeing.

Several of you have emailed me to ask who is right and who is wrong (as if this were such a thing in the real world).  Others have asked what we opted to do vis-a-vis the beggar woman and why? 

The underlying theme in most of the emails was that Zahava and I had some clear policy about whom we give to, when, why and how much... and this simply isn't the case.  Like most people, we sort of make it up as we go along.

I also got a sense from many of your comments that you were under the impression that the woman's religion was a key component of our decision of whether or not to give... and this is also not the case.  It would probably be best to start with that one. 

I mentioned in Thursday's post that there was some confusion about whether the woman was Jewish, not because her religion would have had a clear bearing on whether or not to give, but rather because if she were not Jewish and yet was pretending to be by employing an easily-learned lexicon of Jewish buzz words (tzeddakah, hesed, shabbos, etc.) it would constitute a deliberate deception... and I don't know about you, but deception is something that saps me of any and all charitable inclination I might have had.

Long-time readers will remember my story of the 52nd Street BUMblebee as another illustration of my willingness to give regularly to someone without regard to their religion.  That story also touches on the issue of whether regular giving to the same person creates an expectation/obligation to continue doing so.

One of the commenters in Thursday's thread made reference to an experiment I performed while studying at a Yeshiva University in New York City.  I have a sense that I may have mentioned it once in a comment thread somewhere, but I can't find it now... so I'll share it here because it touches on many of the things some of you mentioned in your comments:

While enrolled in a crushingly boring sociology class, I found myself more than halfway through the semester without having made even preliminary preparations to do a paper that would count for a substantial portion of the final grade.  For the most part, the Austrian-born professor giving the class in his impenetrable accent talked about things that held exactly zero interest for me. 

However , one particular lesson he'd given dealing with the design of urban spaces in Europe vs those in the U.S. had piqued my interest.  The basic premise was that European public spaces tended to be designed to encourage people to come together and interact with one another (or at least acknowledge one another's presence)... while U.S. public spaces were designed to provide maximum privacy and to avoid forcing anyone to look directly at a stranger.

To illustrate the point he had talked about shopping malls and parks in the U.S. that had lots of seating set up in straight lines and circles with the chairs facing outwards.  This allowed strangers to sit in close proximity without intruding on one-another's line of sight.  In Europe, he continued, the plazas and piazza's were arranged with seating grouped in such a way that people cold see those who were seated nearby and easily speak to them.

I had half decided to do a paper on this concept, so I went out to Central, Grammarcy and Thompson Square parks to look at the seating arrangements there with fresh eyes.  However, instead of checking out the seating, I found myself walking through each of the parks and taking a good look at who was actually using the public spaces. 

This was back in the  mid-80s and New York was still showing clear signs of a decade of fiscal neglect in the 70s.  As a result, a significant portion of the people in the public spaces during the day were panhandlers

Almost without realizing I'd done so, I came to a decision to do my paper about the homeless people who used public spaces and how they organized themselves into their own social order.

Without too much trouble, I picked out some of my rattiest pants and torn shirt... supplemented them with a jacket from an army-navy store on 42nd street near 8th avenue, and finished off the ensemble with a pair of sneakers that I'd been meaning to throw out for some time due to a hole in the toe.

The plan was to spend a couple of days living 'on the street' and see the world of the parks from the point of view of a homeless person.

The topic for the paper ended up being 'The socio-economic stratification of street people in New York'.

At the top of the socio-economic urban outdoorsmen ladder were those who actively panhandled and did odd-jobs (squeegee guys, door openers, car guarders, parking space holders, etc.) for money.  The key to membership in this category was that almost all of those people saw their collection activities as a kind of self-employment.  They were using their wits and energy to part New Yorkers from their money... and for the most part seemed to be doing a pretty good job of it.

These are the ones who would almost certainly get angry, or even indignant, at someone who offered to buy them food or give them a coat.  The idea of someone implying that they were unqualified to decide how to spend their money was insulting.  The shame was not in begging for money, but rather in having someone try to co-opt their right to decide how to spend it.

At the lower end of the food chain were the inactive panhandlers.  These were the ones who sat passively in one place while foot traffic passed the spot they had chosen.  I couldn't be sure, but many of the people who fell into this category seemed genuinely bothered by having to beg for money.  They tended to not make eye contact and were much more likely to accept offers of food or clothing in lieu of money.

