The gift of helplessness

Feeling helpless is nothing new for me.

My late wife was diagnosed with melanoma in 1986; she died in 1993. That’s good basic training in helplessness, if you ask me.

I live in the Middle East, where insoluble conflict is the leitmotif of everyday life. I have sat around for weeks with a gas mask next at my side as Saddam bombed Israel. And when Hamas bombed Israel. And when Hezbollah bombed Israel.  I have heard the explosion of 3 terror attacks: the “fridge incident” in Jerusalem, as well as a bus station and shopping centre in the suburb where I live.

And now, Corona!

Everything has changed;  there is absolutely nothing that I can do. Total helplessness. No swimming. No history studies, no Friday concerts, no Wednesday morning lectures on dreams,  my clients are in lock down, and unlike 99% of social media users, I am not working remotely. (Nor do I plan to, nor do I like to)

So where is the meat? Or is there any meat? It really depends on what you call meat.

Being helpless is a very different thing than feeling helpless. Once you accept helplessness, it is an act of spiritual liberation, since you are freed from trying to gain control. And giving up control can help banish worrying.

I have struggled with “worrying” for as long as I can remember, yet the more I experience helplessness, the less I worry. That has been the major gift I have taken away from the present crisis.

I was to have had cataract surgery on 26.3. I waited 7 months for the top surgeon in Israel. My surgery was cancelled two days beforehand. No worry. It will happen, or it won’t. So I won’t drive at night. But what if I have to? Don’t think about it.

Free at last.






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5th Letter from Tel Aviv- Just let them complain!

Many dictators have maintained  power by limiting freedom of speech, even to the extent of trying to censor mass media, ban Whatsapp, imprison journalists, and what have you.

Not in Israel. The Israeli needs one basic freedom, after which he can be easily repressed-that freedom is the “Right to Complain” .

Let us say whatever we want, and then you can repress us.

Israelis will pay 50% income tax, sit for hours and hours in traffic jams, and accept a Minister of Health who fights for the rights of religious women to go to a public ritual bath in the days of corona. The Israeli when allowed to complain, will spend three or four times the price for food and lodging-as long as freedom of speech continues.

By the way, government  ensures that mobile phones are cheap, so they complain all the time. (9 dollars a month, unlimited use)

Let’s look at why this happens.

First, Israeli culture differentiates between words and action, relegating words to “just words”.

Words have always been mitigated in Zionist (not Jewish) history. Ben Gurion once said that it is important what Israel does, not what the UN says. And an entire faction of the Zionist movement focused on doing not saying, in order to create` `facts in the field“ עובדות בשטח .

The manner is which Israelis worked against  Kennedy and with Johnson on the Dimona Nuclear Project illustrates the lack of importance associated with words in this critical juncture in Zionist history, the establishment of Israel as the strongest military power by far In the Middle East.

it is easier for Israelis to commit to an idea after they have ripped it apart. I know that for many people; this is very hard to understand. It can be likened to learning to live someone by understanding all their shortcomings, thereby accepting them.

Allowing  Israelis to complain binds and pits them against one another, simultaneously. them among themselves,  making them easier to control. No one understands this better than the accused criminal Benyamin Netanyahu.

So now let’s look at the components of Israel health policy at the moment: ritual baths (corona infection pits) for the ladies open, a very partial curfew enforcement exists in religious and minority areas, we are all kept 100 meters near  home because some idiots went to the beach. We are forced to accept a totally inept health care management team consisting of a useless, sectarian, pathetic ultra-Orthodox hack as Minister of Health (who may eventually go to jail for assisting pedophiles  to escape justice) as well as his managing director, a third rate economist with no medical background.

Just let “em complain.

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4th letter from Tel Aviv-All about partial enforcement

Today is the first day that one cannot stray more than 330 feet, or 100 meters from your home.

Of course, let’s not quibble. Israel is known for its lack of enforcement; our society’s bark is much louder than its bite. So I was not surprised when I discovered on my daily walk that the enforcement of this law is, well let’s say, somewhat partial. More or like the way cops relate to the smell of grass in a Tel Aviv cafe.

In Israel, it is not infrequent to argue with the police about a traffic violation, ask for compassion from a parking meter maid, or knock on the window of your bank after it’s closed because of a delay due to a traffic jam; the only thing that Netanyahu neglected more than health was public transportation. Nothing is enforced to the letter of the law. 0.

Rules are not made to be broken; rather they are mean to be bent. Almost any rule can be bent. Just the other day, I got my monthly medications (not too many), and asked for 2 months supply. During the virus outbreak, this is not permitted. “No”, said the pharmacist. I know this pharmacist well. She is an Arab Israeli with a severe medical condition. I asked her in Arabic how she was feeling; I got an answer, and another month’s supply. This type of occurrence is very common.

