Friday, June 30, 2006

Small Updates (Now with a different picture!)

1- I recently finished reading Robinson Crusoe for the first time. Wow! What a story! I so wish I'd read it back in college, when it was first assigned to me. Now I really want to hear the lecture the professor gave about it. Wow. It was amazing!

I didn't realize how many religious themes run through that book. It's all about "who is happy? He who is satisfied with what he has" and "if you only knew how many horrible fates God saves you from every day, you'd spend your life perpetually on your knees, humbly giving thanks." I seriously feel like I'm a better Jew for having read Robinson Crusoe. Thanks, Daniel Defoe!

2- Last week, for a PR client, I attended the Taglit-birthright "mega-event" at the Latrun concert area. Seven thousand young people between the ages of 18-26, all on their first trip to Israel. The energy was amazing. So much enthusiasm! When the main event started and everyone was seated in the stadium, I looked around and thought "wow, if everyone in this group made Aliyah, they could fill up a town all by themselves."

That got me thinking about how there are over 5 million Jews in America, and only 3,000 a year or so make aliyah each year. That's far less than .1 percent. Meanwhile Israel is "converging" its way out of the West Bank largely because of "demographic issues." Gee. I think I see a solution here, what about you?

Actually, it's too late for that. The time for an American solution to the "demographic problem" in the West Bank was 20 years ago. It's too late now.

3- For another PR client, I recently interviewed Ethiopian-Israeli model and aspiring actress Esti Elias. She is beautiful, intelligent, and so nice. God, don't you just hate women like that? If someone is going to be a model, you want them to at least be dumb or mean. But noooooo, Esti has to go and be really sweet, and in law school.

4- I've picked up a new client, a famous pharmaceuticals company - I'll be helping to write their in-house company magazine. This might lead to long-term, stable work, and since I love writing about medicine and pharmaceuticals, please pray that it does!

5- I am still neck-deep in writing content for some magazines for Israeli children who are studying English. Who knew that I could create crossword puzzles from scratch?

6- Mazal tov to Ari and Sarah Beth and company, who moved yesterday into their new home! True, the contractor got behind schedule, so they have no electricity. Not all the pipes are getting water. And they have no stove and no oven. But their front door finally arrived two days ago, just in time to make sure that no wild cats, or burglars, get into the house. They have walls, floors, ceilings, and an electrical wire running from the contractor's house, so they can have a few lights, a working fridge, and some fans. No a/c though. In any case, mazal tov.

7- Last week was "life cycle events" week. I attended a wedding (Nili Chernikoff to Ezra Auerbach) and a bat mitzvah (Yaffa Matitya) in the same evening. Pretty crazy, but fun, and I only had to get dressed up one time. Mazal tov to all the families.

Then the next day, I headed into Efrat to pay a shiva call to Karen Avrech, nee Singer, who was in from Los Angeles mourning her father. How strange, to meet someone for the first time and yet already know so much about her because of her husband's blog! But she and her siblings were extremely gracious. I hope we'll get to meet again under happier circumstances.

8- My herb garden is doing quite nicely, though I had to pull out the dill -- some tiny bugs had chewed it to death. Strangely, they only liked the dill. Anyway the 2 basil plants, the mint, and the tarragon are growing like there's no tomorrow, and the rosemary, oregano, and parsely are doing OK. Most of the geraniums are healthy too. I can't believe I haven't killed these plants. And you know, fresh-from-the-window basil makes amazing pesto!

9- The apartment across the hall from me is up for rent, and I'd really like someone nice, and quiet, to move in there. In case anyone is interested, it's 2 bedrooms, 1 bath, with a porch in the back suitable for a succah. First floor (just up a few steps). Newly painted, and the owners also fixed some plumbing that was old, and installed new electric trissim - so the place is in pretty good shape. They are asking $750 per month, which is a really good deal, the way rents are going up. It's perfect for a couple, or a set of two roommates, or a couple with a small child. If you want more info, email me your phone number and I'll pass it along to the owners. My address is chayyeisarah at yahoo dot com.