Many of these passive panhandlers (but certainly not all) were also much more likely to avail themselves of social services like soup kitchens and homeless shelters, while the active panhandlers tended to stake out subway grates, underpasses and other sheltered areas to sleep and eat.

My completely un-scientific thesis was that mental illness and/or substance abuse was at least a contributing factor in both kinds of panhandlers, but that the active panhandlers were less likely to break out of their way of life because they were less aware of the problematic nature of their existence. 

By the same token, I would venture a guess that the inactive panhandlers and shelter-dwellers were much more likely to seek/accept professional help.  Whether or not they were already beyond the limited ability of the social safety net to help them is anyone's guess.

Having said all this, let's return to the woman who stood outside Le Marais this past Wednesday evening.  I'm not even sure if she was homeless... but if she was, she would certainly fall into the active panhandler category.   And this is where I tend to dig in my heels.

You see, while I am not necessarily in a position to judge the level and authenticity of any given beggar's needs, if I get a sense that someone has made a career choice out of panhandling rather than doing it to alleviate an immediate need... well, I usually choose not to give.  Same goes for institutional collectors.  I like to choose which institutions I support, and those I support I do so generously.  I also tend to support charities in my own community before those abroad.  This may not be fair, but I like to think that this is one of the many interpretations of 'charity begins at home'.

Zahava was upset by a whole different set of criteria outside Le Marais.  Apparently, while she stood outside with Yonah waiting for us to pay the check and make our way out, she witnessed this woman literally chase several diners from the door of the restaurant all the way to the corner of Broadway.  This goes beyond active panhandling and crosses into harassment.  That our kids still wanted to give her money is more a testament to their own kind nature than to any indoctrination we may have given them.

I may have more to say on this in a bit, but for now that about sums it up.

Posted by David Bogner on August 26, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Thursday, August 23, 2007

How the 'haves' relate to the 'have-nots'

Last night as we rolled out of left one of our favorite restaurants in Manhattan (Le Marais) we had to pass the outstretched hand and beseeching eyes of a beggar. 

Now, from a purely strategic standpoint, a beggar couldn't pick a better spot to set up shop.   Think about the locale... very upscale mid-town steak house...  a steady stream of mostly Jewish patrons who, despite lots of practice, have never gotten completely comfortable with their relative affluence ... most of whom have just dropped the equivalent of a Brooklyn studio apartment's rent on dinner... suddenly faced with a poor unfortunate pan-handler who, whether Jewish or not, is mouthing all the right buzz-words (tzedakkah...  hesed ... shabbos...etc.).

Our big kids immediately assumed that we would give the shabby woman something and dutifully paused next to her.  But my wife and I were not in complete agreement about whether or not to give.  One of us was ambivalent, not being sure that the woman was even Jewish... and the other was outraged that a beggar would set us shop in such a location since it was obviously a transparent attempt to play on the above-mentioned Jewish guilt at being momentarily well-sated... and fairly firmly entrenched among the 'haves'.

I may tell you how it all played out at the end of the comment thread... but for now, I'm curious to hear if any of you have thoughts one way or the other about what I've described.

Posted by David Bogner on August 23, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (54) | TrackBack

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Jedi Israeli parental mind trick

I'm sure that most of you are familiar with the Jedi mind trick that allowed Star War's Jedi warriors to influence/change the thoughts of weaker minded beings with a wave of their hand.  Well, I finally wised up to the fact that most Israeli parents use a similar trick in dealing with their young children.

Picture this:

A little Israeli kid is swinging happily on the monkey bars at the playground while his/her mom or dad sits nearby chatting with a friend.  Suddenly the kid slips and lands in a crumpled heap in the sand.  There is a brief moment of silence while the kid starts to work up a head of steam for a good bout of tears, during which the parent calmly walks over... helps the kid up... dabs sand and blood off of knees and elbows... and effortlessly performs the Jedi Israeli parental mind trick with the following magic words:

"Lo Karah Kloom!"
[translation: Nothing happened]

The only thing missing from this little trick is the trademark Jedi hand wave in front of the victim's kid's face.  But miraculously, unless there is some truly serious bodily injury, this trick works every time. 

A few sniffles may escape before the mind trick has a chance to do its magic... but within seconds the kid is back swinging on the monkey bars as if nothing had ever happened.