Why is there so much lack of enforcement? I do not all the answers, but I can name a few. Life here is not easy: regional violence, extreme heat, bad traffic, piss-poor government and doing simple things is often difficult. So people give one another a break. (One example of the difficulty of doing simple things is a yearly road-readiness car test often done by a corrupt garage, which takes a good half day.)

Furthermore, only the veneer of our society is western, Israel is much more like China or Thailand-it is based on relationships. That includes showing other people that “we know that the system does not work, so I am helping you”. Everything, everything is done here via relationships. So doing a favour is garnering credit.

Finally, historically Jews have not ruled themselves until very recently, With Netanyahu’s performance, it is fair to ask if this is still not the case. At any rate, “the system” belongs to someone else, as it were. So it can be toyed with.

And finally, there is our culture of constant bargaining. Can 100 meters become 150? No? Ok-140, in 3 payments.


PS This having been said, Israel does enforce tax collection very, very well,

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The value of low expectations from leadership-a third letter from Tel Aviv

Last night to my horror, in an ineffective attempt to clean my smartphone, the screen protector peeled off.  So early this morning, I trotted off with George to a nearby store to buy a new one, armed with gloves and a face mask. The streets were full with people walking their dogs, or dogs walking their people. It’s hard to know these days. A dog is great protection for the city hall and police “Public Health Enforcement Units“.

When I got my phone back, I spent half an hour trying to think how to disinfect it. In the end, I thought, fuck it, it is what it is. How the hell can I spend even more time trying to control something I cannot? This is a very Israeli attitude.

So I thought, what else characterizes an Israeli reaction to the present panic. A good subject for my third letter from Tel Aviv.

Last night, our totally inept and incompetent health minister, Yaakov Litsman, who is accused of trying to prevent the extradition of suspected pedophile  Malka Leifer, said that he does not support the positions put forth by the Health Ministry, which he heads.

To make things worse, the Deputy Managing Director of the Health Ministry, a distinguished professor of public medicine, and his boss, a third rate economist and hack, the Managing Director of the Ministry of Health, disagreed about how many corona cases there actually are. The gaps between assessments were amazing.

The Minister of Health has also campaigned for allowing religious life to go on, albeit that many people have been infected in houses of worship. He also has stated that he hopes the Messiah will solve this problem before Passover, which falls in a few weeks.

Secular educated Israelis have learnt not to expect very much from leadership. What is happening in the Ministry of Health is natural-: ” what do you expect from a government hack and health minister from an ultra-Orthodox party?”

More traditional (right wing and religious) Israelis expect government to `fight hard`, whatever that means. And if they lose the fight, it doesn`t matter because the left probably undermined them. So we have someone to blame.

Whether this is bad or not is not so clear to me. The expectations from leadership to solve this problem appear to me to be absurd. These are the very same leaders who got us into this mess by under-spending on health. How can they ever extract us from this awful mess?

Furthermore, if we expect too much from leadership, we shirk our own ownership of the problem. And in Israel, everyone is often his or her own general, the healthy skepticism towards leadership transfers responsibility to the families and individuals.

And when the politicians speak nonsense, no one really gets all that upset like the Americans do.

Of course, a blend between appropriate expectations from leadership and total skepticism towards leadership is a contradiction that must be constantly  balanced, but I prefer a society in which people do not expect too much of the guys in charge, who cannot do anything expect try to catch up on decades of poor assumptions about health care.

And by the way, the leaders care mainly about themselves. It is always `what`s in it for me`.  For these leaders the day-after corona  is the real nightmare-not The Plague that we plebs are experiencing. 










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Another letter from Tel Aviv

Before I fall asleep at night, thoughts pass through my mind until “sleep knits up the ravelled sleeve of care/”. In the past few years, these thoughts have focused on Montreal winters, summer jobs I had, lost love, my Dad, and the roller-coaster of my life, for indeed, my life has been far from routine.

Ever since the virus has erupted, different and less personal thoughts find their way into my rambling thoughts before I slip away for the night.

For example, what was it like listening to propaganda in a fascist or communist state? Being exposed to Goebbels’ vile rubbish or reading Streicher’s shitty, shameless, vile rag? Or getting the news from Pravda? Or gulping up then-Peking’s Ren Min Ri Bao? How long did/does it take to inculcate nonsense, hatred, or stupidity into someone’s head?

Another example, if liberty and freedom are such key values why is it so easy to shut people up in their homes? Why are those guilty of under spending on health care the same people locking us up at home and shoving fear down our throat? How did we cave in so easily?

I have no answers to these questions. However I do hope things will change. Unlike Bernie Sanders who after a heart attack wants to be president, I want to spend my remaining years doing the things I love-but I do hope change will come from those, younger than me, who will not succumb to tyranny on steroids, powered by smartphones.

During the day, other thoughts occupy my mind after I have walked George, exercised, read, blogged and spoken to friends, After all, it’s only 11 AM. What has happened to the voice of expertise, which is totally overwhelmed by social media? Where is the voice of dissent which could be saying, “there is a very nasty virus going around, keep your distance and wash your hands”, allowing life to continue? Is death so taboo that we need lock everyone up? Where the fuck is common sense? Maybe I am the crazy one? “Allonchik, you always look at everything differently; that’s why you married me”, claimed my late wife Hadassah.

Yes, she called me Allonchik-a diminutive of Allon, although I am anything but small.

There will be time. There will be time.  There will be time. Time when I will not agree to be locked up in a cage by people who are “caring for my wellbeing” by denying me my basic freedom. But in the meantime, I stay indoors.

I feel like Hans Falada-a stranger in my own land.




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Managing priorities in a crisis is not a tea party-it is more like a heavyweight boxing match with a bear. You will get hit. Fall down 6 times, get up 7.


There is thick underworld of brush which prevents organizations from actually focusing on their priorities in everyday life.

As a matter of fact, I’ve got a little list of what  the underbrush looks and feels like.

Just to name a few-hidden agendas of various senior managers all trying to maximize their influence; semi competent people who are “just good enough” to do a mediocre job; historic compromises in staffing due to legacy contributions; rituals which take up too much time; time spent babysitting between departments whose troops battle with one another; time wasted on failing projects which are being given another chance.

When facing a huge crisis, managing priorities becomes a matter of life and death, To make matters worse, almost all priorities change overnight. Cash-flow and credit become a major issue, supply chains become disrupted, reduction of force becomes an immediate necessity and after a short time, the crisis dictates basic survival jungle warfare, even for the fittest of companies.

In a crisis mode, it may appear that everything becomes urgent and there is no time to deal with the burning issues on the table. However, I have witnessed highly successful managers deal with crisis effectively;  I want to share a bit of my experience, limiting myself to 5 key takeaways for managers at all levels.

  1. Define the most urgent and important issues that only you yourself can handle.
  2. When you find yourself doing something else, act swiftly to ensure that you focus only on items in #1. This may mean that you have to make staffing changes, outsource or take more risks
  3. If need be, replace your senior management team with a war cabinet, consisting of the key players needed to cope with the issues which necessitate  interdepartmental action. Often the war cabinet consists of your senior management team plus a few experts and minus the low performers.
  4. Let some balls fall. Managing in a crisis is akin to juggling with far too many balls in the air. Some will fall and break. When they fall, they fall. Focus on  those balls still in the air.
  5. Managing priorities in a crisis is not a tea party-it is more like a heavyweight boxing match with a bear. You will get hit. Fall down 6 times, get up 7.  

And again, thanks to Dr  Eva Rimbau for pressing me to elaborate on a previous post.





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Why do some some people surprise us and either shine/fail in a crisis?

Let’s take a look at Anna who works as a cashier is large hardware store in Raanana* Israel. Until the corona crisis broke out, Anna was just one of the gang. She came on time, brought a sandwich from home, ate lunch with her shift buddies, slowed down to punish problematic customers, and gave somewhat more personalized service to the nicer people.

Anna’s academic achievements were always poor; she married the wrong guy and now she regrets it. She reads the newspaper and has her nails done once a month. She has one son and two dogs. Plain Anna.  But now, she shines. Anna is fearless. All her life, she has never known fear.

Ever since corona broke out, Anna works very hard, projects a super positive attitude and serves as an inspiration for her coworkers. Why? Because her fearlessness has given her a clear advantage.  Until now, it  has never counted for much; in the crisis, she shines with a charming resilience.

Anna shows up every day, has a super positive attitude, helps people bag their goods, and carries on friendly conversation with the customers. At lunch she calms down her anxiety-ridden colleagues. Anna has become a leader.

Let’s now look at Alex. Alex is the deputy manager of the hardware store where Anna works. Alex is orderly, highly disciplined, emotionally withdrawn, reserved yet very fair. A bit too fair for the relationship-driven culture of Israeli society.

If someone has a nickname, Alex never uses it. Roberto is Roberto not Bobby; Svetlana remains Svetlana and not Svet;  Anna remains Anna and not Anya.

Until the crisis broke out, the staff obeyed Alex, mildly disliked him and his humourlessness but did what  they were told  because he controlled the “extra hours” budget, with extra hours bagging a 180% premium.

In the crisis, there are no extra hours. As a matter of fact, no one (except Anna) wants to work. Alex’s cold disposition has crippled his ability to control staff. Just yesterday, Alex told Svetlana to take her earphone out, and Svetlana told Alex, in Russian, to carry out a certain sexual activity with his mother. All the cashiers laughed, and started putting in their earphones as well.

In the past, Alex would have fired Svetlana on the spot. Now, finding a cashier is like finding an honest politician;  Alex’s leadership is ruined.