Have a Shabbat shalom, everyone.
Great Service Gets Rewarded

After seeing his services advertised on the Nefesh B'Nefesh list, I recently hired Daniel Zahavi-Asa of ZahaviNet, Ltd. ("care for your small office/home office networks") to fix various computer troubles I was having. It was mostly things that I could have done myself, being somewhat computer savvy, but it took him a lot less time to do it, and he did it better than I would have, and time is money.

He installed my wireless router, so yes, I can now work on my laptop anywhere in my apartment. He configured the laptop to receive my email, so yes!, I can now work on my laptop and email files to clients, without having to go to Emek Refaim Street (you may note that I've owned this router for a year, and the laptop for a year and a half, and never bothered tweaking it so it would actually be useful to me -- that's how annoying this job seemed to me). He showed me how to painlessly move files from my desktop to my laptop. He gave me advice about where to buy a new printer and a new monitor. And -- this was his idea -- he mounted my 2 power strips to the back of my desk, so they are off the floor! My workspace looks so much neater now!

All in all, Daniel did a great job, in very little time, and was a true mensch. I recommend him highly. If you live in the Metro-Jerusalem area and need a "solution" for your small office problems, give him a call. The number is 057-726-5175.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

My Nephew The Toy

My newest nephew is 3 months old today.

His name is David.

He cries a lot.

In fact, the only way to make him not cry is to hold him.

He gets held a lot.

My brother-in-law, Luiz, has a, shall we say, creative sense of humor.

He turns David's bib around, so it's a cape, and makes David "fly" around the family room, while Luiz sings the Superman theme.

He stands on the stairs to the basement, holding David up by the ledge next to the kitchen, and makes it look like David is "walking" on the ledge. He sings the Oompa-Loompa song. The other nephews crack up. Puppet show!

As my sister says, "when you have to hold David all freakin' day, you gotta do something to entertain yourself."

Here is David's pre-pre-Purim costume.

Yes, he's Baby Arafat.

Here's a closeup.

Yes, my sister gave me permission to post these.

Despite the "kafiyyeh," is he not the cutest baby EVER?

He's so pudgy and cuddly-looking. Yummy little (huge) baby!
Two of my articles

Here's a feature story for Hadassah magazine, on foreign couples who get married in Israel. Click on "current issue" and then scroll down.

And here's the summer edition of AMIT magazine, for which I wrote the cover feature (and took the photos). See if you can catch two other stories I wrote under two different pseudonyms. (Hint: I love seagulls.)

“Like the sun setting in the afternoon”

I just got back from the funeral for Eliyahu Pinchas Asheri, the 18-year-old “mechina” student from the settlement of Itamar, who was kidnapped and shot this week by a Palestinian group called the Popular Resistance Committee.

I’ve never been to a funeral in Israel before, and this was kind of on impulse. I saw in the newspaper that Asheri’s funeral procession would start in Jerusalem’s Sanhedria neighborhood at 2:30, and thought “hey, I could go there!” So I called up a friend who also works from home, and has a car, and we went together. As Rabbi Kosman always says, "Never underestimate the power of your presence."

There were so many thoughts whirling through my head on the way there, and during the funeral itself. Too much to explain, so I’ll just describe the funeral to you.

We got there early (YES! Sarah got somewhere EARLY!) and I saw that the funeral “parlor” is really a large, bare auditorium with a podium on one side, and lots of standing room (no chairs). The auditorium was already full of people when I got there at 2:10, but I was early enough that my friend and I could get a place to stand in a corner between two open doors, so we caught a nice breeze. Inside, it was men in front and women in the back, but as time went on and an overflow crowd formed outside, I saw that outside it was more of a mishmash, genderwise. Almost everyone there was some flavor of religious – lots of dati leumi “national religious” types, who from their style of dress seemed to be settlers, and also lots of chareidim “ultra-Orthodox,” probably who live in Sanhedria.

At 2:40 they started reciting psalms over the loudspeaker. A rabbi would recite each verse, and the crowd would recite after him. Luckily I’d brought my prayer book or I’d have been completely lost.

After about half an hour, my friend needed more air-- it was very hot-- so we wove our way outside. I’d estimated that there were probably around 800 people inside the hall – and outside there were about another 800-1000, that I saw. We found a shady spot and continued following the psalms.