I'm not implying (G-d forbid) that kids are weak-minded beings.  But I have to admit that I've tried this little parental mind trick on our youngest after he's taken a spill, and it works like a charm!

Don't believe me?  Try it yourself.

Don't thank me... I'm a giver.

Posted by David Bogner on August 22, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (26) | TrackBack

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Another example of 'different' being 'better'

One of the bad, bad things that we new olim (immigrants) to Israel do incessantly is we make frequent, and usually unfair, comparisons between goods & services we find in our new country to those we left behind.

That Israelis don't shoot us on sight when we begin every other sentence with "You know, in the US..." is a testament to the high regard in which they hold immigrants.

What we newbies fail to realize until several years down the road is that 'different' isn't necessarily 'worse'. In fact, more often than not, 'different' is as good, or often better, than whatever product or service we left behind.

I've already written in the past about the vastly superior Israeli traffic lights (not that Israel drivers pay them much mind)... so this kind of thing may become a trend here at treppenwitz.

It is now four years since we took the plunge and became Israelis... but it's only during this visit to my family in the US that I realize how different American call waiting is from its Israeli cousin.

In the US, when you are on the phone and someone calls, you hear a beep letting you know that a call is waiting.  However, the person who is calling hears only a regular ring... so they let it ring and ring and ring and ring...

In Israel (and elsewhere, for all I know), the person calling hears a broken ring when they call someone who is already on the phone.  This way they can make an instant decision to call back later (if the call is just a casual 'hi howarya') or stay on the line (if the call is urgent).  The person being called hears the beep of call waiting and knows that if the call is really urgent the person will stay on the line and more beeps will follow (and presumably will pick up)... and if it is not, they will call back later.

Just one more example of 'different' being 'better'.

Posted by David Bogner on August 21, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Monday, August 20, 2007

Be careful what you wish for...

One of my musician friends who moved to Israel a few years before we did was appalled to hear that I had accepted four gigs with my old band during our planned visit to the states.  I think his exact words were:

"By the middle of the second gig you'll wish you were back here with people shooting at you."

I just got home from playing my third gig and I am sooooooo tired.  Don't get me wrong... I love the bandstand 'hang' and I truly miss the guys, but I don't miss this feeling at 1:15AM... the feeling that someone has been hitting me with a stick for 6 hours.  Did I really used to do this several times a week?!

So far during this visit I've done a gig in Boston... another one at Ciprianni's on Wall Street... and tonight's affair was at the Rye Town Hilton.

One more to go...

If you see a guy in a tux drinking coffee late at night at a rest stop this week... it will probably be me.

Posted by David Bogner on August 20, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Friday, August 17, 2007

Echoes of footsteps

Walking with my kids through the endless corridors... past displays... elephants... whales... fossils... minerals... DINOSAURS!... I watch them stand in the same place that I stood roughly a million years ago. 

I watch as they run from display to display, out of breath with the effort of taking it all in and trying to contemplate that things were ever so big and colorful or real so far in the past.

I hold their tender hands as the familiar displays rush past us and feel a sensory memory of my own tiny hand held in the wise, guiding hands of my parents.  These halls have waited for me all these years.

I had always thought that a trip to the American Museum of Natural History was my adventure... a child's treat for me alone.  But I now realize that there is a different, maybe better, level of experience for parents as they return to see these ancient treasures through their children's eyes. 

As I listen to the echoes of the footsteps in these magical hallways, I don't know if they belong to my children... or if I'm somehow hearing my own small footfalls from the distant past.

Shabbat Shalom

Posted by David Bogner on August 17, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Thursday, August 09, 2007

I finally found somethng nice to say about the French!

During a recent flight to Madrid I did the usual involuntary shudder when the flight attendant came by to ask me if I was the one who had ordered the 'special' meal.  I always shudder because this odd euphemism for my kosher meal (or any meal other than the usual slop) makes it sound like you are getting something above and beyond the usual fare.

However, after reluctantly admitting that, yes, I had requested a kosher meal, I was surprised to be served something that looked... and more importantly tasted... like nothing I had ever experienced on an airplane.

First of all, rather than the usual plastic serving vessels, each of the various parts of the meal were sealed in various sized tins (sort of like sardine cans with pull-tabs).

Next was the delicious aroma that hit me as I began opening things up.  My mouth actually started water!