When the context of work changes, the skills which are valued change-and so some people shine and others fall flat on their face.

And thanks to Dr Eva Rimbau for giving me the idea for this post.


*Raanana was founded by my grandfathers’ brother and sister-Uncle Jack  and Auntie Ida with the beginning of the British mandate which took over Ottoman-controlled Palestine.



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Is it possible to offer leaders any meaningful support in this crisis?

The organization development practitioner is not tooled to support managers in a crisis of the present dimensions. As it is, the standard OD practitioner over-relies on outdated values, pre-packaged tool kits and one-size-fits-all products. The present crisis is way  over the head of our profession as it has been degenerated in the past two decades.

Furthermore, the severe cash flow problem of clients will put most OD practitioners out of work almost immediately. The externals will go first, quickly followed by the internals. So a few of us may have something to say, but no one will have money to pay.

And this is a war, not an organizational crisis. The enemy is invisible, but there is as a war going on. Even In civilian organizations, OD is, at best, a luxury.

But OD in the military is not a luxury, because the army is geared for severe crisis. I was lucky enough to serve as an OD consultant in the military, both in peace and in 2 wars. Thus, I do have a few tidbits of advice which I have put together. Here are a few ideas that managers might want to consider.

  1. There is no time to waste.  Control priorities by strong focus and massive de-focus. 
  2. Over-communicate your key messages. Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them.
  3. Be aware that some very average people can shine in a crisis. Furthermore, some top performers crack under pressure.
  4. Promise nothing, because you just don’t know. Your credibility is your most important asset.
  5. Be fair, because when this crisis ends, and it will, being fair is what you will be most remembered for.
  6. Encourage short cuts however, don’t throw the rule book down the toilet because an organization can easily spin into chaos. Manage the balance between fast and orderly, re-calibrating the balance constantly..
  7. The more pressure there is, the more important it is to remain calm when addressing others. If you cannot do so, I have no advise for you.
  8. Sideline incompetent people around you as soon as possible, if at all possible.
  9. When in doubt, encourage fierce opposition to the ideas you propose, and once you have made a decision, enforce with heavy hand if necessary,
  10. Never forget the day after. As I mentioned before, when the crisis ends, you will only be as strong as your honesty, integrity and sense of calm that you have projected in these most difficult of days.





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A letter from Tel Aviv

Dear readers,

The streets are empty; there is a run-on-food and its derivative, toilet paper, and the present battle against an invisible enemy has struck more fear into peoples’ hearts than the very many missiles which have been lobbed at us from Gaza.

During the many attacks on Israel, the major worry of most Israelis has been “where do I find parking”, even though a warhead may be flying at you. But corona has succeeded in instilling fear where Hamas and Hezbollah failed.

How has this impacted me? Well I am seventy years old, and fit as a fiddle except for back pain which I have had all my life. According to the TV medical experts of which there are many, I am in a threatened target group, not only because of my age, but because I had asthma in the past. Of course, fat people, smokers, alcoholics, drug addicts, workaholics appear to be better off than a fit 70 year old-which says a lot about all the expertise that floats to the service during a crisis.

It’s my experience that the number of experts stands in reverse relation to their ability to solve the problem. The more experts, the fewer solutions. Israel has more Middle East experts than a cow has flies near its butt. Back ache specialists are a dime a dozen-and the conflict is a hundred years old and my back still hurts.

My guess is that mass media’s peddling all this fear will backfire. At one point, people are going to say if everything is so dangerous, I might as well have a good time, get drunk, have sex and a good meal before I am struck down. But of course, media has become a source of entertainment, and this is a great story. I am sure that clap or genital warts have infected more people than corona in the last few months, certainly in Tel Aviv. But that’s not the story de jour.

And if you ask me, the government is peddling fear because as long as the public fears, the anger won’t be turned on the government, which has paid for many ridiculous things over the last decade except for health care. We have promoted Jewish education in the diaspora, financed many religious causes, built illegal settlement, purchased a plane for Netanyahu, developed warheads that can kill a mosquito on a terrorists’ bum in downtown Tehran, but our health care lack sufficient bandwidth. So of course the politicians want the public to fear. It’s working till now, because the Israelis know how to complain, but have yet to turn their complaints into action.

The only thing that really worries me more than choking to death is the breakdown of social order. It’s a matter of weeks until mass poverty takes the spotlight; most people need two salaries to survive. Older people need their savings which are being ravaged. Soon, there will be no economic life left at all. So instead of people dying of corona, they may die in civilian strife. A lot of the solidarity I read about on social media is a lot of hokum. In the end, it will take massive force to maintain law and order when there is no money left. That’s my worry-the breakdown of social order, not coughing and a fever.

So my dear readers, no OD today, just the ramblings of yours truly on yet another day of gruesome isolation.

Be well.



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