Then the family must have gone into the auditorium, because the microphone picked up the sounds of sobbing and continuous wailing. In Israel, they do not put the body in a coffin. It is wrapped in a linen shroud, so as to speed up its turning to dust. I did not see the family, and didn’t want to. Didn’t want to see the parents and brothers and sisters standing around the corpse of their dead son and brother.

Then came the speeches. There was less discussion about politics or revenge than I’d thought there might be. I heard the phrase “God will avenge you” only twice in an hour of speeches. The only overtly political statement I heard was that “our army is a wonderful army, a good army, who tried to protect Eliyahu and did everything they could. But we have a government who does not understand what is important, or who the enemy really is.” There was also a prayer by one of the rabbis that God should “protect the people of Itamar, both from their enemies and also from their brothers.”

When the speakers mentioned the circumstances of Eliyahu’s death, it was mostly in the context of “how sad that these barbarians people cut short such a beautiful life. When these murderers took Eliyahu from us, they took a special person.”


What interested me most were the speeches about what Eliyahu had been like. Every single speaker referred to him as a modest, spiritual, non-materialistic person, someone simple and kind who never liked to attract attention. Apparently, his prayers were inspiring; watching him pray was “watching someone with incredible closeness to God, a pure faith. Eliyahu’s prayers were a fiery torch.” The rabbi of Itamar said that when everyone else would exit the synagogue after services, Eliyahu was always still there, still praying. The head of his school said that it will be hard for him to look at the front right seat in the study hall, where Eliyahu always sat.

“The sun sets every night,” said a rabbi from Bnei Akiva. “It has done so every day since the beginning of the world, and we accept it as the way of things. But who has heard of the sun setting in the afternoon? Eliyahu was a sun. He was on his way to become a teacher of Torah, but was interrupted. The sun has set before its time.”

Unbelievably, Eliyahu’s mother found the strength to speak. She didn’t cry while she was talking – all the rabbis had been sobbing through their speeches – but quietly spoke to her son, with incredible simplicity and dignity.

“Eliyahu,” she said. “You always came to other people’s defense. In our home, when we judged others harshly, you always said not to judge, never to see someone based on their outward appearance. So gently and sweetly you came to the defense of others.”

“Now, Eliyahu, come to our defense. Use your extraordinary power of prayer, the prayer that we all admired, to act as our defense in Heaven. Ask God not to judge us harshly. Pray to Him to protect us, and pray to Him to help all of us to know him, for all of the Children of Israel to recognize Him, for He is our father.”

After the speeches, my friend and I opted not to escort the body to the Mt. of Olives, but to go home. As we wound our way out of the funeral building’s grounds, I saw that there were ANOTHER several hundred people on the street - I think the total attendance was around 2,500-3,000. For those who wanted to go to the burial, there were buses for the crowds.

I only saw two television cameras at the funeral, so I don’t know how much international press this will get.


Nothing else to say. I feel like I should wrap up this post with some meaningful thought, but there’s just nothing to say.

Please don’t use the comments section of my blog to spout politics. I’m sick of it.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


On June 10, I wrote a post about the explosion on a beach in Gaza which killed several members of the Ghalia family as they were having a picnic.

I worded the post in such a way that clearly showed I was assuming that Israel was likely to blame for the explosion, that it was caused by an “errant Israeli shell.”

What I did not acknowledge in the post was that, while Israel was, at the time, allowing for the possibility that one of our shells had caused the explosion, they were not officially taking responsibility for it until they had investigated further. The message from Israel at the time was that yes, there was a possibility that one of our shells had exploded on the beach by accident – but that there was also a possibility that the explosion had little or nothing to do with Israel at all.

I apologize to my readers, and to the Israeli government, for not leaving that possibility open in my post. I jumped to conclusions, which is unfair. In particular, given that in the past, Palestinians have sometimes blamed Israel for incidences that were their own fault or even staged, I should have at the very least acknowledged that we did not yet really know what had truly happened.

I would like to emphasize here that at no point did I ever believe that Israel had deliberately dropped a shell on innocent families. I always believed that at worst it was an accident.

I also apologize to Israel’s hasbara folks for implying that it is their fault I did not really know what a “shell” was. I’m just as able to Google these things as anyone else. My point would have been much stronger if I’d chosen a different example.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge that, yes, the question of “whose fault was it” is indeed correlated, in a causative way, to the depth of emotion I feel for the victims. If I hear about a family who suffered a tragedy in, say, Nicaragua – that is, a place with which I have zero connection and know nobody – then I think “oh, how sad” only for a moment, and then move on. If I hear that Palestinians suffered a tragedy that has absolutely nothing to do with Israel in any way, I may feel it for two moments, rather than just one, because our being locked in a conflict makes the Palestinians more “familiar” to me, if certainly not more endearing.

But if I hear of a tragedy that may have been caused by my own country, even by accident, then the tragedy becomes more personal – deserving of much more than a few moments of sympathy. It is akin to the feeling I’d have if my son was driving a car, and killed a small child who had run out into the street. An accident. Not my son’s fault. But being the catalyst for a tragedy, however accidentally, makes it almost impossible to wash away the memory from one’s mind. People who accidentally strike a child and kill them while driving often live with many years of questions about whether there was anything they could have done to prevent it, and why they were chosen by the cosmos to be the catalyst for someone else’s death.

So, yes, if I knew for sure that the Ghalias had died because Israel had accidentally shelled them, I would feel a sense of the tragedy much more personally. And if I knew for sure that their death was completely unrelated to Israel in any way, I would still feel some sympathy for them, just as I’d feel sympathy for a similar family in Nicaragua, but their tragedy would pass through my consciousness much more quickly – because that is the way of the world.

In any case, I once again apologize to my readers for not being absolutely accurate and careful in how I wrote my previous post.

And, regardless of how the explosion really happened, I extend my condolences to the remaining Ghalias.

COMING UP (perhaps after a few "lighter" posts):

* Why I made that mistake
* Case closed?

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Those *Bleeping* *Bleeps*

This morning, Palestinian militants/gunmen/thugs/whatever dug a tunnel under the border fence and attacked an IDF post on Israeli territory. No links necessary; it's all over pretty much any news source you use.

Interestingly, as of noon Israeli time, the New York Times and CNN are reporting that 2 Israelis were killed, but Haaretz and the JPost are saying only that troops were wounded. This may have to do with Israeli news sources not reporting deaths of soldiers until the families are notified . . . though I certainly hope that it's a mistake on the part of the American press, and that in fact none of our boys are dead. I really hope so, because whenever soldiers die, all I can think of for the rest of the day is their poor parents.

Those *bleeping* Palestinian *bleeps.*

By the way, a couple of hours ago I noticed that had posted a 1:22 AM EST report by the Associated Press about this event, and that the headline at said that the IDF post was in Gaza. I called the New York Times' news/correction hotline, and left a message pointing out that the post was near Gaza, not in it, and that, as far as I know there are no IDF posts in Gaza anymore - which was the point of the withdrawal last summer, you know?

By 3:20 AM EST the story was higher up on the site, with additional information in the story -- and an accurate headline. I'm positive this has more to do with the AP providing more information than with my phone call, but at least I did my part.

And, yes, I'm working on the "eating crow" post and other related things. Until I post that, I feel it would be unseemly to post about other things going on in my life. But I just have no time to sit down and write about all the MANY things related to the Gaza beach explosion that I still want to say.

Be that as it may, when I saw that two major news sources were saying that 2 Israeli soldiers had been killed, I was moved to break the blog silence.

(But, just for the future, I MUST emphasize that whether I post about something or not is NOT an accurate indication of how much I care about it. There are MANY things going on that I care about -- but sometimes I have not much to add, or I just don't have time to blog. It really irks me when people insinuate that I care more about Palestinian deaths than I do about Israeli ones, when this blog is sooooooo not an indication of every single thought that goes through my head.)


1 pm Israel time: Jpost and Haaretz are now reporting that two soldier were killed.

Baruch Dayan HaEmet. :-(

And one soldier kidnapped . . . oh man . . . I still have nightmares about Nachshon Waxman, and that was years ago.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Announcement for NCSY Alumni in Israel

I just got this email and thought I'd spread the word . . .

NCSY Alumni Melave Malka

Reconnect with old friends! Rekindle cherished memories!
Experience that NCSY magic feeling once again!
  • Relive the classic NCSY Kumsitz
  • Great Food by our gourmet caterer
  • All Star Alumni concert
at the Orthodox Union Convention
Saturday Night, Nov. 25, 2006 Ramada Renaissance Hotel, Jerusalem

Pre-Registration by Monday, July 17th
only 18 shekel, $ 4 per person
Plan the reunion -- Spread the word -- Recruit musicians --
Pre-register so we can count you in
For reservations and more information call Rabbi Dave at 212.613.8153
Ask about special alumni price to join the OU for Shabbat.
Regarding the explosion on the Gaza Beach . . .

I am formulating an update to my last post, the comments to which gave me major headaches.

However, I am (thank God) SUPER busy with work these days, and so I can't promise that the follow-up will come today. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow. Maybe Thursday. But don't worry, it will come.

It will consist partially of my eating crow, and partially of my explaining myself better, and partially of my saying that some of the commenters to my previous post have some personality deficiencies. Just because I'm wrong doesn't mean that they are right.

Meanwhile, wish me luck producing 64 pages of content for a children's magazine in a matter of days, and working on six articles for other clients at the same time.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Does this happen to anyone else?

OK, I'm about to admit something really weird.

You know how stress manifests itself in our bodies? For example, if you are feeling a lot of stress, you might hunch your shoulders; if you are stressed all the time, eventually your neck with hurt, you'll need massage therapy, whatever.

Some people, when they are experiencing more sadness or anger than they can really handle, get painful headaches, or twitch their fingers, or bite their lip. Maybe there's a reason that we say that if someone is angry, they are "seeing red." Perhaps some people really do!

Personally, when I'm really upset -- as in, sad or a mixture of sad and angry-- I literally get a lump in my throat. Well, not really in my throat, more like the top of my mouth, towards the back. If it hurts there, I know I'm waaaaaay sad about something.

Well, lately I've picked up a new physical expression of stress! (For only $19.95!)

It is my new "angry over the injustice of the world and pig-headedness of other people" symptom. Happens mostly when I read newspaper stories or annoying blog posts about events in the Middle East, but sometimes when I encounter some other issue that sets off my "the world is going insane and I can do nothing to fix it!" bells.

I literally get a tingling sensation on the left side of my head. It's like the synapses in my brain are firing so fast, that they shoot some outside my skull, and my skin starts to feel it. It's the stuff of cartoons: The character who gets so angry that his head starts to shoot sparks, and then explodes.




OK, that was a strange topic for a blog post!

What are YOUR physical expressions of anger or sadness?

Saturday, June 10, 2006

So Upset

I am indescribably upset by what happened today: Seven innocent people killed by an Israeli shell while they were enjoying the beach.

Israel says it was an accident, that the shell was "errant," whatever that means. (Just to show how weak Israel's "hasbara" is -- how badly they inform even their own citizens about what they are doing and why -- I don't even know what a "shell" is, though apparently a lot of Palestinians who have never been involved in terrorism are intimately familiar with them.)

Israel says it was an accident, and the army's Chief of Staff himself has publicly "expressed regret," and offered to bring the 40 wounded civilians to Israeli hospitals, which are superior to Palestinian ones, for treatment.

But I don't think any of the "expressions of regret" are likely ever to matter to 7-year-old Hadeel Ghalia, who lost both of her parents, a brother, and a sister today. No one could ever expect that they would. Just as no one could expect Israelis who have lost children or parents to Palestinian terrorists to ever really forgive, even if the Palestinian leadership miraculously became trustworthy "partners" for peaceful negotiations.

That's the trouble around here. Too many people have very understandable reasons to hate.

So I don't expect any future explanations or apologies or eating of crow by my government to matter to the people who lost loved ones today.

I would hope, however, that most people would understand the moral difference between a government engaged in morally ambiguous activities (targeted killings) who accidentally kill civilians and apologize for it, versus a government and its affiliated underground organizations who aim to kill as many civilians as possible.

And yet, is it really the time to worry about Israel's image right now, or who has the moral upper hand? Is this really about me, Israel, us? Why can't I just feel sorry for the people who were hurt?

And yet, how can I not worry about myself, when my little country is virtually all alone in a world filled with so much hostility against us, a world full of people who either actively are trying to wipe us off the map, or else wish we would somehow conveniently disappear somehow so they wouldn't have to think about us and our troublesome problems any more? How can I not worry about myself, when police now have 90 warnings of terror attacks, when Hamas has stated that they will renew suicide bombings in Israel?

I'm upset that the army protecting me had an accident like this. I'm upset for the people who were killed, or hurt, or had family members killed or hurt. And I'm upset that there are so many people next door who think that killing me would somehow make up for what happened to them.

No other words. I'm just full of upsetness.

IMPORTANT: Update to this post here.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

PR vs. Journalism, and my new pseudonym

Since I started writing for magazines and newspapers, I've been very careful to avoid conflict-of-interest issues. For example, if the subject of an article offers me a gift, I think very carefully about whether it is ethical to accept it: Is it reasonably inexpensive? Is it directly related to the subject of my article? Can I fully cover the topic without accepting the gift, and if not, does the publication I'm writing for have a large enough budget to pay for the item, rather than accept it for free? Even if all the above answers are satisfactory, and there would be no conflict of interests, would accepting the gift create an appearance of conflict of interests? Believe me, I've given up some nice offers because of this issue.

When, say, a nonprofit organization asks to meet with me to tell me about their programs, in the hope of getting some publicity, I tell them that they have a choice: They can either hire me as a PR representative, in which case I could write press releases for them and send those releases to editors, with no guarantee that the editors will choose to follow up. OR, if they convince me that they actually have something exciting and newsworthy going on, then I can pitch articles to appropriate publications, and if an editor "bites," then the newspaper will pay me. But under the latter circumstance, I'd be working for the paper, not for the nonprofit organization, and the people at the NPO have no say about the content of my story. They can hope that I'll only say positive things, but I can't promise it.

It is really scary how many companies and organizations take for granted, until I disabuse them of the notion, that they can pay me to pitch stories about them -- obviously, stories which put them in a positive light -- and that I could then also accept money from the newspaper. Apparently, there are reporters out there who double dip like that, and it's completely unethical. Disgusting, really.

Anyhow, in the last couple of years, I have in fact been hired by some non-profit organizations, mostly to write content for their websites and organizational magazines. Obviously (to me, anyhow), once I've been hired to write PR material for an organization, I can no longer pitch stories about them as a reporter. Conflict of interests.

There might be some very limited circumstances under which I could, say, quote a client of mine in an article. Actually, I can think of only one such circumstance: If, say, I'm writing a story about American immigration to Israel, and it's a long story, I'd have to get quotes from more than one immigration organization. And when one is writing about American immigration to Israel, there are really only a handful of offices that are known to be experts, most notably Nefesh B'Nefesh and the AACI: Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel. In this case, I could not write an article about Nefesh B'Nefesh, since I've accepted money from them in the past, but I could quote Nefesh B'Nefesh, since they are quite clearly experts in the field right now. No one would question why I'm turning to NBN for, say, statistics, if I'm writing about recent American immigration. Still, I'd have to be careful to limit this exception to cases where the client I'm quoting is obviously in the forefront of the issue I'm writing about. If there connection is a stretch, then they are off limits.

Other than that, I can't think of any situation in which giving a client of mine free publicity through my work as a reporter would be ethical.

Anyhow, as I said, lately I've been getting more and more PR work, to the extent that it's almost all I'm doing these days!

It's nice to be getting more work, but I've been worried that people who read my stories might get confused about the level of bias in a piece. They might wonder which hat I was wearing when I wrote the story, the reporter hat or the PR hat. Worse, some people might wonder whether I'm confused about how much bias is acceptable in my work. "If Sarah is writing PR for Large NPO X, highlighting the positive of course, then how do I know, when I see her work in a newspaper, that she isn't glossing over the negative? How do I know whether she has a specific agenda?"

I decided that it's time to "split" myself into two different "brands." Under my real name, I'll continue writing what I call in my mind "real journalism," meaning that I'm being paid to tell readers everything they would want, or need, to know about an issue. In "real journalism," if there is a negative side to the story, I have to at least acknowledge it, if not explore it comprehensively.

Under a pseudonym (which I'll specify in this post - don't worry) I'll do the "PR" assignments, that is, writing in the context of someone paying me to make them look good.

This "split" shouldn't be construed as an attempt to hide the fact that I now do some PR writing (PR is very frowned upon by Journalism School Purists). Obviously, it's not a secret, or I wouldn't be telling you all about it on my blog.

Rather, it's a sort of reminder to my readers, and more importantly to myself, that I know the difference between biased and unbiased writing, and under which circumstances to produce which.

There will be some exceptions, but in general, when you see my real name, I'm being paid to be completely unbiased. And in general, when you see my pseudonym, it means that I'm being paid to highlight the positive. (An exception includes a recent client who asked to use my real name, since I was profiling a prominent person, and that person may have been insulted if they saw I was writing under a different name. Personally, I think the client was being a little over-sensitive, but I humored them.) You should be able to tell anyway; if a story's first appearance in the world is on the website of NPO X, or in their magazine, then most likely NPO X commissioned it under the condition that they come out looking fabulous. That's common sense, and I hope that all of you think critically about what you are reading and where that information is coming from. But like I said, I don't want "my readers" -- the people who know me and follow my work, regardless of where it's written-- to get confused. Brand recognition is key!

Anyway, the pseudonym I've made up is "Rachel M. Sprintzer."

"Rachel" is after my grandmother, who passed away in December.

"Sprintzer" and "M." are for two of my grandmother's sisters, Shprintzer and Machke, who were killed by Nazis in Poland along with their husbands and all their children. They've never had anyone named after them, so this is my way of remembering them.

If you have any questions about any of this, please leave a comment. The whole point of this post is to be transparent. I don't want anyone thinking that by taking on a pseudonym I'm trying to hide anything.
Once again, the writers over at The Onion, one of the funniest and most scathing satirical papers anywhere, take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and get it dead on. No pun intended. The link is worth at least a smirk.

Monday, June 05, 2006


Via Renegade Rebbetzin, a blogger shares the story of the horrible treatment she received while in a hospital before and after the birth of her son.

As many of you know, my mother is chronically ill, and has been in and out of hospitals for as long as I can remember (she's actually in hospital right now). She's been in a lot of hospitals. And once, I spent a week with her, practically sleeping in the hospital every night -- this was at one of Boston's finest medical facilities.

And I can tell you from experience, the hospital that provides reliable care, compassionate nurses, and a sense of being safe and cared for by people who want you to feel OK is very much the exception, not the rule. I'm talking about America now . . . and from what I've heard, it's not any better in Israel.

The story at the Tarrying blog is not a crazy string of coincidences. It is the level of care which can be pretty much expected at most hospitals. Pain medications that do not come for hours. Nurses who roll their eyes at you if you want help with basic needs like sitting up or brushing your teeth. Dangerous mistakes involving potent medications. Doctors and nurses who tell you that you're imagining things. Hospital staff who berate you for trying to take care of yourself, when they won't

Here's an important tip: If someone you love is admitted to a hospital, do not leave them alone there. The only way to make sure that medications come, that your loved one will not have to wait for an hour for something to drink, that your loved one will have help going to the bathroom when they need it, that nurses will speak kindly because they see that they are being watched by someone who is healthy . . . is for someone who is not sick to be there 24 hours a day (or, as many hours as humanly possible). If you can't be there, call the patient every couple of hours to find out what's going on (unless, of course, they need to sleep), and then call the nurses' station to complain if necessary . . . and keep calling until the person you love gets what he or she needs. The squeaky wheel gets the oil.

If you leave a sick person alone in a hospital, chances are that they are just getting a bed, some fluids, a television, and not very much else. Meanwhile, they probably aren't sleeping well, because people in the halls are noisy, there is too much light, and it's pretty much impossible to get real rest. (Believe me, I've tried sleeping in the hospital. You'd think that at 3 am, the staff would make an effort to be quiet when they are in the halls. But, no.)

Also, if you yourself are the sick person, or you are caring for someone who is sick, always check the meds that are brought in for you before ingesting them. My mother was almost killed just a few weeks ago by a nurse who mis-read a doctor's order, thinking that a potent drug my mother takes three times per week was supposed to be given three times a day. The only reason my mother is alive right now is that she checked the pills herself to see what was in the little cup.

I could go on and on with stories. Doctors who tell you that you are sick because you keep kosher. New nurses who think that they know more about your illness than you do, even though you've had it your entire life. Being labeled a "difficult patient" and having nurses and aides call you stupid. Pushing the nurse call button over and over for two hours before anyone comes to see what is wrong. But you get the gist. Hospitals are just about the cruelest places to be sick. Tarrying's post comes as no surprise at all.
The Continuing Saga of the Air Conditioner - Now with Update

When I moved into my apartment, almost everything was "meshupatz" (renovated). New floor tiles everywhere. New pipes. New paint. New kitchen counters.

But the old a/c remained. The unit is about 30 years old. It's a monstrosity. It's completely inefficient and sucks up money more than air. But it worked, and not so many people here have a/c. So I was grateful for it.

Last year, it started leaking water. Oy, what a story I could tell you, about the efforts to fix it properly. In the end, it became clear: I could live with an a/c that leaks water on the floor, or the landlord could replace it.

Now, my landlord is fairly reasonable as landlords go. She is less attentive than I'd like, but much more attentive than many of my friends' landlords. When I told her about the a/c, her answer was that she will not pay to replace the air conditioner. However, if I buy an air cooling machine, she would reimburse me for that.

Well, my apartment is tiny, and frankly I'm not inclined to use precious floor space for an air cooler. So I chose to deal with the leaky a/c, and simply lined the floor underneath it with "smartutim" (white fluffy rags), which I washed and replaced every couple of days.

That was last year. Now, we're having a heat wave, and I discovered last night after not using the a/c for a year that it is completely kaput. You push the button, and nothing happens at all.

The repair guy is going to try to come this afternoon, tomorrow morning latest. Meanwhile, I work in this place all day and I'm all sticky and sweaty and feeling disgusting and miserable.

Did I mention my landlord is going to raise my rent this fall by $20 per month? I've been doing some research, and it's still within market value. To move out of here to a larger, more properly air-conditioned apartment would cost a lot. It would be more cost-effective for me to pay to fix this a/c problem myself, than to move out right now. I just can't afford the costs of moving. Especially since, if I'm going to go to the trouble of moving, it has to be to a bigger apartment (which I desperately want).

I definitely have to give her some sort of firm demand that she fix the a/c.

At the very least, I want her to have it hauled away and the resulting large hole in the wall fixed, so I will have the wall space and footprint space for an air cooler or at least a fan. She can't expect to rent out such a tiny apartment and then demand that I use precious footprint space for an air cooler, when there is a non-functional a/c taking up half a wall.


Meanwhile, I heard about a friend of a friend whose daughter needs brain surgery. Sort of puts it all in perspective.

But it doesn't mean that my clothes aren't sticking to me, and I'm having a hard time concentrating on my work.


My landlady agreed to pay for the removal of the old monstrosity of an a/c and the fixing of the wall, and the installation of a ceiling fan and a small radiator (since the a/c is also my heater). I could have pressed her on the fact that I rented this place under the assumption that it comes with a/c, but sometimes you have to work with the reality that you have. There's no way she'd give in, and my only other choice is to move out; which is much more expensive than simply paying for a new a/c myself.

Meanwhile, the a/c repairman came. Thank God, I now have luscious cool air coming in, though who knows for how long. This thing is wheezing out its last breaths. As we were sitting at my desk, exchanging numbers of contractors who would be able to remove this dying jalopy, I said "Michael, you saved my life. I can't tell you what a difference the a/c makes."

Michael, an immigrant from Denmark who had been running around all day fixing the air conditioners of desperate, sweating customers, closed his eyes, nodded sagely, and said "I know. I know."

Anyway, I'm going to get estimates to see how much it would cost to remove the jalopy and install a new a/c close to the ceiling, where it will be out of the way. The landlady would pay for the first part; I'd have to pay for the second. But since I'll be here all this summer and, at least, through July of next summer, it may be worth it for me to invest in that. Especially since perhaps I could sell the A/C to the next tenant at the end of my lease.

We'll see. I'll let you know what happens.