The meal consisted of Soulie Restauration's (I'm assuming this is the caterer's name) delicious Volaille a la Provencale et ses Legumes, a tin of scrumptious chicken pate (with a package of crackers on which to spread it), a tin of home-style apple sauce, fresh orange juice, mineral water and a chocolate tart for dessert.

All this from a French caterer and under the Rabbinical Supervision of the Beit Din of Paris.

I can't tell you how good this food was and it makes me wonder why everyone else seems to get airline food so tragically wrong.

I saved the address of the French company that does the catering for the meal and will be contacting them to see if I can buy meals from them privately for my frequent trips abroad.

Say what you want about the French... they can't field an army to save their lives (literally) and tend to always pick the wrong side in a fight... but these guys sure know their way around a kitchen!


Posted by David Bogner on August 9, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (24) | TrackBack

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

About the political ads

I have gotten a few dozen emails in the past few days from people asking about the ads in my sidebar for Manhigut Yehudit/Moshe Feiglin.

Let me state for the record that regardless of how I may feel about the political opinions of any of my advertisers, my accepting their ads does not constitute an endorsement of any kind. 

That being said, I'm a tad surprised at some of the otherwise intelligent people who seem to feel threatened by the information contained in the ad (and the site to which it links).  Personally, with the exception of missionary organizations and those who advocate illegal / immoral agendas, I feel that the only dangerous ideas are those that people try to ban or censor. 

I have never made a secret of my political beliefs (eclectic though they may be)... and have, in fact, expressed them quite openly when the mood has been upon me.  But I also believe in generating ad revenue... so unless someone is ready to step up and subsidize treppenwitz as an ad-free zone... please accept the fact that not every ad you see here will perfectly dove-tail with your world-view.

So today you might see an ad for Moshe Feiglin... but tomorrow it could just as easily be Yossi Beilin.  In fact, if anyone knows who is managing Yossi's advertising budget, please send them my way.

And that's all I have to say about that.


Posted by David Bogner on August 8, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Helpful Aliyah tip

I've been an Israeli citizens for a few years now, so I feel like it might be time to start giving back... in the form of lessons to those who might be getting roughed up by the well-entrenched Israeli bureaucracy. 

For the sake of getting off on the right foot, I'll start with arguably the most important rule when navigating the country's sprawling maze of semi-functional agencies: Avoid the information kiosk at all costs!

In any sane country, each and every government office, hospital and clinic would have a well-informed man or women sitting at the information desk, ready to greet new arrivals and direct them to the correct office and answer basic questions about what goes on there.

But for some reason, the people manning most Israeli 'information' desks seem to have been chosen at random off the street moments before the doors are opened for that day's business.  Seriously... that's the only reasonable explanation for their blanket incompetence that I've been able to come up with.

Other than handing out numbers (which could easily be accomplished by an unmanned wall-mounted number dispenser such as they have in bakeries and butchers) Israeli information specialist don't seem to be required to actually possess any helpful or accurate information.  In fact, if personal experience is any indication, their primary role is limited to knowing how to say 'no' in several languages and/or direct as many people as possible to incorrect locations... preferably in other buildings far, far away.

To be fair, I've found that once you manage to bypass the information barrier desk, the people inside are almost universally helpful and well-informed.  You just have to have enough 'chutzpah' to poke your head into a couple of offices in order to get the directions or information you were looking for.

Last, but not least... the three golden rules for understanding Israeli bureaucrats*:

1.  No means maybe.

2.  Maybe means yes... but I need a reason.

3.  Yes means OK but I can't tell you exactly when.

Don't thank me... I'm a giver.

* I heard this on our pilot trip the year before we made aliyah.  It has helped us on countless occasions!


Posted by David Bogner on August 7, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Monday, August 06, 2007

Of diplomas and drivers licenses

Back in the 60s, 70s and 80s, people who made aliyah were faced with a far more daunting absorption process than those who are stepping off the Nefesh B'Nefesh flights this summer.  Back then, the economy fluctuated between bad and worse... job opportunities were few and far between... and even highly educated immigrants were told to expect to settle for a position far below their former level, or retrain for a new job altogether.

But in spite of the crushing bureaucracy, bleak financial outlook and the almost complete lack of western luxuries, the one thing a newcomer could count on was having his/her documents from the old country accepted at face value.

