Friday, September 21, 2007

A dispute over a black Labrador dog

Here is a Tel Aviv story that is appropriate for Yom Kippur.

The story begins with an angry, violent confrontation in a local park one Sabbath morning this past spring. Passing through the park on my way to the beach, I saw one of my neighbors talking with a couple whom I didn't recognize.

Forty-five minutes later, on my way home, I noticed that they were still there, and two police officers had joined them. The strangers had a black Labrador retriever on a leash. My neighbor claimed the dog was her family's pet, Bobby, who had been missing for months.

Tempers were high. My neighbor's knees were skinned from having been dragged on the ground when she fought with the strangers over the leash. Each side was talking about bringing charges against the other.

By the time I got there, my neighbor was displaying photo albums containing pictures of the family with Bobby over the years. She had sent one of her children home to fetch the pictures.

My neighbor was in a fighting mood. She said she would file a complaint against one of the officers. She demanded his name and asked, "Why did you call me a crazy woman?"

"Because that's how you were behaving."

A dozen or so people sitting on benches in the park were minding their own business, apparently having tired of the dispute.

In the end, the police let the strangers leave with the dog. They told my neighbor they would file a report on the incident, and she could pursue the matter in court if she wished.

My neighbor went home angry. The next day, she went to police headquarters to get the report. The police would not give her the names of the couple. All they would give her was the strangers' identity numbers. Armed with this information, my neighbor went to the Interior Ministry's population registry and got their names and address. She learned that they live a few blocks away.

At this point, my neighbor sat down and wrote a letter to the strangers. She apologized for her angry behavior toward them.

After the letter was delivered, the man stranger telephoned. He, too, apologized.

The strangers agreed to discuss the matter. They said they had found their dog on a neighborhood street. If the dog turned out to be the real Bobby, the strangers wanted to be reimbursed for 2,000 shekels they had laid out for food and veterinary bills. My neighbor and her husband agreed.

The strangers agreed to take the dog to a veterinarian for an identity test. Bobby had a scar on his neck. When the disputed dog's collar came off, no scar was evident. My neighbors asked the veterinarian to shave the fur from the dog's neck. The scar was there.

Bobby came home. So ends the prelude.

Not long after that, the strangers got in touch with my neighbors and announced that they now have a black Labrador of their own, adopted from the local animal shelter.

The families have all become friends. They dogsit for each other. The former strangers went abroad for a few weeks, and their black Lab came to stay with Bobby and his family. When my neighbors went away for a long weekend, Bobby stayed with the former strangers.

The Yom Kippur connection? This is a time when much of the country is busy with rituals, prayers and theoretical discussion on themes of apologizing and seeking forgiveness. This little story is about what happened in real life when two people actually apologized.

-- Joseph M. Hochstein, Tel Aviv

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Saturday, September 8, 2007

An official logo for Israel's 60th birthday

Probably you have heard the definition of a camel---a horse designed by a committee.

Above is a work of graphic design chosen by a committee.

It is the official symbol for Israel's 60th-anniversary celebrations in 2008. A committee of five government ministers picked it this week from six competing entries.

At first glance, the winning logo seems to express the confusion that afflicts Israel in many ways today. Even the country's name is typographically ripped apart.

(UPDATE: They repaired the country's name in time for the May 8 independence celebrations.)

The logo is intended to express the theme that children are the future of the country.

A partner in a public-relations firm that made the logo explained:

"We chose a design that combines flow with innovation. It is an Israeli logo that expresses optimism which comes from hope and great faith. Our logo tells the story of the country. The loops of the blue ribbon that make the "60" are the symbol of the struggles and hardships of the country in its 60 years, but through optimistic eyes---with a movement of upward flight and growth. The Star of David stands as a stable, strong beacon. At the head of the camp and leading everyone, connecting it all, is the child---our future, our hope, our tomorrow, of all of us...."

The pr firm clearly understood what the government committee would buy, although one member, Yitzhak Cohen of the Shas Party, said the child needs a haircut.

The logo is a product of Arad Communications, whose president is Eyal Arad, a strategic advisor to present and past Israel prime ministers. Lior Chorev, who managed Prime Minister Olmert's election campaign, became managing director of the firm in April.

The firm lists among its clients the Jewish Agency, the Kadima party, the Egged bus cooperative, the Israel Electric Corp., the Herzlia Conference, the Haaretz newspaper, the country's Coca Cola bottler, Israel Weapon Industries, and fashion brands including Ralph Lauren and Giorgio Armani.

Before the ministerial committee made its choice, the Israeli web portal Walla asked its users to vote on the six competing logos.

With 1,173 Walla users voting, the official logo finished in fourth place. A less-complicated design won the Walla vote---60 small stars of David forming one big Star of David, above the slogan "Israel 60."

What the winning logos do not show is that Israel is bursting with talent in many creative fields. The government did not involve the public in the logo project. No competition took place among graphic-arts students, nor was any panel or jury of established Israeli designers set up.

---Joseph M. Hochstein, Tel Aviv


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Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Hebrew mail service: everywhere, for everyone

Tel Aviv is the only place where I have received a registered letter while walking down the street.

I mention this by way of responding to a suggestion that local journalists write articles about their experiences with the mail. The suggestion came from a dissatisfied postal customer, who proposed the theme "Israel's shoddy postal service."

I don't have any horror stories to offer. Here, instead, are a few generally positive words about Hebrew mail service.

The Hebrew motto in the logo (above) claims that the postal service is "everywhere, for everyone." This is a characteristically Israeli boast. On the one hand, it is an overstatement. On the other hand, it expresses good intentions and some reality.

One day when our neighborhood mail carrier was on his appointed rounds, he spotted me on the other side of the street a few blocks from my home. He called out and waved me over. When I crossed the street, he presented me with a registered letter.

This personal touch makes Tel Aviv different from other places where I have received mail, including Manhattan and Washington.

In Tel Aviv, clerks at the counter of the local branch post office know me, too.

The clerks have to do more than sell stamps and handle mail. Other services of the branch include foreign currency exchange, money transfers, fax transmission, and a savings bank. The branch sells international telephone calling cards and local electronic parking cards. The languages heard across the counter include not only Hebrew and English but Russian, Spanish and French.

In the main, these clerks are efficient and remarkably patient.

When decisions aren't up to the clerks, it is a different story. Seldom does a supervisor show up if a customer with a problem becomes loud or disruptive. Waiting lines are sometimes longer than necessary. The coin-operated photocopy machine at the branch seldom works. A broken venetian blind went neglected and unrepaired for years.

Generally the shortcomings at this branch post office show that management is weak and consumerism isn't strong. Like much else in Israel, the good side of the service is determined by the people who actually perform the work and not by their bosses or customers.

-- Joseph M. Hochstein, Tel Aviv

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