The 60s and early 70s: some of my Jerusalem Flats

That  home of mine on Rehov (street) Shemaryahu near the Mandelbaum Gate which used to separate old from new Jerusalem was probably the closest I have ever come to, say, living in Baghdad or Teheran.  Shemaryau was actually an alley, not a street. And that home was actually sort of a room and a half, or even less. It was freezing cold all winter;  a kerosene cart, pulled by a horse, would pass by once every two days. Yael or I would run up and fill up a jerrycan of “solar” for our “fireside”. No, of course we did not have an actual fireside-the old kerosene heaters which often billowed smoke were called “firesides.” It took about 5 matches to lite the wick. And about ten minutes before the heater started to heat.

MANDELBAUM GATE-from wikicommons

Another feature of the Shmaryahu area was the old man who came by everyday yelling “alteh zachen”-which means “old things” or used items in Yiddish. The old man was an Arab-and he did speak some Yiddish, which I certainly don’t. Nor did Yael. She was, and still is, Yemenite.

Hisachon 2/2/2 was a different story all together. Located near the ultra-religious area of Beit vaGan in Jerusalem, Hisachon 2/2/2 was an old fashioned Soviet-like public housing, with each apartment having 3 very small rooms, broken mailboxes at the entrance and an unkempt public domain at the entrance. Unkempt, but clean. Each of the three“blocks” of Hisachon had 4 entrances. I was entrance 2. 2nd floor. Apartment 2. Hence  Hisachon 2/2/2. Hisachon by the way means “savings”. Appropriate, as you can see from the building in the forefront.

Soviet style public housing-Shikun hahisachon 2-from wikicommons


I shared that apartment in Hisachon with another soldier, Dany, who was born in Chile. We agreed on everything; the apartment needs to be clean; close the door when there are “guests”. Dany was to become an OD consultant as well. The best part of sharing an apartment with him was the number of books he read. Everything and anything I read, Dany had read before me. I lost all contact with him; he disappeared off the face of the earth. When Dany woke up, I could hear him whistling in the shower. He whistled well but one of his girlfriends smoked.

Stern 12 in Kiryat Yovel, Jerusalem was a royal pain in the ass. The 18 bus left me a 20 minute walk from the apartment, and in the extreme heat, that was no fun. But the 4 room apartment I shared had some interesting characters. Hans was a German student studying Yiddish literature at the Hebrew University. He spoke Hebrew with strongest German accent I ever encountered. Ilan came from an Israeli collective settlement and was almost never there, since he needed to work to finance his studies. And there was a newly married couple; she was American and he was Israeli. They hogged the kitchen and if you ask me, their marriage did not last. When I lived in Stern, I tried to learn Arabic. I spent hours up on the roof of Stern 12 with a small tape listening to Arabic. “Bas isma-wa-id vistarachah” “Just listen and answer in the break”. Yes-it was possible to sit on roof-and I loved to do so.

I had more apartments/rented rooms in Jerusalem. On Rehov Naftali in Baqa with Hadassah which is too painful to write about; in the Bucharim Quarter with a lady flatmate whose name I do not remember, and in Bayit va Gan.

Bucharin Quarter from Wiki

Now Jerusalem is an hour and a half drive from where I live, and thousands of years in the past.

Share Button

Backing your staff: a cultural perspective

Joe was supposed to report that the wiring in Station B had been fixed. However, Joe got a call from his wife and forgot to do so. As a result, Station B remained closed for one extra hour, causing a 5000 Euro loss.

Joe’s boss, Garth, told Joe that he had nothing to worry about. Garth sent out a mail saying that “I ordered that Joe wait an hour after the repair to be absolutely sure that there would be no need to close Station B again”.  Garth had backed Joe. 

Ed had far less luck. He showed up to work 20 minutes late, delaying the deployment of new equipment. Ed’s boss, Carmen, castigated Ed in a group Whatsapp for “chronic tardiness”. Carmen had not backed Ed.

Backing is a two edged sword. On one hand, there is an expecation is some cultures for automatic “artiliary cover” for errors and if and when there is an issue to be discussed, dirty linen needs to be washed so that no one else can see. On the other hand, backing can lead to cover up, lying, and constant blaming between groups.

I want here to relate to the cultural expectations around backing. In middle eastern, Asian and African societies, there is an expectation of benevolence from the superior which includes “backing as default”, and in return for that benevolence, there is obediance. In other societies, an expectation for transparency overrides the expecatiotion of “cover fire”, and thus, backing is often less automatic and not as being the default behaviour expected from managers.

In global organizations, backing is more complex. “Let’s take it offline” is a sign of backing, albeit obtuse. “Let me take care of it with HQ” is also a sign of backing. However, “Ned and Wu, I do not plan to babysit this issue, figure out how to deal with it on your own” is backing for Ned, who feels like he is being treated like an adult, and a slap in the face for Wu, who wanted the boss to step in and put Ned in his place, which Wu feels is not Wu’s job.

Here are a few guidelines I have developed for managers pondering what type of backing to provide?

1) Do I want to be consistent, or deal case by case?

2) Do I want to mold my employee’s expectations, or adapt myself to how s/he has been brought up and educated?

3) What behaviour will ensure that I myself am never surprised or lied to?

4) How can I give backing without concealing, and how can I be matter-of-fact without letting down my people?

And a short story to end. I was in Asia in a country that I certainly could not use my Israeli passport to get in. Mr T, the country manager, always backed his local people from the wrath of the Dutch based HQ when there was a policy infringement. I was working with Mr T about how he is (negatively) perceived in HQ. T was certain that if he lessened the backing he gave his people, “I will lose both HQ and my employees. Allon Sir, don’t force me into a lose-lose sitatuation”.

One more interesting insight for those interested in “backing” in China. The CCP (Mao in particular) was known for sending the people closest to him for re-education. Over time, it became clear that he backed almost one. However, when reads Vogel’s  biography of Deng, it is clear that Deng got very special conditions when he was send for re-education in the countryside (as a mechanic.) Btw, I am aware that this paragraph interests almost no one :).












Share Button