I remember when I was studying at Hebrew University back in '84, I walked into the License Bureau... handed them my Connecticut driver's license and within minutes walked out with an Israeli license. 

The same was true (for the most part) of anyone who arrived in Israel with a diploma from a recognized institution of higher learning abroad.  You went to the Ministry of Education, showed them your diploma (and maybe your transcripts) and in short order you were registered as an 'Academa'i' (the term for someone who holds a university degree).  That, and the inflated shekel equivalent of fifty cents, wouldn't buy you a cup of coffee... but at least you were an 'akadema'i'.

That's not how things work today.

As cushy as new immigrants may have it with chartered flights, honor guards, dignitaries and malls bursting with every luxury they could want... their foreign driver's licenses aren't worth spit, and their foreign diplomas are looked upon with deep suspicion.

What happened?

The Russians happened.  Specifically, the flood of over a million immigrants to Israel from the former Soviet Union in the 90s. Now don't get me wrong... at a time when people were wringing their hands about the demographic time-bomb threatening the very Jewish standing of the Jewish state, this wave of new immigrants was a godsend!

Not only that, but unlike many previous waves of immigrations, these were not your typical refugees.  True, many arrived with little but the family heirlooms they could carry in a suitcase.  But as a group, they were better educated and better prepared (not to mention motivated) to enter all levels of the Israeli work force than most who had come before.

However, a few clerical problems began to crop up on the heels of this influx of citizens... with the first hint being the sudden jump in traffic accidents involving these new Israelis.  Obviously each country has its own driving culture... and ours is nothing to brag about.  But that alone couldn't account for the carnage. 

It turned out that while a huge percentage of the FSU immigrants arrived with drivers licenses that were quickly exchanged for Israeli driver's licenses... nobody stopped to think about the fact that private car ownership in most corners of the FSU was fairly low.  This meant that a large number of drivers were having their first experience behind the wheel on the already dangerous Israeli roads. 

On-the-job training may be fine in some fields, but I think you'll agree that driving isn't one of them.

Anyway, the government couldn't very will single out one group for extra scrutiny, so in short order the policy of instantly exchanging foreign driver's licenses for Israeli ones was abolished for everyone.  In its place came a mandatory course of driving classes with a private instructor, followed by a test with an examiner from the Licensing Bureau. 

While not a perfect system (in fact, it was/is fraught with opportunities for abuse and graft), it at least provided a relatively safe on-ramp for new immigrants to join the ranks of the driving Israeli public.

But at the same time, a similar problem was showing up in the Education Ministry.  While the Jews in the FSU were, indeed, disproportionately well educated/trained, a noticeable number of Israel's new citizens seemed to hold identical advanced degrees and doctorates from the same institutions.  The Berlin Wall may have fallen, but many of the FSU's institutions of higher learning remained out of reach of those trying to verify degrees.

I don't want to accuse anyone of fraud... in fact, I know from personal experience that the FSU lost some of the best educated/talented people when they finally let the Jews go.  But as we used to joke in the New York music business after the wave of FSU immigrants also crashed upon the US shores, 'it is highly improbably that all of those who make the claim actually played first chair in the Moscow Symphony'.  Simply put, where verification is tricky, the temptation to embellish one's resume must be very strong.

So, as with the Licensing Bureau, the Ministry of Education adopted a policy of doing a bit more due diligence... and began verifying claims of foreign education/degrees.  Again, this is all fine and good... especially as it was being applied across the board, not just for the FSU immigrants. 

But it created a host of problems for many new immigrants who arrived with perfectly legitimate degrees.   I was one of those who got caught in the machine.

I received my B.A. from Yeshiva University in New York.  But because my YU transcript contained two years worth of credit from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, a couple of summers worth of credit from Queens College and a few odd courses from a now-defunct college in California (taken while I was in the navy), the education ministry wanted original transcripts for all the non-YU credits before they would recognize my degree.

While Zahava's BFA from Wash U was approved within weeks of our making aliyah, I was forced to set out on a four year quest to track down original transcripts.  I wrote letters and sent faxes.  I talked with registrars, archivists.  Remember, my studies spanned a decade, three states, two countries... during a period before computers were routinely used to archive information.

Each time I unearthed a bit more of my educational past, the Education Ministry filed it away and sent me a form letter stating that I would still not be considered a university graduate until ALL of the missing documentation was in their hands.

