“As clay are we, as soft resilient clay, that lies beneath the fingers of the potter”

 

At his will, he molds us thick or thin- from Wiki

In late September or early October every year, Dad would inevitably take me to synagogue for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This was in spite the fact that he sent me to a Protestant school and our home was totally, I mean totally, non observant.

There were three trips (by car) back and forth to synagogue on that day. The eve of Yom Kippur for Kol Nidre (All our vows) -the next morning from 1000 till about noon, and then at 500 PM for Neila (closing of the sky when one’s  fate is sealed), which my Dad called the ‘final stretch’.

Now we lived in Ville St Laurent where there was a synagogue but it was too ‘orthodox’ for my Dad, so we drove to the  Town of Mount Royal, aka TMR, to Beth El Synagogue on 1000 rue Lucerne. We parked quite a distance away and then pretended to walk to synagogue, because you are not supposed to drive, not only fast.

The rabbi, Allan Langer, would often comment that it was ‘so nice to see so many people’, or say something like ‘lots a faces I remember from last year’, alluding to the fact that no one attended during services during the year. My Dad would mumble that ‘that’s a snide f–king comment’. I reminded Dad that he was in a synagogue, and he reminded me to ‘remember who I was talking to’, in good humour.

The prayers included long lists of sins for which we need to repent…sins committed willingly and unwillingly, sins of the flesh, of the bottle, or usury, what have you. As we read this list of sins in unison, my Dad would comment that ‘they are throwing the whole God damned book at me’. I told Dad that he could skip over a few if he was innocent, but he insisted on going thru all of them. I would ask him if smoking was a sin, and he told me to ‘shut up and pray’.

Dad

Every hour or so, Dad would go out for a smoke, hiding in an alley or a sidestreet. He would tell me that if the rabbi asks where he is, ‘cover for me’.

When Cantor Willy Finer got on the podium to sing, it was a different story. Willy and Dad were in the Royal Canadian Air Force together, and Dad told me to show respect, ‘and I’m not kidding’. There was no good humour in that. Dad and Cantor Willy often traded off colour jokes or reminisced about world war two. When Willy died, Dad cried.

Dad had interesting observations during the service. ‘See that guy three rows ahead, the blond guy. He’s with the mob. What the hell is he doing here every year’? Or ‘hear that guy in the back row on the right, he comes from a very observant background, but when his old man dies, he’ll be outta here like a bat out of hell’.

During Yom Kippur services, one must rise and sit down very often. The rabbi calls out ‘all rise’ then you ‘may be seated’. Often it’s an up and down game. My Dad used to tell me that the rabbi should ‘make up his —–g mind’.

During Yom Kippur, my Dad would not answer the question if he ate or not. I knew that he ate by the sound of the fridge opening and closing which I heard from my room, I would ask ‘who’s in the kitchen, is that you Dad?’ And there was never an answer.

As a kid, I tried to fast a few times, but it was hard. Then I fasted from the age of 18 till I was 38, when my wife got sick. I have not fasted since then, and I am soon to be 71.

The only prayer that I really loved was “As raw material in the hand of a craftsman”, a line of which is the tile of this post.

One of Dad’s challenges on Yom Kippur was knowing what the football score was. My Dad was a professional football player for two years, so he used to bring along a transistor radio, and tell me to “go out and get the latest score”.

For years and years, Yom Kippur is just another day and I have no regrets whatsoever about this. But I do miss Dad and his ambivalent relationship with tradition, which I admit rubbed off on me.

Beth El Montreal

כִּי הִנֵּה כַּחֹמֶר בְּיַד הַיּוֹצֵר
בִּרְצוֹתוֹ מַרְחִיב וּבִרְצוֹתוֹ מְקַצֵּר
כֵּן אֲנַחְנוּ בְיָדְךָ חֶסֶד נוֹצֵר
לַבְּרִית הַבֵּט וְאַל תֵּפֶן לַיֵּצֶר

כִּי הִנֵּה כָּאֶבֶן בְּיַד הַמְסַתֵּת
בִּרְצוֹתוֹ אוֹחֵז וּבִרְצוֹתוֹ מְכַתֵּת
כֵּן אֲנַחְנוּ בְיָדְךָ מְחַיֶּה וּמְמוֹתֵת
לַבְּרִית הַבֵּט וְאַל תֵּפֶן לַיֵּצֶר

כִּי הִנֵּה כַּגַּרְזֶן בְּיַד הֶחָרָשׁ
בִּרְצוֹתוֹ דִּבֵּק לָאוּר וּבִרְצוֹתוֹ פֵּרַשׁ
כֵּן אֲנַחְנוּ בְיָדְךָ תּוֹמֵךְ עָנִי וָרָשׁ
לַבְּרִית הַבֵּט וְאַל תֵּפֶן לַיֵּצֶר

כִּי הִנֵּה כַּהֶגֶה בְּיַד הַמַּלָּח
בִּרְצוֹתוֹ אוֹחֵז וּבִרְצוֹתוֹ שִׁלַּח
כֵּן אֲנַחְנוּ בְיָדְךָ אֵל טוֹב וְסַלָּח
לַבְּרִית הַבֵּט וְאַל תֵּפֶן לַיֵּצֶר

כִּי הִנֵּה כִּזְכוּכִית בְּיַד הַמְזַגֵּג
בִּרְצוֹתוֹ חוֹגֵג וּבִרְצוֹתוֹ מְמוֹגֵג
כֵּן אֲנַחְנוּ בְיָדְךָ מַעֲבִיר זָדוֹן וְשׁוֹגֵג
לַבְּרִית הַבֵּט וְאַל תֵּפֶן לַיֵּצֶר

כִּי הִנֵּה כַּיְרִיעָה בְּיַד הָרוֹקֵם
בִּרְצוֹתוֹ מְיַשֵּׁר וּבִרְצוֹתוֹ מְעַקֵּם
כֵּן אֲנַחְנוּ בְיָדְךָ אֵל קַנֹּא וְנוֹקֵם
לַבְּרִית הַבֵּט וְאַל תֵּפֶן לַיֵּצֶר

כִּי הִנֵּה כַּכֶּסֶף בְּיַד הַצּוֹרֵף
בִּרְצוֹתוֹ מְסַגְסֵג וּבִרְצוֹתוֹ מְצָרֵף
כֵּן אֲנַחְנוּ בְיָדְךָ מַמְצִיא לְמָזוֹר תֶּרֶף
לַבְּרִית הַבֵּט וְאַל תֵּפֶן לַיֵּצֶר.

Like the clay in the hand of the potter-
he expands it at will and contracts it at will-
so are we in Your hand, O Preserver of kindness,
look at the covenant and show thy mercy.

Like the stone in the hand of the cutter-
he grasps it at will and smashes it at will-
so are we in Your hand, O Source of life and death,
look to the covenant and show thy mercy.

Like the ax-head in the hand of the blacksmith-
he forges it at will and removes it at will-
so are we in Your hand,
O Supporter of poor and destitute,
look at the covenant and show thy mercy.

Like the anchor in the hand of the sailor-
he holds it at will and casts it at will-
so are we in Your hand,
O good and forgiving God,
look to the covenant and show thy mercy.

Like the glass in the hand of the blower-
he shapes it at will and dissolves it at will-
so are we in Your hand,
O Forgiver of willful sins and errors,
look to the covenant and show thy mercy.

Like the curtain in the hand of the embroiderer-
he makes it even at will and makes it uneven at will-
so are we in Your hand,
O jealous and vengeful God,
look to the covenant and show thy mercy.

Like the silver in the hands of the silversmith-
he adulterates it at will and purifies it at will-
so are we in Your hand,
O Creator of cure for disease,
look to the covenant and show thy mercy.

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Observations on political leadership in the age of Corona

For the life of me, I cannot understand why people are so disappointed by the quality of political leadership during this plague.

Let’s look at what leaders need to do in order to get elected. They need to distort the truth, promise things and renege, divide and conquer, please as many people as often as possible , explain away complexities and compromise core beliefs in order to build as wide a power base as possible. None of these skills are in any way relevant to the challenges of coping with Corona.

How do elected politicians communicate? They hammer home simplistic messages and sloganize; they work with professionals who wordsmith away obstacles, stepsidding controversy when needed and create controversy out of non issues. But dealing with Corona presents challenges that are hard to comprehend, involve balancing between complex forces and present  issues that are very hard to communicate.

What drives politicians? Being elected again. Dominating palace intrigue. Pleasing people with populistic garbage. Once again-not all that relevant to coping effectively with corona.

I don’t understand why people expect Trump to tell them to wear a mask. Trump wants to be get reelected, that’s all. And he assumes that telling people to wear masks will not serve his purpose. So why the disappointment? Who are the dumb ones-the leader or the disappointed?

There are very few political leaders who care anything else except for the skin on their own asses. And the sooner that people realize it, the healthier we will all stay. Get smart and take care of yourselves.

 

 

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Israel is losing its battle with Corona-and here’s why

With 3000 new cases a day, Israel is ranked at present as number one in the ratio of corona cases per million inhabitants.

And there are very good reasons why this has happened. I want to point out the major ones,  most of which stem from Israeli culture, which has been a periodical subject of articles in this blog.

  1. Everything in Israel is political. Sports, flight schedules, licensing food outlets, planning bus lines, advertising, accreditation of universities; you name it. Because of our political system, or lack thereof, neither the left or the right can form a government without the ultra-religious factions, and so-most decision making serve as a platform to placate the ultra-religious minority. In the case of corona, religious politicians want to preserve their style of communal life, which means life-as-usual.
  2. Due to their life-style dominated by lots of family-based activities, large families living in cramped quarters and large study halls for religious studies, the ultra orthodox cities and neighbourhoods are petri dishes for breeding corona. Yet the political power that they hold (see 1), prevents decision making which would negatively impact their way of life.
  3. Arab Israelis have a lifestyle rich in family occasions with multiple generations in one home. They also tend to view themselves as victims all the time, and dish out blame and responsibility to the state at the same time as not fully cooperating. This mentality when coupled with religious based fatalism creates a “what will be will be” mentality, which impacts the lack of mask wearing and social distancing.
  4. The secular Israeli community are sprint runners. Creative, highly undisciplined, innovative and short cutters, this community has created a plethora of innovations in telefonia, agriculture, water management, IT solutions, fintech,  traffic control and what have you. Most of this has been done by doing things differently and challenging common accepted practice. This community can solve impossible problems, but cannot deal with problems that need routine and discipline. “We can outsmart problems” is a typical mindset of this sector. Which is the major reason why almost all Israel innovation gets acquired by companies abroad and does not scale up from Israel; our behaviours are not disciplined or scalable. Fighting corona entails following routine with discipline. Need I say more! 
  5. Israel is held together by a state of conflict with our Lebanese, Syrian and Iranian neighbours. Other than that, there is very little cohesion between the sectors of Israelis society. We all go to different schools; we do not pay the same level of tax; the threads which bind us together are very thin. The solidarity needed to fight corona is totally non existent. For example, when the government wants to limit prayer to 20 people, it quickly comes to “we cannot agree to limit prayer participation if people flock to the beach by the thousand”. So no decision gets made.
  6. There is very little enforcement in Israel, except for tax collection and speeding. Everyone has an excuse and the heavy hand of enforcement just isn’t there.
  7. The political elite  initially set down a list of limitations on public behaviour and then were the first to violate them, caught red handed. So leadership lost the trust of the masses. No one believes anything that leadership says anymore.
  8. Israelis have the capacity to live in very tough situations for the longest time. In other words, life can and does go on as we absorb a severe and constant beating. So Corona has become another missile from Gaza or Lebanon, that is, something that you need to live with. This ability to live along side of tragedy is a gift, yet a two pronged sword as well.

So what will happen? My guess is that when the virus subsides, it will subside here as well. Israel is like a boxer with a glass chin. We have a great punch, but corona has landed a left hook and we are out on our feet. Or, when someone finds a vaccine, the nightmare will end. Until then, wish us luck.

 

 

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Yet another game changer

Although I chose a profession which deals in ‘changing’, I am a very conservative person, firmly set in my ways. Perhaps that is the very reason I am in the OD profession, specializing in my own disability.

I try to maintain constant routines: eat at the same restaurants, maintain long friendships, maintain a very small wardrobe, walk my dog on the same path, vacation in the same places, listen to the same songs on my very long list of spotify favourites.

Even Pat had noticed once that I was ‘set in my ways’.

Change is usually foisted upon me by game changers.

These game changers have included receiving a phone call in 1987 from my late wife at work that the diagnosis of her dermatology biopsy was malignant melanoma, and that I needed to come home immediately because she was on her way to the hospital for an existion. Hadassah died 6 years later.

Another game changer was my first few days in basic training when I understood how difficult this was to be for me.  And it was very, very difficult because I had been assigned to  ‘May recruitment’ which consisted of people with very poor levels of education, minor juvenile delinquents, and people who grew up in tough areas. My life in basic training was hell on earth.

Naturally becoming a parent was a massive game changer, and still requires constant change and adaptation. And becoming a good parent, well, that’s a constant game changer which never stops to challenge any person, set in their ways or more adaptive. (I have probably not received high marks, yet ).

And of course, corona is a major, big time game changer. Getting old is something that I have found challenging to adapt to, but I have come to somehow accept my growing limitations, which mainly consist of slowing down, just a bit, due to aches and pains. I have even somehow adapted to seeing doctors from time to time, despite my abject terror at every single visit to an MD. But I cannot seem to get used to the changes that corona has imposed.

The mask, the distancing, the fear, the closing down of theaters and adult education, the death of air travel, the collapse of our government’s ability to function, the endless flow of bad news from fake sources and horrendous panic-mongering journalists, the inability of many sectors of our population to take responsibility , the sickening politicians -it’s truly ghastly and emotionally crippling.

Yes, there are all kinds of people who manage to ‘make the best of a bad situation’, and I guess I do as well, but it is a very dismal and tough period which is not going away. That’s the real rub. It’s not like having pneumonia (3 times) when I was reassured ‘in a few weeks you will be fine’.

Because Corona is not going away,  I find that I need to do one of two things, neither of which is very helpful-to think about it, and not to think about it. Thinking about it gets me nowhere and not thinking about it is impossible, because there is no respite.

For those who are making lemonade out of lemons, enjoy the drink. I am still struggling for a way to adapt to the new reality, which I detest.

 

 

 

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Skills and competencies in the age of Corona

This is an extraordinarily difficult  time during which to manage.

The odds leaders face are almost insurmountable, yet some are doing much better than others in navigating this awful, prolonged mess.

I have observed people shining, and I’m sharing what I have seen as working.

Project calmness

In her masterpiece Becoming, Michelle Obama describes how Barack Obama would become calmer and calmer in the face of challenge. The harder the challenge, the more calm he projected. This was a great gift for the people who surrounded him.

No doubt, this is one of the greatest assets one can have as a leader in the age of corona, nor only in politics, but in business as well.

One day at a time

This is no time for long term vision, dreaming and wow-wowing. No one knows where this is leading, and almost everything we know and do is being threatened. We are not creating reality; we are responding to exogenic forces which are shaping our reality. Some days are bad and others are worse. One day at a time projects a realistic platform onto which people can hold,and this creates trust.

Fairness

Fairness is the ultimate ersatz currency in an time when costs can be chopped, perks cut, and people axed with the drop of a hat.The return on investment for being fair is at its  peak.

Being there

Elifaz, Bildad and Zofar who came to comfort Job waited seven days before they started providing him with (some say) misguided advice. They were just there for him. Being out there, available and present, is yet another powerful tool for your folks, who are, like you, seeing everything around them crumble.

 

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OD in the age of Corona

Luckily I have been fully employed since the corona  shutdown was lifted; some economic activity has returned, albeit certainly not to “Normal,” RIP.

Managers are rethinking every aspect of work that is humanly possible in order to survive: cost cutting, downsizing, choppy choppy and hacky-hacky, eliminating layers of management, redesigning work-space and dealing with health and safety regulations. The work domain is an absolute nightmare.

On the way home from north of Israel to home (Tel Aviv) last week after a day of work, I closed down my Audible book (on the life of Disraeli) and pondered  how has OD challenged itself recently vis a vis its skill set, relevance, diagnostic techniques and methods of intervention, to adapt itself to survive.  Whilst there is a lot of great stuff going on about telecommuting and trust building in a virtual environment , it is but a small component of the need for reinventing OD for the current environment.

In what ways does OD need to be re-invented? By the time I answered  this question,I was already half-way home. The answer I gave myself (as I passed by Nazareth) was that we need to be faster, more short term focused, less non-directive and far more creative, shaking off values which hold us back from being relevant.

This is a tall order for a profession so enamored by its past, that it fails to introspect and acknowledge the relevance of some Oriental values (such as discretion) over Occidental values (authenticity)  in global organizations.

I got home, went up to get my bathing suit which I had typically forgotten, and headed off to swim, just before the misguided Israeli government closed our pools, only to reopen them the next day.

 

 

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From bad to worse: Corona in Israel

Israeli summers are hot and whilst wearing a mask, they are hotter. It is almost unbearable to wear a mask all the time when outside. But wear a mask I do, because Corona is everywhere. It is lurking in every meeting, in stores, on handles, and on elevator buttons. In car washes, on paper money, on buses, trains and on banisters.

Not in pools however. Because the pools are closed. Synagogues, where so many people have become ill, are open yet pools are closed. Yes, the virus has created a lot of hatred and sectarianism as well. As if that was lacking.

Every plan is tenuous because people are coming in and out of quarantine. And if  they are in quarantine and Zoom is being used,  be prepared for chaos  because for some very strange reason, Zoom has voice issues in Israel. Voice issues meaning no voice. Just to be clear.

Poverty is ubiquitous. Closed stores, depleted goods, grim faces and seething anger as things go from bad to worse.

My hands are raw from washing and I find it harder to go out of my home each day to work for fear that I will be infected. Indeed I am in (very) good shape for someone my age but I am, alas, a bit frightened. Strangely enough and against all odds, I have a lot of work, all of it face to face. We sit 2 meters apart with doors and windows open.

Recently I have been reading a lot of leadership biographies: de Gaulle, D’Israeli and Truman. I do wish someone like Truman was our leader now, or even like a Disraeli.

But we are led by ineffective, corrupt, and idiotic scum. Each member of our government fought battles about “who could reopen fastest”, and we all got fucked.

Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,
But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.

 

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6th letter from Tel Aviv-The Return of Corona… and Israeli culture

Yes-700 new cases a day and going strong. Corona is all over Israel. And the numbers are soaring. Five will get you ten old Mackie’s back in town.

It’s close to home as well. A verified Corona carrier swam at my country club three times (I was not there at the time); one Corona carrier ate at the Thai food joint I frequent one day after I last downed my ultra spicy corn soup and Phad Thai with tofu, and there are 4 recorded visits in a shopping centre near my home.

Israel which prided itself on an early flattening of the curve, now is getting the full monty. 

Initially, the response to the virus was based on paranoia, which is a national characteristic which we came by honestly given our history. The response was a fast a shutdown, followed by a severe and total curfew. Cases dropped off.

But paranoia is useful only for so long, especially when the enemy seems vanquished. Subsequently,  the next enemy surfaces, IE, the economy is destroyed. (And it is indeed destroyed). So all people need to back to work, immediately, now, which means we need to open schools instantly. Schnell!  No time for a plan.

The open schools let loose a massive number of  corona cases. From child to child to grandparent to old age homes. It’s everywhere.

Why no plan you may ask? Because Israeli culture is characterized by paranoia and improvisation. Planning is what others do. We act quickly, and then we’ll have time to figure things out on the fly. That’s a major component of Israeli culture.

But it did not work this time. Like a boxer who does see the opponent`s lightening punch, the back-to-school policy and lack of a plan when the shit hit the fan caused a disaster.  We have been knocked out. Not down, out. Corona is everywhere.

All this is exacerbated because our government is morally corrupt. So the scum at the top compete to open facilities such as movie theatres and sports matches as fast as possible. And Netanyahu is busy with his upcoming trial, and steps aside so that the stench of failure sticks to his enemies.

Indeed our government cares for the dead more than the living. The glorification of death gets more attention than the sanctity of life. The population is now blamed. For example a girl who did not feel well asked for a test. She was put through the grill of the Israeli bureaucracy (which has not yet decided who can be tested on demand) and denied the test-and she went on to infect 30 people. Yet politicians blame “youth, pubs, weddings and the beach.“

And to make things worse, the government is composed of either of indicted criminals, ex army hacks who are clearly clueless, lack-lustre conformists and survival agenda-driven, scum that floats to the surface from the bottom of the barrel of municipal politics or tycoon lobbyists. (Truman was so right about army men being useless in politics).

Let`s add to this a lack of discipline on the part of the public,  like the uneducated religious mob who either listen to rabbis (who have had their heads up their ass since the plague broke out), or the secular Israelis who tune into Israeli TV which is staffed by uninformed panic mongers, or more often to their smartphones.

With no clear, consistent plan in place, an incompetent government, systemic ignorance, a lack of discipline, too few regulations and almost no enforcement, a huge black cloud is moving in.

We are in deep trouble.

 

 

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Fifth Letter from Tel Aviv

With some of the corona-related  bans having been lifted, I am out and about again. To be honest, even during the lock-down, I did my daily nine kilometer walk wearing one mask or another, all of them suffocating in the summer heat.

I have also started to work again, my clients apparently not haven given up on me despite Israeli media’s constantly harping on the over 65 crowd’s upcoming extinction. To be a journalist in Israel during corona, you need to be under 25,  have a microphone, and suffer from a panic disorder.

Many stores near my home have folded. Those which have not folded are empty, or lines form outside so that only a number of clients can enter. Shopping is a nightmare ; the mood in public spaces is grim.

The dysfunction of our government is transparent-contradicting directions, finger pointing to shift blame, and a gross lack of personal example in leadership. The political crust of our society is pure scum, the bottle of the barrel. It is shocking, but not surprising; this is certainly not limited to Israel.

All adult education takes place on  line and as an adult-education junkie, I can bear about two hours of online learning a day, and that’s it. The best lectures I have heard over the last few weeks are “Stalin’s use of religious symbolism in Soviet propaganda”, and “Jews and Arabs in the Palestinian Police in the 1930’s”. Yes, esoteric. I know. And I have also started reading a lot about the pied noir of Algeria and Harry’s Truman’s presidency.

I have met with family and friends at restaurants, eating outside. Menus are digital; staff is semi compliant with regulations; and fear is looming  in the air.

We are presently experiencing the second wave of corona, with about 200 cases a day in a country with 9 million people. But there will be no more curfew, because the economy cannot take another blow. In many ways, the economy is out on its feet yet stumbling along.

However, it is infinitely better than it was during the shut down and “זה מה שיש”-that’s what there is.

And as Tuvya said, “and if our good fortune never comes, here’s  to whatever comes, drink l’chaim, to life”.

 

 

 

 

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The irrelevance of OD in combating racism

OD has absolutely nothing to bring the table to combat racism.

It is very “in” to try to lend a helping hand to combat racism, especially since the Floyd incident was recorded on an I phone.  “Social justice”, whatever that means, is often adopted by OD practitioners who are prone to try to change the world, not content with changing the organizations that they support.

Not only does OD has absolutely nothing to bring to the table; even worse, OD can do lot of damage by signing up to help.

Here are 3 major reasons why OD has no value to add.

Here is some of the damage that OD can bring to table in trying to combat racism.

 

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