Ironically, the now-defunct college in California was among the easiest nut to crack.  They had turned their records over to another academic institution which had computerized them all in the first wave of this trend.

The Hebrew University was a tough nut, since they had long since placed my records in an archive that was visited so infrequently that nobody with whom I spoke was even sure where it was.  Finally, after showing them multiple copies of registered letters I'd sent to Hebrew U, the Education Ministry waived this particular requirement based on the fact that it wasn't a foreign University.

Queens college was the last hurdle, and several attempts at making contact with the Registrar's office proved beyond my capability.  Finally, a few months ago I managed to reach a helpful clerk who told me what forms to fill out and how much money to send for a transcript.

I finally received the long-awaited letter from Queens College and tore it open with joy.

Inside was another envelope covered with stamps and seals that indicated that my official transcript was enclosed... along with dire warnings that it could not be opened except by the Israeli Ministry of Education.  Anyone else opening it would render it invalid. 

Along with this envelope was a form letter stating that since I had failed to enclose the required fee, my request for a transcript had been denied.


I sat at my dining-room table looking from the letter to the sealed transcript envelope... wondering which one was lying to me.  Finally, I decided that I needed to talk with someone at Queens College and placed a call to the Registrar's office. 

A woman on the other end of the phone asked me to read her the contents of the letter and the words stamped on the inner envelope several times.  After putting me on hold for about ten minutes (thank you Jajah!) she finally came back to tell me she had no idea whether my transcript was in the sealed envelope, and helpfully suggested that I open it up to see.

I didn't want to sound ungrateful for her help, and had taken great pains to affect the proper level of obsequiousness when addressing her... but I had to point out the obvious; that if I opened the transcript envelope, it would no longer be acceptable to the Education Ministry (assuming they were in there at all, that is).

She agreed, but said that there was no other way.

I then pointed out (with deep, subservient humility) that since the confusion had been caused by Queens College, perhaps the best course of action would be for them to send out another transcript.  After all, I didn't want to take another day off from work, only to have some government clerk open the envelope in front of me... and find someone else's transcript.

Unfortunately, this was beyond the scope of her mandate and she said that I would have to send in another check if I wanted another transcript.


I finally decided to take the risk and took a morning off from work to visit the Education Ministry offices in Jerusalem with the mystery envelope.  I arrived two hours before they actually opened to ensure I would be first in line... and sat down in a chair next to the office where foreign transcripts are reviewed.

When the appointed time arrived, a harried-looking clerk showed up, opened the office and promptly closed and locked the door behind her.  Those of us who were waiting outside listened at the door as the clerk chatted loudly on the phone with someone with whom she was clearly in a physical relationship.

After another fifteen minutes had passed, I knocked softly on the door.  The clerk wound up her conversation with a bunch of 'no... I love you more'-s, before admitting me to the inner sanctum.

When I was seated in front of her, she asked what I was there for.  I pulled out the sealed envelope with a flourish and placed it on the desk between us.  She looked at it briefly and said, "the computer's are down.  You can leave it with me and I'll process it when the server comes back up."  She had the same tone of voice my kids use when they tell me they'll clean up their rooms... later.

I stammered something about, "Aren't you going to at least open it up?", but she was having none of it.  She waved me out of the office and invited the next person in to hear the bad news about the computers.

I drove to work wondering whether she would actually go back and enter my information when the computers came back, or whether she would simply dump the pile of paperwork she's collected during the morning and start fresh when the servers were working again?

And most worrying... what would she find when she opened the mystery envelope?  Was it my transcript in there... or had they mistakenly sent someone else's transcript?

The days and weeks crawled by, and every day I went to the mailbox hoping to find some word... but nothing came.  Then yesterday Zahava called me at work to tell me that I'd gotten a letter from the Education Ministry... and did I want her to open it?

"Um, YES I WANT YOU TO OPEN IT!!!", was all I remember screaming into the phone.  I guess I didn't realize how wound up this four-year odyssey had gotten me.

I sat in my office in Beer Sheva listening to an envelope being sloooowly torn open in Efrat... and waited.  Finally, after what seemed like a month, Zahava said, "Congratulations honey... it's says 'ishur'...you're officially a college graduate!" 

I was so overjoyed at the news that I put aside my plans to spitefully tell Zahava that the reason I was able to renew my driver's license from the 80s in seconds while she'd had to take driving lessons and a test, was because she was the kind of person who made people wait those extra two seconds for important news. 

Yeah... I decided not to press my luck.  After all, it wouldn't be very smart to piss off someone who was holding a valuable document in her hands.  :-)

Posted by David Bogner on August 6, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (27) | TrackBack

Sunday, August 05, 2007

I don't usually do this, but...

... I feel the need to apologize for not responding to comments lately.

I have always prided myself on at least acknowledging people's comments... but a bunch of immovable things (good things... not to worry), have been making demands on my computer access time and, well, given a choice of writing posts or writing responses... guess which wins out?

I will certainly try to do better going forward, but the next couple of weeks do not bode well for the whole computer access thing.  Please bear with me and know that I read and enjoy each and every comment. 

Another thing I don't usually do very often is plug other sites or direct traffic to other bloggers.  This is not a snobby thing, although I'm sure many people take it as such.  The truth is, when I sit down (or roll over, as is usually the case, since I do most of my writing in bed) to post something on this site, it usually has something to do with my world... not someone else's. 

Well, seeing as I trashed the post I wrote this morning due to a surplus of suckiness (that's a real term we writers use... look it up!), I actually had two extra minutes to draw your attention to a site I just discovered called Bits of Ink

The author had me with the first two paragraphs of his 'about me' page:

The really short version: Twentysomething techie living in Israel. Religious Jew. Originally from the East Coast of the USA. Fond of chocolate and ponies. Writes about life in Israel, the voices in his head, the voices outside his head, and aforementioned ponies.

Long version: Born Ilan Y. Cohen (ok, actually it was spelled “Elon” for the first several months - don’t ask) in Stamford, CT, I grew up in a white house with black shutters and a white picket fence (yes, really) with 2 loving parents, 2 siblings, and a series of suicidal cats. Childhood was generally an ongoing quest to get the sugar fix I could not get at home. If memory serves, a lot of cartoons and Legoes were involved as well.

OK, truth be told, I didn't really discover 'Bits of Ink'.  It actually found me when the blogger posted a comment on treppenwitz.  Incidentally, that's how I started visiting most of my regular reads.

So in addition to very well written posts, this guy (Ilan) has started a comic strip called 'Why I shouldn't Date'.  If he can keep up this level, I see a cult classic in the making. 

Here are his first two strips (you'll have to go to his site to see any future content (click to embiggen):


And the follow-up:



Posted by David Bogner on August 5, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Friday, August 03, 2007

Photo Friday (vol. LXXXVIII) [Feeling Special edition]

No, this isn't the promised full follow-up on yesterday's post... just a few pictures to help fill in the gaps (Thanks to Daphne for sending them over):





Shabbat Shalom.

Posted by David Bogner on August 3, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The importance of being special

If I had to compile a list of the secrets people never share with even their closest friends/confidants, the first item on the list would be the deeply held belief that we are each absolutely special.

As children we look out at the world through unique, special eyes and consider the world as revolving around us.  Then, at some point in our childhood there comes a Copernican epiphany and we realize that, rather than the universe revolving around us... we are just one of many bodies in a vast and complicated system whose center lies... elsewhere.

However, even after outgrowing this stage of complete self-absorption, most of us continue to harbor a small secret belief that we are special... a specialness that sets us apart from everyone we have ever known.  This feeling of specialness is why people take compliments with such aplomb... and why criticism, insults and perhaps worst; indifference, rock us to our very core.

It is why teenagers act as if they are immortal... invulnerable.  It is why we are relatively unsurprised when we hear of sickness or death touching others... and also why it seems incomprehensible when serious illness, injury or death present themselves at our own doorstep.

So much of our interaction with the world is predicated on this secret assumption of specialness, that we have built most of our social rituals around balancing the need to allow others to bask in the glow of our Sun and not wanting to 'burn' anyone with what can only be described as conceit.

Pretty much anyone I have ever spoken with who has contracted a life-threatening illness or been in a near fatal accident, has always expressed dismay that it had happened to them.  The unspoken sub-text to that sentiment is 'What was G-d thinking? You don't kill off the main character in the story.  Sickness and death are what happen to bit players... supporting characters... other people!'

When I think back on the highest points in my life, I recall the times when my apparent specialness has been affirmed by people and/or events such receiving special recognition, awards, birthday parties, engagement, my wedding, arriving in Israel, etc. 

But there have also been plenty of less momentous (but equally memorable) events that have reinforced that secret feeling of being special. 

These have been the countless conversations I've had with people over the years where they have made me feel that I am the most interesting person they have ever met.  It is only now at middle age that I realize that what is truly special is a person's ability to extend themselves across interpersonal space and make someone else feel like the center of the universe.

It is only when speaking with a less-well-mannered (or perhaps more self-absorbed) person that one realizes that this ability to make someone standing across from you feel absolutely special and unique is - in and of itself - fairly special and unique.

A couple of weeks ago I got an email from a woman named Daphne who, aside from being a self-professed treppenwitz reader, also happens to be president of a political advertising firm in the US called MAXFilms.  The gist of her email was that she wanted to know if I'd like to be interviewed for a film her company was making about people in the 'new Israeli right'. 

As if such an invitation wouldn't be enough, she sent me a list of people - most of whom would be instantly recognized by anyone who follows the news in Israel - who would also be interviewed for the film.

If it had ended there, just having someone write to tell me they liked my blog... and telling me that they thought I belonged on short list alongside a bunch of household names, would have been quite enough to make me feel unbelievably special. 

But it didn't end there.

A few exchanged emails revealed that:

a)  it wasn't a hoax (yes, I initially thought it might be a prank)

b) the political advertising firm is quite accomplished and has an extensive resume of issue-driven support for various US political campaigns.

c) the film project about which I'd been approached was actually going to take place... in Jerusalem.

Pinch me!

On the appointed day I arrived at a sound-stage near The Jerusalem Theater and walked up to the security guard at the door feeling like a total impostor.  He asked me my name, and upon hearing my response, someone behind him said "Oh great, you're here!  Come on in and go straight into make-up."

I should mention at this point that I have never had anyone make up my face.  As I tipped back in the make-up chair, a young woman began applying creams and powders all over my face and neck. Considering how long she fussed over my face and the amount of make-up she seemed to have used, I expected to end up looking like Pagliacci !

While the make-up woman continued to smudge, swab and pat, other people wandered into the room to offer me cold drinks and snacks.

To paraphrase 'dayeinu' from the Passover seder, if it had all ended there with someone rushing in with a clipboard screaming "who the hell is this?  That's not who we wanted!", it would have still been enough. 

Among the many things I think everyone should experience at least once in their lives... being singled out for back-stage celeb treatment is very high on the list.

When my make-up was finally finished, I was ushered to some theater-style seats just outside the door to the sound-stage and again asked if I needed anything... food, drink?  I declined politely and sat reading the latest Harry Potter and wondering what the hell I would have to say when I was finally invited inside.

After a short wait, Daphne and her husband Michael (they are partners in running the ad firm), came out of the sound stage and greeted me like a long lost relative.  They asked my a few questions that instantly put me at ease... and proved beyond all doubt that they were long-time treppenwitz readers.  They asked after Zahava, the kids (by name),the bees... and even about our black lab-mix, Jordan.

But then again, I shouldn't have been surprised that they remembered to ask about Jordan seeing as they have pics of their beloved vizslas, Koby and Zeke on their website.

I instantly knew that regardless of how the interview on the sound-stage went, that this would be a truly memorable experience... one to add to the list of 'things in my life that made me feel special'. 

The interview itself (conducted by Michale) was bit of a blur, not because I was nervous or distracted... but because Michael's interview style was so genuine and personable.  Although we had never met before, he made me feel as though I was the most interesting person on the planet.

After the interview had concluded, I hung around for a bit and chatted with Daphne and Michael.  Again, even without the cameras and lights, I felt like I was still center stage... talking with a couple of old friends who cared deeply about me. 

Special, special, special!

I suspect that the secret to continued contentment in this world is being able to experience such moments of 'specialness' on a fairly regular basis.  Whether chatting with someone at work... over a shabbat table or in just about any social setting... I realize that such focused attention is a priceless commodity we can give each other.   Certainly, if we get too much of it, we risk succumbing to narcissism.  But if deprived for too long of such attention and pampering, our very soul must wither and become sad from neglect.

Thank you Daphne and Michael for giving me a wonderful dose of your friendship and attention.  You are both very special people.

[Note:  When I get over myself, I have a follow-up post about the film project to share.]

Posted by David Bogner on August 2, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack