blogitto ergo sum

April 25, 2017

#227 – iRecommend

Filed under: #work #career,absorb,connectivity,life matters,Opinionated — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 19:06

A friend or a colleague gets laid-off. You worked together for a while, and you want to keep in touch. You truly want to help.  You care for the guy, you enjoyed working together, you even learned a thing or two from him.  Or her.  Women got a lot to teachSupportLIKEaBRA and share.

What you do? LinkedIn is the obvious answer.  Of course.  Request is sent, accepted, are we done?  And I thought you cared.  You tell yourself you care.  So, now what?

For many, this is as far as it goes.  Let that guy ask for help; we are connected, I’m available and done.  Hmmm, not so fast; not so done.

What does your buddy really need?  Support, mostly emotional, not to feel deleted or erased.  Don’t avoid her or him due to your “survivor’s guilt,” nor go the other extreme, telling yourself, “He was RIFed, therefore he deserved it.”  Don’t become a stranger.  You are better than this.  I know you.

Connecting on LinkedIn is great, meaning a great start.  You however, are going to do more.  You are that kind of a person.  So, in addition to your friendly [read: emotional] support, take the initiative and write a recommendation; endorse a couple of relevant skills.  Don’t overdo it, it’ll backfire. Don’t endorse me for algorithms.  Knowing what they are, their value, and what they do, understanding the philosophy behind them, doesn’t mean I can write one, right?  Yet… All of us can write a recommendation, regardless of training and title, what are you waiting for?!


Last night, as I was getting ready to publish this post, i took a quick detour via LinkedIn. It paid off.  I came across a great advice from Gail Houston, and today I got her permission to adopt and use it here.  When listing accomplishments, “think about the biggest impact and list that first. “Acquired 20k new customers,” “drove cultural change increasing employees engagement level and increasing company’s presence on social media platform,”  “led a deal of $25mm in revenue”… These might be a lot more important than saying that one launched a product on time. It is all about getting that hiring manager / recruiter’s attention early – so they slow down and keep reading or pick up the phone and call. Thank you, Gail.

You shift position uncomfortably.  You never embraced all that stuff about investing in your LinkedIn profile, personal brand, and network. Having a coffee or a drink sounds great.  But, in a global company such as yours, your buddy may be in a different campus, state, or country.  WhatsApp, FaceTime, and SMS may do it, but what with that time difference?  And you never actually met outside the office other than for work-related stuff [and PIVO, but that’s a whole different story].  What should you do?  Think.

Your network may be small, but your heart is big.  And, anyway, right now it’s on the job seeker to expand the network.  But you?  You can help making that LinkedIn profile shine with recommendations and endorsements.  Even you who struggle to put together 140 characters for a tweet can help.  Yes, you can!

Think about your friend, the accomplishments, things you value, impressed with, what special sauce he added to the team, what difference did she make.  Make a short list.

Now, and you may find this a little challenging, what kind of job or a role your buddy is looking for? What qualities, skills & knowledge, experience, and achievement are relevant to those jobs?  Sort the list, scan it against those jobs. Not sure yet? Give your buddy a call.  they’ll appreciate it.  I promise.

Not there yet?  Reflect. Think of something he helped you figure out. think of a time that she pushed you,  you didn’t like, but then you did it.  Recall how he killed that bug, delighted that customer… Think of that sticky situation you resolved together with a smile, leaving the customer and the team happy.  Think of the person, the values, future roles. What would a hiring manager and recruiters want to know?  Don’t forget to mention the nature of the relationship.

Now stir.  If your time is limited to two olives, drop the personal memory.  You’ll have time for that when they call you for the referral.  Drink.   You are a good friend.


May 14, 2015

#223 – Need a Doctor? See a Therapist.

Filed under: life matters,mmmmmmarketing,Opinionated — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 00:22
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there’s nothing good i can say about the American health system.  wasteful, inefficient, unhealthy… not really health-motivated, not in the sense of one’s well-being.  other than my PCP of course.  and it took me three years to find her.

I used to think that @SutterHealth belonged to the better ones of the undesirable options one has in Northern California. until it came out with its TV ad campaign.  A healthcare provider spends millions of dollars to convey the message it cares.  and how does it do it?  by telling us

Trying to convince us that they are better than everyone else, since they care.  Last time anyone used the + sign it didn’t’ work all that well, did it?  To be honest, the Kaiser Permanente commercials are delivering the message of caring much better.  for example:

Sutter Health, unfortunately, fails to do so. there’s no humor, no real compassion in any of those four ads.  one implies that a cancer survivor has no friends or family supporting her but her Dr.  another makes finding our the gender of your baby feel like an AA member about to relapse.  a third features a diabetic patient confessing the major crime of eating a cinnamon roll.  the fourth, which i find to be the most disturbing of them all, makes the conversation between a kid with asthma and his physician look like what could be the opening of a Law&Order SVU episode.   worst yet, it positions asthma as something to be mocked about and ashamed off.  all four videos stage the Doctor-patient conversation in what looks more like a therapy session rather than a doctor’s appointment.   shot in too dark of a room it feels nothing like a doctor’s office.  Creepy is more like it.  and, if i want to be extremely sensitive, why would one choose black actors for the one that feels like a drug usage confession, and white actors to the others? and don’t you have any Asians patients or doctors?  i know you do, since my PCP is one.

want to communicate that you care, that you are a different kind of a health provider?  that’s great.  but if the outcome of all your brainstorming and focus groups is “when i go to my physician, i want to talk to a shrink,” then maybe you should see a therapist???  or at least use a different agency instead of BBDO, or at least have the creative directors, namely Craig Mangan, Matt Miller, Steve Rutter, Amber Justis, Kevin Thomson think it a little more?

Due Diligence: My provider is PAMF, which is part of the Sutter Health system.  Have been for the past six years or more. other than the Eye Doctor and clinic I’ve visited twice recently, i’ve always been very happy with the care i got.  still am.   yet, these ads are creepy bad.

Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 11.44.11 PM

Be a Dr. not a shrink.

you could do so much better.

October 13, 2014

#222 – where your classroom is a country

Filed under: Israel,life matters,Opinionated,that Jewish thing,US life — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 01:03
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Election2014On November 2nd, I’ll practice my civic right, and vote in the 2014 Interim Election. My first! Staring at all the material I need to read to ensure I vote as I should, I realize how different is this democracy, compared to the one I grew up in. Living here for as long as I have, passing the citizenship interview/test, getting sworn in, getting a 2nd blue passport – all these steps were only the beginning. There’s more to US citizenship. And you don’t learn about it, unless you are one, unless you are totally in.

Many-many years ago, i was the [wait for it] Head Counselor of the Tel Aviv University Overseas Student Program [TAU OSP]. Breathe. It was indeed a very long title.  It was my first exposure and intense interaction with Native Americans [pun intended] excluding TV. American students, as opposed to Mexican, Canadian, and the rest of the world students, were the dominant majority [~85-90%] of the program. At that point in time, they were the US for me.

Whether it was getting them to hike to the top of Masada pre-dawn via the Snake Path to see the sunrise from the top, sharing an ambulance ride with a student that tried to commit suicide, or finding a way to tell an excited student that the nice Jewish boy she wants to introduce to her parents when they visit, is indeed very nice, but not at all Jewish, were but a few of my memorable interactions. The challenge of explaining that caring the water jerrycan is a team responsibility to students who didn’t go to Young Judaea or Habonim Dror. It was interesting. Given that I have had yet to visit the US, those interactions and experiences were the building blocks of my American perspective.

Masada Snake Path

It wasn’t until I started visiting the US on a regular basis [while living in Canada], and later living here, that I realized how distorted one’s perception may be, when it is based on a skewed sample, in a very specific setting. You can’t really learn a country or people from afar.  I know how wrong, how far off I was.

[Hold that thought]

Contradictory to Israel’s pathetic PR track record, the OSP had a brilliant one.

“Where Your Classroom is a Country”

TAU OSPSimply brilliant. Hey, I didn’t coin it. Every product / product marketing manager would be proud to have such a befitting slogan.

Every [American] student got a T-shirt with this slogan, before leaving for Israel. Americans dig marketing better than most.

In my latest cleanup & declutter [part #∞], I found the Canadian version that I produced when running the Canadian office, [and recognizing that Canada is so “not the same” [as the US]. Tomorrow, the shirts will be on their way to those who were quick to claim them.

[Keep on holding to that thought]

Between the High Holidays and the recent war, now less interesting since we got ISIS to feed the media, the last couple of months included a lot of, “So what is it with Israel? Can you please explain the war? What is going on? Who & What should I believe?”

israel facesI greatly appreciate everyone who tries to understand, who is honest enough to admit that s/he isn’t sure what’s going on in that troubled region. I respect anyone who wonders what’s behind rating-driven media coverage, money, and political agendas. I try to answer, share, and be as objective as I can. But, to really understand Israel, let alone the overall Middle East mess, you need to take yourself to the class… We – Israelis [in and outside Israel] – are a complicated bunch, with contradictions and inconsistencies being our normal. Our normal includes terrorism, religious fanaticism, and bleeding edge technology. It doesn’t include camels though. We, too, think of them as an attraction. My point? Israel’s normal is too often another’s ‘different.’

For example…

Israel is surrounded by countries that, generally speaking, wish it didn’t exist. Countries, one should point out, that when it comes to access to education & technology, personal freedom, and all other 21st century western world givens, are behind, and not necessarily interested in catching up. Israel pockets of archaic life styles are the whole garment in most of its Muslim neighbors.

Little in common with the neighbors is an understatement – check!

Known and respected for innovation in science, technology, medicine & pharmaceuticals, agriculture… with Israelis present, holding positions, sharing, partnering in most research and industries that advance us all. Yet, at the same time, thought of as a remote unstable desert somewhere.

The only Jewish state, with a minority population that can hardly be thought of as a minority. Home for immigrants, legal or not, from every corner of the world, only 66 years old, yet carries the weight of thousands of years of history. It’s the one place important to three religions that other than monotheism, agree on very little, though share a lot. Actually, make it four. The Baha’i faith, also monotheistic, has two of its most important shrines in Israel. This religious significance leads to a constant tension, not to say conflict, between the desire to be normal, and the push to be a symbol. Fundamentalists, Christians or Muslim, have a very clear view of what Israel should be… The Jewish fundamentalists have their vision too. Neither option will maintain an Israel I would ever consider living in. One or two of the options may change its name. All options will treat women as less than equal to men. The other abnormal for a western country is the unbridgeable gap, tension, and conflict between the desire to live in peace and the critical expensive battle for survival, living surrounded by hate, terrorism, and all too often wars.

You may wonder how this is all connected.  It’s about the Shoes, of course. Between taking a little pride in the brand of Katniss’ shoes and realizing that the election’s “study requirements” demonstrated to me that the country is a classroom… for the curious student.

September 20, 2014

#220 – Triple I. Identity, Interview, and I

Filed under: life matters,Opinionated — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 21:22
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Every now and then, I find myself thinking about the latest addition to my identity. The recent war in Israel, and the European anti-Semitism and hate wave that accompanied it, made me think about it a little more. “The whole world is against us” is more than just a song Israelis grew up on. There isn’t a living Israeli who didn’t experience one form or another of war, terrorism, or being under an attack. There isn’t a living American who had to fight to defend US proper – the actual physical country. We are talking home, not a forsaken land half way across the ocean, where an American soldier is sent to liberate, defend, or show the light to people of a very different culture, language, and value set. Getting ready to use my American passport for the first time makes me think about it much more. It is from this place, that my citizenship interview seems removed from the true meaning of being a citizen. After all, being a citizen [of either of my countries] doesn’t mean I agrees with everything politicians say, do, pitch, believe in, and too often, want to send the army to fight for, die for. It means that I agree with the core values and principles that make a country what it is. It means that I’m willing to sacrifice a lot to ensure this country stays around, even if and when its day-to-day practice goes against some of my beliefs. In Israel, land and how to treat the other, how to democratically manage the diversity that was a priori to the establishment of the state are critical components of my comfort with the ruling cocktail of parties, beliefs and interests. Right now I rather not drink this cocktail. In the US, which has been around a little longer, it’s global warming, war on women, and immigration. Social responsibility and community, as in caring for your neighbor are key too. And let’s say nothing about the healthcare mess. The surprising and uncomfortable insight, hard to accept or admit, is that today, or last month, or on May 21st or 22nd, my sworn in day, I was more comfortable, more at ease, with making that commitment to the US than I would have been if I had to re-commit to Israel. I’m not ready to give up this loyalty, this key component of my identity. But… None of this, nothing at all, went through my head when I went in for the citizenship interview. It was early April. On time, past security, I found myself in a big waiting room. A quick visual scan of the room returned with an Indian

majority. A close second was the Mexican, or maybe I should say Latino/Hispanic. Third was the Chinese delegation, and then it was the rest of the world; a Brazilian couple, and one or maybe two more Caucasian couples. One of the Caucasian couples, as well as one of the Chinese, came with a lawyer/translator, others came with kids. I thought I heard Hebrew, but wasn’t too sure. As bureaucracy goes, you need to submit your form NOT at the window with the sign that says so, but at the one to its right. Right there they got it wrong. After a while you realize that the sign is there just to confuse you. I flipped through the booklet with the 100 questions and extra answers, some of them are actually interesting. Patience.

The immigration officers are a diverse bunch. Seems that just like the waiting room, white is a minority. I love California. My people curiosity and its diversity paired well. Many of the names of the citizen wannabes present a pronunciation challenge, from the single or double syllable Chinese, to the how-do-you-pronounce-this-very-long-Indian-name-I’m-out-of-air names. To the officers’ credit, they make an effort to pronounce every wannabe’s name. And then it’s my turn. “Wagner…” and her tone goes up a notch with a typical question intonation. I’m considering taking an offense. 5-Syllable names get pronounced, though not without hesitation, and yet my two syllable, 4-letter name is considered so complicated, too challenging, that I’m the ONLY person that gets called by last name only. One could have said it’s anti-Semitism, but with Wagner for a last name, it’s really hard to make the case. Never thought of my name as a four letter word, but apparently, for most Americans, it is. I get up, smiling to myself, and meet Lupe [I think]. A big woman, and it turns out that with a matching big heart. Her first question, before we even make it to the interview room [read: her office] is, “How do you pronounce your name.” Touché. I say it, she repeats it a couple of times, and tells me about her life long-suffering due to her own unusual name. She goes on to tell me how hard she tries to properly pronounce every interviewee’s name, and admits that when she can’t, as is the case with some of the longer Indian names, she tries to match the application photo to a person in the waiting room… unless it’s me I think to myself. 15-20 minutes later, we exhausted the topic, including her Starsucks and other calorie providers’ fake name. I keep it simple, I admit. My name is “just the letter ‘Y’ please.” OK, so you know I love coffee, you know how to pronounce my name, more or less, now how any of it will help you determine if I am the kind of person you’d want to welcome as a citizen of your country? Have I been a member of a terrorist organization, she wants to know. “I grew up in Israel,” I say. “We fight terrorism.” She didn’t like it. “I have to ask these questions.” And then there’s a question about Nazism or something else. The Israeli association of Wagner & Nazism on one hand, and growing up as an Israeli with Wagner for a last name completely escapes her. Flipping through my application, she handed me a list of international trips. My trips, and asks me to confirm that these are all the trips I took since I got my green card. Not even close. “There’s a whole page missing.” Is it a test? I couldn’t tell. “There wasn’t enough space in the form, so I included an additional page with all my trips,” I added. “I have a copy of it here if you need it.” Working on that excel spreadsheet was my painful 2013 Thanksgiving project. I recall that it was 21 trips for the last 5 years. Make it 22, I took another trip in February. She asked for the dates. Thanks to mobile calendar and mobile boarding passes, I could provide the specific dates. She didn’t want my complete list. And I still wonder, was it a test? And if so, why? What for? “What is freedom of religion,” she asked. And I answered, “The freedom to practice any religion, or not practice a religion.” I had to read a sentence, write a sentence, there is a couple more questions, and then it’s something along the lines of “You are welcome to join this great nation.” You may be sworn in this month, or, if we already met the space limitations, you’ll be invited next month.” I get a note saying that I met all citizenship requirements, and it recommends my citizenship approval. It was all over, waiting included, in just about 70 minutes. What an anticlimax. So I took the rest of the day off. And time and again I think about what defines one’s identity.

July 9, 2014

The Girl Next Door is Black’s post: Potty-Mouthed Street Kids & Other Tales of Harassment

Filed under: life matters,Opinionated — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 14:18
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Post thoughts re: Potty-Mouthed Street Kids & Other Tales of Harassment.

Is it Safe? source:

Until recently, this girl and I worked together.  It’s only after we went our separate ways that we got together and found out that we both blog.  [Well, most recently I have had more blogging intentions than posts.  Working on it.]

A couple of days after we had coffee together, i read her blog for the first time.  The post is Potty-Mouthed Street Kids & Other Tales of Harassment. I read about her limb grabbing and I nod, San Francisco is full of weirdoes. Here’s a story of a disturbing one. And as I read on, incident after incident, a growing sense of discomfort and unease fills me. This is not how I go through life, this is not how I experience life. Taking a cab, walking down the street, getting on a SF bus… after all, I take the NYC subway without a 2nd thought.

Years ago, visiting NYC from Canada, and meeting an Israeli friend, visiting from Israel, I understood with the internal insight of a strong truism, what the victim’s look means. Observing her approaching me, her walk was out of step, it had the wrong rhythm. She stopped to look around and take pictures, not more often than me, but in a way that disturbed more people than was needed. There was a lot of talk about the victim’s look at that time. It was before New York became safe again. And looking at her, I knew that her chances to get mugged are much higher than mine.

But this is different. No one will ever consider describing Keisha as suffering from a victim’s look. I wouldn’t want to get on her bad side. And yet…

So what is it? Keisha?

May 21, 2014

#219 – home is

Filed under: life matters — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 23:43
Tags: , , ,

Tomorrow, I’ll get sworn in. Sounds grand, doesn’t it? I won’t take over any government office, nor assume any authority or power.  I’ll become an American citizen, taking the oath, pledging my allegiance to this contradiction-rich country that has been my home since 1999.

I have a virtual slide show running in my head.  Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day, Israel’s Memorial Day, and Israel’s Independence Day came and left only a couple of weeks ago.  Even without attending any ceremony, without raising any flag, lighting any candle, without pigging out over too much meat, without wearing the compulsory “uniform” of blue & white on memorial day, they still felt more real to me than Memorial Day, which is a weekend away.

Identity is a never-ending process

This citizenship wasn’t an easy or a trivial decision. I qualified to apply for an American citizenship in 2007, and yet applied only during last year’s Thanksgiving, starting a process that on May 22nd will end with my pledge of allegiance to the United States of America.

What I was doing, thinking since 2007? I wasn’t ready.  As it turns out, citizenship means [to me] more than a passport and taxes.  It’s not even where I live.  Israel, Canada, China, US – all are counties in which I’ve enjoyed living, am always happy to go back, go shopping, eating, sightseeing…  This is not what defines home though.  Home is the place that regardless where I am in the world, I have a piece of it with me, within me, as part of my identity.  And it was a long process before the US landed a piece of me.

On my last trip to Israel, about four months ago, I felt it.  At first, it was the realization that I was not an outsider, nor was I an insider.  Then the insight hit me.  This was home, here I have lots of past and identity ties that define me, family, friends that dig me with no need for subtitles…  and yes, I know the language, culture.  Israel definitely feels like home, a place where I don’t need a GPS too often, nor freak out faced with the visit’s customary, almost mandatory, Tel Aviv parking ticket.  But…  too often I found myself  looking at things, observing rather than engaging.

The only times when everything felt right, when and where I knew who I am, why I am, were those cherished Saturday mornings spend with Sharon & Shlomi at the beach.  Wiggling my toes in the sand, sipping Israeli instant 20140125coffee [with no complaints about its quality],munching on beigaleh [pretzels], and talking, arguing, sharing without barriers.  I am yael, I was born and grew up in pardes hana of which I have not too many fond memories, and these are my people.  They know me now, they knew me almost always, and they have the right to ask about the times when that they didn’t.

Long time ago, I learned that I really know very little about the future. But yesterday, and five years ago, and five years to go, with my second language being my first, this is where home is, this is where my life, association, and growing roots are.

And while this have been the case for so long, in less than 12 hours I’ll publicly commit to it.  And mean it too.

How did “I don’t know, I don’t feel as if I need it, why bother” change into spending a big chunk of Thanksgiving week tracking all my international trips, as the N-400 form requires.  Slowly.

That was only the beginning.  I had to go in, give my fingerprints and show my face TWICE.  Slicing my forefinger a couple of days before the first “intake,” disqualified the finger from getting printed.  Of course, nothing in the letter and documentation provided tells you about it before hand.

It went like this:

Early morning, driving to the INS office in Santa Clara, I realize, half way there, that I forgot the green card.  U-turn later I’m rushing home, getting the card, rush back only to be told that

  1. I didn’t need the green card, the letter invitation and my driver’s license would have been enough.
  2. They can’t process my fingers today, not even the middle one, since I have a cut that distorts the image of that  finger.

It took a snail mail exchanges, a phone call, and another ill-timed appointment, before they admitted that I could just walk in and share my precious fingers with them.

You get a stamp on the invitation letter, a booklet and a CD with 100 Q&As about US history, civic system, government system…  go learn.

And then you are summoned for THE INTERVIEW, which deserves a chapter all on its own.

And in the morning there’ll be a ceremony.  My nails are ready.  And I am too.

September 29, 2013

#217 – That New Year Stuff


Every year, in the introspective period between Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and my birthday, I seek the learning, meaning, lessons, or insights of the year just ending.

For example, in 2010, I had my Slicha, I’m sorry project, posted HERE.

Last year, I was about eliminating the “but” and letting go of grudges.  This is key for a real slicha.  Letting go [of the anger, pain, hurt, even self-righteousness and own mistakes] is a critical step.  I shared it with you HERE.

This year, I was having a hard time picking the one that was IT.  Many lessons were dismissed, not meeting my criteria of significance.  It was getting uncomfortable.

As life has it, in sync with the end of the High Holidays and my birthday, I collided, heart first, with TWO lessons to work on in this coming year.  Each on its own would have been enough.  Together they are going to keep me on my toes, and I haven’t tried ballet since 3rd grade. These are not New Year resolutions.  It’s a public commitment to do better, not for 3 hours per week at the gym, 5 meals per week in the kitchen, or once a week in the filing cabinet, virtual or physical.  It’s a commitment to work, practice and modify the me that you and I know.  You are more than welcome to freely offer your feedback.  Please do.

Walking on egg shells

“I’ve been walking on egg shells around you,” he said.  Surprised, I said, “you need not, you didn’t need to.”

“I didn’t want to hurt you.  I never intend to offend you,” he said.  “Sometimes I just don’t know.”20130925 - walk eggshells

Time went to wherever it goes, and the tables turned.  And now I find myself tip-toeing on eggshells, hovering about, afraid I’ll crack even one shell.
It’s much harder than I’d ever imagined.  Simply put, it sucks.  I mean really, heavily, painfully sucks.

Imagine a ticker running in your head, asking, “Should I say this?  Can I initiate that?  Do I do/say nothing and patiently wait for him to ping?”  This is so! exhausting. I don’t know how he did it.  I don’t know how you can do it for more than a conversation.

A week of this experience, and I have tons of respect [tinted with guilt] for anyone who’d do it.  A week+ of a concentrated intense effort to crack no egg.  This is how much I care, love, value, and cherish the man and the friendship.  Doing nothing for the fear of doing the wrong thing, making the wrong comment… It is a torture, self-imposed, for a great cause, and yet, a torture.  As one who values directness and proactivity, this exercise of eggshells walking is a lesson, and its timing is perfect.

another nail in the fence (source:

The story of the kid and the nails in the fence comes to mind.  Yet, reading the story and getting

the potatoes we carry (source:

the point was much easier experience than being the kid and learning my lesson.  Eliav Alaluf, if my memory serves me right, posted a related story, about a kindergarten teacher illustrating the hate for another person with carrying a potato around, until it rots.

So here goes, and I encourage you to hold me accountable, to never make you walk on eggshells because of me, around me.  This is not about forgiveness; that’s easy.  It’s about being open and approachable, making it OK to make a mistake, say the wrong thing, the insensitive thing, or even the right thing in an off sort of way…  I will be open and willing to talk it over.  Another way of looking at it is for me, for us, to treat our tough, sensitive, high-risk conversations, offenses, arguments and disagreements, as snapchat-like conversations.

A snapchat chat? Yes.  Effective immediately, it’s OK to get pissed off or even get mad…  for a minute, maybe five, 15 minutes if you must.  Recording the chat and using it to eternity is not an option.

the wrong way to go about it (source:

Accepting one’s apology means it’s gone, done, forgotten.  You’d expect one to learn from mistakes, not repeat them.  That’s a given. However, some mistakes take more than one performance before the lesson is learned and internalized.  Some students, in some topics, are slow.  I’ve been blessed with your patience, allowing me and forgiving repeated mistakes until I got it, and stopped it.  Thank you!

There are amazing, very special people in my life, a few that I have conversations with, even when they are not present, valuing their view [and much more].  This is my apology, and a promise to do my best to avoid subjecting anyone to walking on eggshells.  Snapchat these interactions.

Should you feel that I falter, you have my permission to throw those eggs, cracked or not, fresh or not, at me.  Seriously.  A forewarning would be nice though.

The second challenge awaits its very own post.

August 26, 2013

#214 – Cheers to Cheerios’ “I HEART DADDY”

Cheerios promotes love. Interracial families included.

I’m not a Cheerios lover. And yet I now have a feel-good warm fuzzy spot for the cereal, independent of its nutritious or hearty value.  In a recent post, Adotas attributes it to the newsworthiness of the ad that I enjoyed so much, and the controversy that followed.

First, the ad:

I’ve seen it a couple of times on TV, and wide-smiled at the kid’s solid logic.  Then, a couple of weeks later, I saw this:

This mind opener, with 6,206,847 viewings and 118,401 thumbs up at writing time, asserts, loud and clear, that the generation growing up in a house near me is freer of prejudice and racist predispositions like never before.

I doubt that this was Cheerios’ intent upon launching the ad.  After all, they are about selling cereals.  And yet… This is the first Cheerios ad ever going truly viral, carrying the brand’s name above and beyond the 103K which was its highest ad true reach to date.  All it took is a cute girl that cares about her father’s heart to reach to over 14.4 Million viewers.  And a pair of interracial parents.

Newsworthiness they say.  The noise that this ad generated is a testimony to its newsworthiness.  Cheerios however, didn’t think of the ad as newsworthy.  It came with the controversy that the ad generated.  Controversy, I must say, that I was completely blind to, until the blogosphere came in and knocked hard at my monitor.

Kudos to General Mills for choosing to stand behind the ad and continuing its broadcast.  Their handling of the racist comments was professional and minimal – they turned off the comments option on YouTube.

Making things even better for General Mills, the decision to stand its ground re the definition of the American normal family, and  keeping the ad, had another amazing side effect.  Listen to Cynthia Liu, who blogs about race, culture, gender and parenting.  “This is a tempest in a cereal bowl, right?” Liu said.  In fact, she posits that Cheerios’ move could even be an “upside-down, inside-out” way to dog-whistle to open-minded parents who otherwise might not buy the cereal. [source]

Lowes’ December 2011 decision to pull out their advertising in the TLC All-American Muslim reality show comes to mind.  Confronted with rage against anything that positions Muslims as anything but terrorist, they quickly caved.  the customer rage they were so concerned with, it turned out, came mostly from one loud guy.  The show, sadly, was canceled after one season.

General Mills/Cheerios, bless their brand and marketing wisdom, is standing strong and winning.  They won me.

Being bold, smart, creative, and… create newsworthy ads, the vibe and spread, and go viral.

As for the American family, it is changing.  On one hand, there are TV shows such as Modern Family which had been criticized for placing women in traditional helpless gender roles, a not touchy enough gay couple, and a heavy usage of modern technology while making it past its 100’s episode, or the new normal, with an extra conservative mother dominant mother, a baby mama surrogate mother and a powerful black assistant, which was canceled after short seven months, possibly for being too gay… but how many successful interracial families do we see on our not-so-small anymore screens.

And yet, in the 2010 census, which is the latest available, one can find some US interracial family statistics to happily keep on mind [Source:]:

Number of Interracial & Interethnic Married Couples Grew by 28 Percent over Decade

The U.S. Census Bureau Census brief, Households and Families: 2010 showed interracial or interethnic opposite-sex married couple households grew by 28 percent over the decade from 7 percent in 2000 to 10 percent in 2010. States with higher percentages of couples of a different race or Hispanic origin in 2010 were primarily located in the western and southwestern parts of the United States, along with Hawaii and Alaska.  I hear California.

Also noted is that a higher percentage of unmarried partners were interracial or interethnic than married couples. Nationally, 10 percent of opposite-sex married couples had partners of a different race or Hispanic origin, compared with 18 percent of opposite-sex unmarried partners and 21 percent of same-sex unmarried partners.

Equality and open-mindedness will prevail.  Cheers.

Christopher Colbert, the father of Grace Colbert, was not offended by the cutting remarks which bombarded the YouTube clip of the ad. Colbert, along with his wife and daughter, spoke to MSNBC TV: “Being part of a biracial family, it’s just the reality,” Christoper Colbert said. “We’re also part of the face of America.”

December 31, 2012

Happy 2013, part I

Filed under: life matters,oops & ahas — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 15:44
Tags: ,

Artist: Something of that Ilk

i found it on Dan Ariely’s Facebook page

happy, bias-free new year to us all.

made by: something of that ilk

the artist however, is not a psychology student.  instead, he is currently a senior in both Computer Science and Mathematics. about this he says: “If you never want to see the light of day again, follow in my footsteps.”

September 23, 2012

#210 – Happy. Limited. Yom Kippur 2012

Peninsula Temple Sholom [] Tashlich ceremony, Sep.17, 2012

 Once again, Yom Kippur is here.  This year it’s not near or in the proximity of my birthday; the two are one and the same, leaving me no escape.  Two years ago, I had my Slicha project.  And it felt right, appropriate, a true act of cleansing.  Last year’s Yom Kippur was mellower; my slate was much less loaded.  And here I am, thinking Happy Limited thoughts.

An observation: nobody that I know or can think off, from the most observant to the most ignorant, says “I’m sorry.”  “Gmar Hatima Tova” is the common wish and greeting.  Thinking of the importance of asking for the forgiveness of the people in one’s life, I wonder how the observant settles the abyss between the fasting, the many long hours of praying to atone the wrong doing of year past, hoping God will see it your way, and doing nothing about the people you hurt, offended, bad-mouthed, gossiped about?

Asking for the forgiveness of a person, via phone, SMS, email or the hardest – face-to-face while maintaining eye contact – is so much harder than praying or fasting.

So let me say it out right.  I am not perfect.  I offended few people this past year, and I try very hard not to let myself easily off by saying that they hurt me too, hurt me first, hurt me more.  This is my Yom Kippur, my Slicha, [and birthday too].

And I’m sorry, for the impatience, for the disrespect, for self-centered moments, for overdose of directness some of you rather I didn’t employ. And yet, there are two things I am sorry for, regret most and want to self-inflict a mental Tashlich on my mind.

First, is the sin of holding a grudge, of maintaining or nourishing the offense, the insult, the hurt, the anger, self-righteousness.  Last February, on a fun-free visit in Israel, I was speechless [only for a moment, really] to find out that my mom had been holding a grudge [based on a complete misunderstanding] against a friend since 2004.  Pointing out the very obvious stupidity of the unjustified sense of offence was met with the stubbornness of “I’ve been angry and offended by this for so long, why stop now?” duh?!

Now, seven months later, as Yom Kippur approaches, I want to clean my slate of grudges, offenses, bad air, ill-feelings I’ve been carrying around for no good reason.  Time to let go.

Here’s my Tashlich list:

The anger of your using my love for you to your advantage.  Off you go.

The lingering offense for your treating me as a lesser person than you, the disrespect you showed, your patronizing “I’m so much smarter than you” attitude.  Out of my head, vanish.  I should not seek the company of such.

The pain of being forgotten by you that I carry around.  Let the past be the past.  Moving on.

The anger of letting you treat me with disrespect, while I say nothing and yet hold it against you. No more. Out of my system, now.

The frustration with your demanding of me what you don’t demand of yourself.  No more.  I shall do what I think is right, and call out your double-standard as it happens.  Will no longer allow it to be a voice ringing in my head, but make it a part of our dialog.

Allowing myself to be put down by your insensitivity, not to say self-centered view – no more.

The prayer says something like “…He does not maintain His wrath forever, for He desires [to do] kindness.  He will again show us mercy, He will suppress our iniquities and He will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.”  I am much more comfortable with my version.  The idea of figuratively emptying my awareness of all grudges [rather than the pockets of my jacket] has its appeal though. More so if one gets to do it in, let’s say Half Moon Bay.

I’m sorry if any of this makes you feel uncomfortable.  This is as hard if not harder than asking for your slicha.  Now that I hold no grudges for or against you, there’s room for new, fresh, more positive, healthier experiences for us to share. And I think this is great.  Almost.  Got to clear one more thing.

So much has been written about the pursuit of happiness.  It’s part of the deceleration of independence of the USA.  It’s a great movie.  It’s what we so want to have in our life.  But…

And this “but” is so much greater than i ever imagined.  Think, which you are more familiar with, “I’m happy,” or “I’m happy, but…?”  What do you say or expect to hear more?

In past weeks, I found myself offering “I’m happy” + a smile to the inquiring ones among you.  Surprisingly, more than once, what I got was a consecutive but.  Sometimes, it wasn’t even an audible but; it was the sound of silence.  The silence of the but.

The “I’m so happy for you” that eventually came was sincere, mostly, but…The but was there nonetheless.  And it got me thinking.

Why is it that we expect “happy, but?”  After all, just like everything else, iPhone5 included, Life isn’t perfect.  When i say “I’m happy,” I’m NOT saying “everything is perfect.”  I’m saying that things are as great as they could possibly be right now, therefore I’m happy.”  Things could be better, really.  And they could be much worse.  So here i am, in this moment, happy.  Why is this need to limit the happy?  Restrict is with a but? Is but the new Ltd.?

Who are those but Sayers?

First, there’s the cynical know-it-all-too-well.  Things can’t be this good, and if they are, it won’t last long, and something, many-a-thing can go wrong, and will.  Be prepared, don’t let yourself be happy.  Wakeup is painful.  So come-on and spit it out.  You are happy but… what aren’t you saying? When will the honeymoon be over?

Second, there’re those who know-me-all-too-well.  Their line of thinking goes like this: “we heard you before, the but is coming, we wait for the other shoe [read: but] to drop.  So yes, i do tend to take the good for granted, assume that you can see and realize the good for yourself, therefore there’s no need for me to point it out… often not making enough room to recognize and enjoy the good.   This is my other Tashlich challenge.  I recognize that omitting the good, obvious as it may be, distorts the picture.  So throw this one away too, off with this bias.  I shall call out the good and the not so good, acknowledging both. New Year, the year of & [no more the year of the but].

Thirds are those who aren’t happy with where, what and how they are.  It’s not that they don’t want me to be happy; they don’t like the idea of me, or anyone else for that matter, being happier than they are.  The notion of anyone [outside the characters of the Princess Bride] being perfectly happy doesn’t really appeal to them. For these, the bigger the but, the happier they are.  After all, why should you or I be happy if they are not?  It sounds so petty, that it got me wondering what do i say when I’m the listener.  Do I say “I’m so happy for you, tell me more?” Do I say “be careful, watch out, things can’t be as good as you think they are”? Do I think it, feeling the wiser, yet say nothing?  Seating here enjoying an amazing Californian Fall day, I challenge my mind to be happy first, and second.  My trouble or struggle should never cloud your neither your happiness, nor your sharing of it.

Not sure any of this applies to you?  A couple of weeks ago, over coffee @ the Sufi café [which deserves a chapter all of its own] I outlined the “but observations” to a friend.  Her immediate response was that it all has to do with me.  That it is because my friends are used to me usage of that inevitable “but” they now expect it.  “Oh no,” i laughed.  “Let me replay to you two of the personal experiences that you just shared.  BOTH followed this template:  I’ve changed/learned/improved/am better/happy… BUT…”

As much as she didn’t like to admit it, she could not deny the presence of the but.

Happy New Year, Happy Yom Kippur clearance.  Looking forward to having and sharing many happy experiences with you, and no buts.

May 28, 2012

#207 – Verizon’s women. and pigs.

A couple of weekends ago, Lisa, Dana, Katie and I joined the [few] hundreds that supported Unite Against the War on WomenSacramento.

Katie and Lisa made our brilliant signs, Andre fed us breakfast, and off to Sacramento we went.

Lisa and Katie

since then, my war-against-women-dar is more sensitive than ever.  equal but different pretty much sums my idea of gender equality, easily illustrated by the two sides of one coin.  anything that treats women as less than that is indeed war on women.  maybe this is why i find the following ad so annoying.  have you seen, or hopefully fast-forwarded this TV ad for droid?

Lou Mulford, playing the annoying, can’t-let-go mother, introduced the video post on YouTube, as a “..Spoof on the empty nest syndrome (which I personally know too well) all in good silly fun.”  [ALL her own words].  Responding to a question, she added, “It was a full day. We were asked to deliver all the lines a multitude of ways for each of the angle and shot set ups. I don’t remember the exact number for that line. Didn’t seem like too many.”

“fun” is not what comes to mind.  nor funny. As far as i’m concerned, presenting the mother-daughter bond as an uber emotional, irrational, incoherent whine and mumble, with the mother’s exaggerated empty nest/separation anxiety is nothing but insulting.  as it should be to any women.  the idea that a pair of droids will fix it all?…  with some help from a cool, crisp salesman who is happy to accommodate the neurotic.

i recall one of the women degrading chauvinistic pig sayings that was common in Israel years back. “be beautiful and shut up”.  sadly, this ad makes me wish… that the two gals please shut up.

more annoying than the wee wee Geico pig.

and pig it is indeed.  Two weeks after Safeway’s legal counsel found it a great bargain to trade pigs for  powerful women, my tolerance towards anything women-degrading is low to non–existing.  when i think of all the legal measures that constitute the war on women in multiple states, Verizon’s sense of humor is bad taste wrong. Verizon, may be, is against the change of outfit and persona of T-Mobile’s alter ego who threw all her girly cutesy pink dresses on the floor, replacing them with the cool, not-so-cute leather biker gear…

No More Mr. Nice Girl

a good laugh truly helps a commercial deliver its message.  so is a load of touchy-feely.  and yet, i find Verizon’s ill-choice of stereotypes as bad as  the degrading, racist Metro PCS ads of Ranjit and Chad.

Verizon, you can do better than this.  and indeed you should!

after having a long interesting conversation with Annette [thank you for tolerating and answering all my questions!] about women’s role, function, impact and power, i wonder how far we really progressed, and how far we have yet to go, PUSH feels more like it, considering the recent regression led by the GOP.

Annette, in her own words:  “PUSH is the operative word. Has American culture progressed in its attitudes towards women? Yes and no. American culture is patriarchal and women, and pretty much anyone who is not a white male, are treated as ‘others’. The ramifications of how that operates in our society show up everywhere.  It is very insidious – and the Verizon commercial is a great example of that. I recommend watching the documentary Miss Representation to really GET the way media portrays girls and women.

Have we progressed? Some. In the last 200 years, women have the right to own property, decide if they want to get pregnant, and laws protect women from rape – at least for now.

It is, and will be, a slow transformation happening generation by generation. I think of it this way – my daughter was born in a world with camera phones, iPads, and ideas about what it means to be a woman in this culture. Her expectations are already vastly different than mine at her age. And her daughter’s expectations will be even  broader – that I promise.”  Annette‘s words.


May 13, 2012

#205 – i’m gonna let you go

ok, gonna let you go [shopping goes on]

this is NOT about any broken heart.  no Kleenex required. and under no circumstances may you take this personally.  repeat: you may not take this personally.  period.

a couple of weeks ago, over a warm latte and a cappuccino, Eran and I were discussing communication.  you’d expect that sharing the same language and culture, miscommunication will never join our conversations.  and you’d be wrong, very wrong.  experience has taught us that trouble-free communication is much harder to maintain than one would imagine.   that old practice of repeating what you think the other said is invaluable.

our discussion however, was about passive-aggressive practices that have become standard in American culture, as experienced by us.

I’m on the phone with a friend.  we have covered the catching up, the lows, the highs, the ups and downs since we last talked, exchanged ideas, encouraged each other where needed and we are done.   and i can’t wait for the inevitable “…OK, i’m gonna let you go now,” and i find it well, I-N-T-E-R-E-S-T-I-N-G.  we both do.

i wonder what’s wrong with:

  • talk to you later
  • hey, got to go back to those slides/laundry/report/mess i  call my desk…
  • so happy we caught up
  • my ear is burning, sorry
  • we need to do this more often, i’m sorry i didn’t call sooner, time to go
  • so when will we meet?
  • break is over, time to dive in this #$%@ again
  • sorry, it’s gonna get noisy here, need my next latte now
  • i’m so happy you called, i should do it more

there’s endless number of possible endings, and yet, we get the “I’m gonna let you go.”  or, sometimes, we get its close relative, namely, “you must be very busy…”

can i go now?

come on.  what are you really saying?  if you need or want to go, just say so.  I’ll take no offense.  promise.  but please don’t use me as your excuse.  passive-aggressive means using indirect aggressive behavior instead of direct aggressiveness.  so you think that sending me off  when you are the one who wants to go is not passive-aggressive?  think again.  or… you could wait a minute, as I also am probably close to having enough of you; so let me end it, directly and promptly, if you can’t do it.  i respect you enough to do that.

“i’m gonna let you go, now.”  really?  and do i need to point out the similarity to the workplace’s “i’m sorry, we gonna let you go?”

first of all, i can go whenever i want to.  you are not holding me, and i’m not tied to the cordless.  i enjoy our conversation.  secondly, didn’t communication  101 teach you to own YOUR feelings, thoughts, wants and needs?  don’t tell me that I need to go, that I got things to do, tell me that YOUR soup is boiling, that your deadline is arriving, say how you  feel and what you think.  TELL ME THE TRUTH.

is “i’m gonna let you go  now” the best you can do?  haven’t we known each other long enough to be honest with each other?

interestingly enough, i can recall only women saying this, but no men.  so if i put my repressed woman hat on, i could argue that women got so used to taking care of others, putting others’ needs ahead of theirs, that they are preconditioned to express their feelings in terms of the others’ feelings.  but, this won’t fly.  i have too much respect for my women friends to settle for this.

earlier today, already having this post on my mind, and talking to one of my dear girlfriends, i waited patiently for the inevitable “I’m gonna let you go.”  surely enough, it came.   i apologized and reflected back to her.  in return i got a long, healthy laugh.  followed with agreement.  and more laughs.

i’m gonna let you go now.

Of course, you could always be THIS kind pf passive-aggressive


May 14, evening: Update

reported  by women: men do that to, i.e. end calls with “i’m gonna let you go.”  and to the DISLIKE of the wife at the receiving end.  honoring the commentators privacy, all i can say is that some experience this passive-aggressive act much worse than me.  happy to voice your feelings.  thank you for the touching sharing.

Clipart sources:

December 31, 2011

#203 – enter 2012, i’ve been waiting for you. go away 2011.

This year has been an unusual one. The greatest moments to cherish, remember, smile and learn from, moments loaded with care, love, attention, rewards, support and wisdom, were friends’ moments.  Sadly, so were the most painful disappointments. It’s the year of the most amazing birthday cake I ever had side-by-side with the most painful friendship-related disappointments from friends that their need to be right and smart came miles ahead of our friendship.  I called it and blogged it as “blinded by our vision,” recognizing that many of us, too often, let our predispositions dictate our perception, even when staring at reality.

It was only yesterday when S.S. told me “I know you gonna say it’s an ugly photo, because everybody else says it’s beautiful”.  So I refused to look at the photo.  When she made noises of offense, I said with a smile, “you already told the whole room what I’m going to think and say, why do I need to bother looking at it?  You decided all on your own what I’ll think.”  Needless to say, she didn’t like it.  I did.  And so did the others in the room, though only one did so vocally.  Sadly, I know the point didn’t get across.  Oh well.

This was the year in which I thanked friends and colleagues more than ever before, more than I can remember.  and it was all well deserved and more.  And this also is the year in which I deleted from my address book people I used to think of as friends but not anymore.

Luckily and amazingly for me, the good, loving, caring friendships surpass the bad ones in light years.  Thank you all; each and every one of you!

This is the year that I decided to eradicate passive-aggressiveness from my life as much as I possibly can.  Anyone who called to ask “why haven’t you called me” was welcome to talk to someone else.  I figured that the proper opening of a call, INSTEAD of the P-A opening quoted above, is to simply say “hi, I miss you; miss talking to you, what’s up?”  It did and does wonders to the conversation, to the friendship, to life.  Both of us smile and enjoy what follows.

This was the year of change, neither one, nor two.  Who’d imagine I’d last 7 months and counting of gym torture?  Who’d thought that I’ll get over a hopeless situation and the only frustration that lingers is the one regarding how long it took me to reach the insights that were there for me to learn from.  This is the year that I learned and shared a lot about my dad’s past.  Made him cry in the process, yet got to know so much more about him.  This is the first year EVER that I haven’t been to Israel, not even once.  Home, identity, roots, friends, being single and alone and learning to admit I hate it, career, this was an unbelievable year.  I’m so happy that 2011 has only a couple of hours of life left.  It’s a year to remember, but not to miss.

What do I wish for the New Year?  I don’t have any grandiose, greater than life wishes or resolutions.  More than making big NEW decisions, commitments, promises… I want to continue or end old ones.
Feel free to call me out if I fail to follow.  Seriously.

In this coming year, I wish for you and me,

  • Do more ____________________ [GYM: more workout, more gym torture, increase frequency, do those intervals, they are good for you; home cooking; flossing; listening; processing…]
  • Do less _____________________ [eating badly, talking, talking back, talking before thinking…]
  • Be more ____________________ [patient, happy, considerate…]
  • Stop [as much as you can]  _____________________ [teasing people who don’t get it, people who get it but don’t like it; procrastinating doing the things I don’t like doing…]
  • Be more of the person and the friend I want to be, even when it’s hard, embarrassing, challenging
  • Do better _____________________ [in the admin parts of life, from bills to tickets, moving those bags from the car to Goodwill, unpacking after a trip…]

And you know what, I don’t know how you will fill the blanks, but I can tell you one thing.  If I’ll manage to follow and execute on those humble 2012 goals and practices, it’ll be a wonderful year.

May you have the best year you wish for!

November 26, 2011

#201 – about a sheep

Filed under: life matters,see, absorb, enjoy — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 23:27
Tags: , , , ,

PLEASE remember to click the link to donate at the end of this chapter.  or you could do it HERE and now.

Eran, bored with beads, was going through my pile of catalogs awaiting its leap to the recycle bin, when he burst laughing out loud.  His audience of two gave him funny looks.  Then he started reading aloud: “The Most Important Gift Catalog in the World.”  Dramatic pause.  “Here it how it works:

You decide to donate a sheep in honor of your mother, who has always loved these gentle animals.”

It doesn’t say if your mom loves the sheep in her plate, as a source contributor to her scarf, or otherwise.

Eran read on: “your mother receives a holiday gift card from you, describing the generous contribution you’ve made in her honor.  Thanks to your gift, one more family is on the road to self-reliance.”

OK, with enough drama in one’s voice, you gotta laugh, independent of how warm and fuzzy the idea is.  Instead of getting your mom yet another gift she doesn’t really care for, you donate a real animal to real people who need it.

But WAIT, there’s more.  There’s no animal discrimination.  Sheep, goats, cows, pigs, a flock of chicks – all are donate-able and worthy of your mother’s love.  In Honduras, a trio of rabbits is welcome.  Honeybees are welcome from Uganda to El Salvador.

Artist: Jim Benton

A quick search later, it seems that this is the new trend in gifting.  Most frequently the living donation is four-legged, and the kind of gift that keeps on giving; milk, honey, manure.

What if you are concerned that your mom won’t appreciate the animal gift?  There are other organizations that offer gifts of service.  It costs $100 to restore the eyesight of a childSeeds for change is a $50 donation that will provide a Native family with organic heirloom seeds and tools to grow healthy food such as beans, corn and squash.

Back to the sheep, and it’s not a sheep named Dolly, it’s a real sheep that make immediate difference in people’s life.

Looking as the cartoon below earlier, this idea of animal and service gifting feels more right than ever.  Got so much to be thankful for that giving, instead of indulging, feels just right.

Feels so right that I am going to do something I’ve never done before.  I urge you to join me in giving a sheep [or two].   Heifer, whose catalog’s intro provided the laughs described earlier will be the vehicle for it.

The gift of sheep is $120.  I think that together we could easily raise two.

As little as $10 will get you a share of the sheep, and the honor card to mail to your mother, daughter or whomever.

Interested?  Ready to give your share of the sheep?  About a sheep donation page awaits you.  Think giving.

Art sources:

November 20, 2011

#200 – jump jump jump jump!

Filed under: life matters — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 19:39
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

this one is to Eric, my dear torturer, and Eran who initiated my gym journey of pain.

“When I say jump, you say how high

I ain’t never seen nobody-ody get so high

Like a bird, like a plane, this party-arty insane

This party-arty insane, so jump jump jump jump!”

In the past six months, I spent at least half of my time in pain.  Simple, basic physical pain in which my body sends pain messages when I get up, sit down, walk, climb the stairs.  Muscles and ligaments protest, I hurt, and they call it progress.

It started with Eran’s gift of gym membership and a set of personal torture sessions.  “Guilt” says Eran, “is just like potential.  If you don’t use it, it goes to waste.”  How could I not use a gift that cares for my physical well-being?  Can’t.

It was sheer luck that the Marine-style torturer Eran and I picked from the list wasn’t available.  Instead, a week later, Eric was offered as a good fit.

In our intro meeting, Eric’s first question was, “what are your goals coming to the gym?”  I gave him the kind of look that questions one’s basic intelligence.  “This is a gym, people come here to suffer, I got a gift, I am here to use it” I said, omitting the “you gotta be kidding.”  Yet, he insisted; “now that you are here, what are your goals?”

“well, if you insist, my goals would be

  • Unhate the gym
  • Stop wishing that no one talks to me in my first 5 minutes in the office – so they won’t notice my short breath after climbing the stairs
  • Get in a better shape.”

To his credit, he didn’t flinch too much with the “unhate the gym.”

And so our torturer–tortured affair started.  My 1st task was to teach him the true meaning of PT, i.e. Personal Torturer.  I also had to teach him some basic English.  1st English lesson: in proper English “today we are going to have some fun” is translated to “today i’m gonna make you hurt.  Expect no fun.”  Through our first month, while Eric was learning English, my muscles were learning pain.  Who’d imagine that getting off your seat can be such a painful experience?

One extra painful session I told Eric that if I’m suffering he has to work too.  “Counting in Hebrew” I argued, “would make my suffering more tolerable, friendlier, as I’d suffer to the sounds of my native language.” Since he already mastered his English, now it was time for Hebrew. By now, Eric’s Hebrew vocabulary includes: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, left, right, please/you’re welcome, thank you, stop, more.  All put to painful use regularly!

harder and hurter than it looks

Another session, hating & hurting the endurance torture of side plank, I asked Eric to sing for as long as he wants me to endure.  He did.  Still does.  I can’t help laughing every time this goes on.  Laughing takes the pain away.  Sometimes however, the musical choice is less than great.

With time, more and more gym torturers were informed of their correct job title.  All accepted the title with a smile.  Some returned the favor, encouraging Eric to push me further; torture is as torturer does.

It was three months before I recognized a change I was willing to admit.  You see, gym is not the place for one to lose weight.  It’s the place to replace fat with muscle.  Over one session, as I was explaining the Pareto principle, I got in return Eric’s Pareto gym version.  “You work out for one hour day; you got 23 hours to eat [destroy] its benefits.”

I didn’t end the torture sessions once Eran’s gift expired.  How could I end something which contributes to my benefit and health?  Am I saying it’s a bad gift?  Guilt kicks in, and I’m at the gym.

The exercise bike that occupies too much space in my living room gets used regularly now.  I got no endorphins rush nor addiction; I don’t think I ever will.  What I got is an amazing torturer that keeps it interesting, entertaining, accommodating.  And some results + commitment and guilt.

Few weeks ago, the day’s torture was a series of exercises, involving do 15 X, do treadmill, do 20 Y, back to treadmill, do 15 Z, back to treadmill.  I thought that Eric long ago made peace with my NO RUNNING veto.  And yet he tried again.  Running veto means that I’m happy with 3.8 mi/hr walking, regardless of incline.  “I want you to go up to 4.5 m/h” asked Eric.

“What’s in it for me” I asked without blushing.  I rejected the first proposal; accepted the one of two home-baked breads; zucchini and banana.  Treadmill setting went to 4.5, and my guilt for getting such a great bargain brought me back to the gym the following day to walk 1.5 miles @ 4.5 m/h to make it a fair deal.  To my astonishment, not only I got the breads, but the recipes were altered to reduce the fat, cholesterol and calorie intake involved.  That’s commitment.
Still here?  I had no idea I have so much to be thankful for.   So what’s with the jump?  Other than the no running veto, I vetoed the rope jumping/skipping.  I have no good justification for vetoing jumps. Still, I won’t.  Meanwhile, six months into reforming my habits, Eric earned his very own ringtone.  in case you didn’t yet guess, it’s a cut of Flo Rida’s Jump.  Well deserved.  Thank you, Eric.

Nelly Furtado – Jump & Plank?


October 31, 2011

#199 – peace embroidering

Filed under: life matters,on the road,see, absorb, enjoy — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 01:21
Tags: , ,

Sausalito, Oct. 30, 11

 Saturday afternoon, Sausalito.  We did few galleries, a couple of gift shops, inspected lots of bead-based jewelry, had a great lunch @ Angelino, sealed it with the usual lattes and Cookies @ Il Piccolo Cafe Specialita Italiane.  I ignore all the negative yelping this place receives.  All I ever had here was lattes, cookies and attitude.  All met expectations.  Maybe one of these days I’ll try their food.

Later, Edna and I sit on a bench, enjoying an amazing day.  Edna is to teach me few stitches to enrich my knowledge of one stitch only.  I watch and practice stitch #1, watch and practice stitch #2…  Eran is either kindling or absorbing sun, and I learn.  Practice makes perfect.

As I struggle with the canvas and the needle, I notice the Muslim grandma who slows to a stop as she observes us.  One grandson [3 months] is asleep in his trolley, another [7 YO] is watching us with open curiosity.  I dare “body shuff?” I ask w/my non-existing Arabic [want see?].  granny was just waiting for this invitation.  She watches my struggle.  I can tell she is not happy with my performance.  Do you want to sit down” i ask as my manners catch on.  “yes!” is the prompt answer.  I move our bags to the grass and granny sits down.  Sleeping grandson is left to sleep; senior grandchild is observing with keen attention.

From nowhere the question pops out of my mouth, “do you want to stitch,” I ask granny.  “Yes!”

There’s an advantage to the middle-eastern directness.  You know what one wants.  I hand over the canvas, and Edna, grandson and I concentrate watching.  I try to a “normal” conversation.

“Where are you from?”


“We are from Israel.”

“I was born in Haifa.”

“I was born in Haifa too,” Edna injects.

“Where in Haifa, downtown,” my inquiring self wants to know.

“I don’t know, I was 6 YO when we left.”  I decide not to ask in what year.  I’m trying to calculate in my head.  How old is granny?  Did they leave in 1948?  Earlier?

Meanwhile she is stitching.

This is when we notice the son-on-law who is watching us from the next bench over.  More smiles are exchanged.  My embroidery practice exercise becomes an act of peace.

“You must be the daughter,” I turn to the younger woman who joins us with yet another grandson.  She is laughing as she takes in the scene.  We are all laughing.  “Yes, she wants a granddaughter.  She has no one to teach” says the daughter in a matter of an apology to us and more so to her mom.

Grandson #2 is 3.5 YO he is willing to admit as he tries to show it with his fingers.  We run into difficulties how to represent the half year without breaking a finger in two.

We don’t have coffee or food to share, and reluctantly granny gets up. And they walk away.  Edna inspects the stitches and I am smiling, running the scene in my head.  Who in Israel would picnic without coffee I wonder.  Nobody.

We didn’t exchange phone numbers; heck, we don’t even know each other’s name.  And yet, in this Saturday afternoon sun, we shared great moments of apolitical peace.

Now I’ll have to finish this practice canvas for the symbolic value if nothing else.

Not quite like this. Source:

October 23, 2011

#198 – Blinded by our Vision

Filed under: life matters,oops & ahas,see, absorb, enjoy — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 17:07
Tags: ,

Try their vision for a change

“Me? I’m objective, open-minded, I see things as they are,” “Me? “before passing judgment on someone else, I check my own behavior, assumptions…”  “i am my least forgiving objective judge, most demanding critique.”  Yes, sure, it’s all true.  In theory.

The truth is that we love being right.  The fact that we may be wrong is the last one we’d consider.

First, it was this great TED Talk delivered by Kathryn Schultz.  Remember #183-fallor ergo sum?  From the “mental templates” that dictate what we perceive and how we process our experiences all the way to the “it’s not me, it’s never me, it’s you, you, you.”

You think I exaggerate?  Think again.

Here’s a story I heard at my hair dresser.  Speaker is an Israeli mom, relatively new to the US.  “My son was invited to a birthday party for the first time, at a classmate’s home.  I was happy and a bit concerned.  What kind of gift should we buy?  How much money are you suppose to spend?  What is expected?  Acceptable?  We bought a gift.

The party went well, all was good and finally we got to the part of opening the gifts.  “Wait,” called out the Birthday mother.  “Wait a minute.”  She run and came back with a pen and a notepad, and as the gifts were open, she was taking notes.  I was taken aback.

Yes, I know of all those who keep a track of what x gave to them for Passover, wedding, holiday… who sent shanna tova card/ecard…  but that’s adults’ world.  I couldn’t believe they start it here, in the US, so early.  My son is not even 6 YO and the compete, compare, record is already taking place?!  Not a good start to our settling down here.  That night we had a talk with our kids, telling them that the culture here is different, we need to adjust, get used to it…  we may find of it very different, and that’s OK.

Within the week, a thank you note arrived.  My son’s gift was mentioned, as was how special it was…  and I blushed in shame.  How was I to know that the doting mother was taking notes for thanks?!”

tell me your blindness and i'll tell you what you are

One vision lead to discomfort, concern, offense…  unhappy time.  A different vision would have saved that mother lots of heart ache over “what have I done, what kind of place did I bring my family to?”

At least this blindness was short lived, very temporary.  That’s easy.  What about the more serious blindness by our vision which is part of our life that we don’t know about, until it explodes in our face or becomes too late to fix?

Few months ago, I read one of my blog posts at the Art Extravaganza.  Seeing people faces and body language as I share pieces of my world is a great experience, in more than the predictable ones.  To my surprise, one of the listeners, an acquaintance of mine, approached me post reading and said that he is happy he got a chance to hear me, as it showed him a side of me he didn’t think existed.  Skipping the [probably negative] urge to dwell of what his previous perception was, I fully enjoyed the fact that here’s a guy that is willing to dismiss one perception upon receiving additional information, and replace it with a better one.  Definitely not blinded.

I have a dear friend, which I love very much.  She came to my life with great credentials, so my vision was all happy and positive.  Unfortunately, her vision didn’t include be prepared to be teased note.  Accepting teasing as a sign of friendship, caring, liking, even when delivered with straight face was totally out of her expectations.  unbeknown to me.

Two years into our knowing each other, after a delicious dinner she [and her husband] cooked, with the friend that introduced us present, it turned out that for the longest time she was POSITIVE that I didn’t really like her.  Every teasing was received literally instead of getting first turned around 1800, and then processed.  In her life vision, those who tease me must dislike me, think low or bad of me.

My vision, on the other hand, includes, I like you, think good of you, we are friends, I can tease you; you can and should tease me back…

When the perceptual blindness was brought to light it was awkward first, embarrassing second, and laughing at last.  Still is.  The hard learning I got from this?  I cannot [should not!] assume that one’s endearing acts are always received this way.  Be careful!

The most dangerous, most costly blindness is the “it’s about me” blindness.  The ability to remove self from the center of an event processing gives one an amazing ability to see an event closer to reality, as it really was.

someteims a CARPET is more than a carpet

Years ago, I organized a wine tasting course in the company I was working for.  For five weeks, every Thursday night, 12 of us gathered at the company’s best conference room, and enjoyed the teaching, tasting, and pairing, delivered by Barry Saslov.  The course, which was my first serious attempt to appreciate wine beyond I like you, I like you not, was a great success.  On one such Thursday night, a wine bottle broke, its rich red content spilling all over the carpet.  As the organizer, it was my duty to alert the facility manager to the accident.  His overreaction took me by surprise, as he was the nicest guy, calm, cheerful, and always great to work with.  Fortunately, as I was getting ready to lash and express my opinion of the importance of cleanliness of rugs vs. the wellbeing and moral of employees, i found myself thinking of the world from his point of view.  For a second there, my vision/perception blindness was lifted.  And with it came the insight.  My success was measured, among other things, by the moral of my peers, their wellbeing and how it’s cared for by the company.  His success, on the other hand, was measured by the wellbeing of the facility, including the conference room’s rug.  My mocking him of getting so upset about a stupid rug would have destroyed our relationship, making it hard for us to collaborate on my next project.  Much more importantly, it would have meant that I disrespect his job and responsibilities, which wasn’t even remotely the case.

It was a very long apology, with a firm commitment to be more careful in the future.

Can I claim that my vision never blinds me?  Of course not; no one can!  We have beliefs about ourselves and the world that often blind us from seeing things as they are, as we want to maintain our perceptions.  We hate change, and that includes changing your opinion of me, my perception of you.  What you, I, anyone can do is to try and open our eyes, inner eyes included, to the events as they roll, maybe replay them later, from the POV of the other.  A belated apology is an experience of amazing learning, cleansing and building.  As one who’ve done it once or twice, it brings peace.

[Sadly, some people will rather stick to their vision, refuse to test it, adjust it…accept your apology.  for them, being right and blind supersedes being open, may it  be eyes, mind, perception, and vision.   Such is life, it’s not about you, you know]

Set your vision free of your desired and chosen blindness!

related reading, for inspiration if you will, may be found HERE.

October 7, 2011

#197 – Todah Raba, Thank You

Filed under: life matters,Opinionated,that Jewish thing — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 18:34
Tags: , , , , ,

a year ago, for yom Kippur, i had my very own slicha project, clearing my conscious of stuff i regretted and wanted to wash off my slate. i shared it with you in chapter #162.

a year had gone by; a year that was hard on me in many ways, and is ending with my birthday, the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur, all lumped close together.  all of which  force me to do my annual bookkeeping, accounting, balance sheet… all too soon. and there’s no break.

i don’t feel the need for a major slicha project this year.  and it’s not that i think for a single moment that i was [remotely] perfect.  i was human.  i was wrong, i said things that could have remained unsaid… i was good, i was bad… i was sad.

it's a balancing act.

if i offended you, hurt you in any way, I’m truly sorry.  unintended.  really.  a blog’s slicha isn’t very personal you may say, feeling you are entitled to more.  sorry.  it ain’t coming.  this is my annual slicha.  this is it.  i need to balance it with the load of things i have to forgive; things i WANT to forgive and forget, and it’s a heavy enough load as it is.

playing back the year in my mind, reminiscing, the clearest, brightest emotion i hold for it is todah – thank you.  this was the year in which true friends came forward, often offering more than i asked for, more than i expected.  this year i had some amazing shoulders to lean on and i thank you with every bit of love, respect, joy, and friendship moments we shared.

thanking you for participating in my life is not a trivial act for me. i greatly value my friendships, and don’t ever take them lightly.  given that this is also the year in which i found myself telling a few that i recognize that we are no longer friends and that’s perfectly OK, meant accepting that some friendships come with an expiration date.  this makes the living friendships more meaningful, valued.thank you for everything you brought and added to my life this year, from getting me to submit to gym tortures, through moving some speech patterns from second nature to perfect stranger, all the way to practicing some silence and active listening.  thank you for allowing me to be me and yet calling my attention to when i should take me by the ear elsewhere.  thank you for lending me your time, ears, support, care.  thank you for sharing yours with me, thank you for the value you added to my life and for allowing me to contribute to yours.  your friendship is indeed the club i want a lifetime membership in.

TODAH!!! Gmar Hatima Tova!


October 6, 2011

#196 – the lemon test

Filed under: Eat, Drink, Enjoy,life matters,Opinionated — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 22:55
Tags: , , ,

I don’t remember when it started.  I do know it became “the lemon test” after FourSquare entered my phone, and check-ins entered FaceBook.


I love water.  It’s the best drink there is.  Period.

Never got into carbonated drinks; can’t find anything soft in them.  Coffee is a whole different story, but we are in cold, refreshing land tonight.

There’s nothing in the world that tastes as great as a glass of cold fresh water, sans ice.  But not all water is born taste-equal.  There’s the kind with a metal aftertaste, there’s the kind with an overdose of chlorine, some plastic aftertaste.  There’s the kind that just tastes awful, so awful as a matter of fact, that it takes acid to wash it off; real lemony acid.   This is how it all started.

I love lemons too.

When there’s no coffee around, and no tea is to be found I’d be happy with hot water w/lemon.

Lemon is predictable [OK the Meyer lemons are amazingly sweet].   Sour is what you get, and I’m ok with that.

Then of course there’s the unavoidable “but why three” question.

Think about it: when ordering water, there are multiple variables one has to take into account.  For example:

which glass is it?

  • Glass size
  • Lemon slice size
  • Taste of water

One slice is never enough.  Two may be just right, but not if the glass is on the large side, nor if the slices are on the thin side.  Three, unless it’s the tiny decorative slices should always work.

Hearing problems of the waiting crowd

I used to say that 80% of waiters can’t count.  Obviously, when asked for three, about 80% of them fail to deliver three.  It got better, or maybe I learned to request better.

Recently, over lunch @ Oran’s Hummus Shop we discussed it, again.  We even engaged Lior, our great waiter, asking for his view of the matter.

There are many reasons why a waiter may fail to deliver lemons.

My assumption always was that it’s about the “auto pilot listening.”  Waiter listens to key words, totally dismisses everything else, assuming he KNOWS what you gonna ask for.  Wrong.

Well, it’s not that simple.  Stress level, how busy the restaurant is factor in.  It also matters where the lemons are coming from.  Getting three lemon slices from the bar is easier than getting them from the kitchen, where it’s received as a more removed request.  The bar however, tends to have thinner slices.

And there’s the personal preference component.  If the waiter thinks two slices to be just right, that’s what I’ll get.  Until I ask again.

So if it’s a test, Martin persists, what it is really testing.  It’s a reflection of the quality of service of the restaurant I argue.  Not the quality of the food, not how clean it is, but how accommodating it is. Is it’s acceptable to ask for the sauce on the side, to eliminate the onion of the salad, and to substitute the rice with steamed vegetables, it’s OK to ask for three slices of lemon.

You could say that it tests the attentiveness level of the waiter/waitress, but that doesn’t factor in how accommodating is the staff that needs to slice the lemon and hand it to the waiter… or if asked for “three”, how it is processed, which brings me back to the notion that it’s about the quality of service the restaurant is able to deliver.

No one can say that lemon slices are an extreme use case.  Now get me those slices please.






August 28, 2011

#194 – from Schwartzblatt to Wagner [AKA My dad’s name isn’t Jakob Wagner part III]

Sigh .  Long procrastination time.  Apparently, the more I know, the harder it is, even if this blog post skips forward a bit.  I’ll go back to the more painful stuff.  Eventually.

This is part III of the following:

#160 – My dad’s name isn’t Jakob Wagner

#190 – my grandpa was Moshe Wagner [AKA My dad’s name isn’t Jakob Wagner part II]

[dictionary: saba- grandpa, aba – dad, pulke – chicken drumstick]

Last I left you waiting, my parents sitting in their “home office” and me all ears, ready to hear how my grandfather became my grandfather.

“What is your best saba memory,” I asked my mom.  “Saba riding his bicycle, with two baskets, apples on one side, and sweets on the other side,” she says.  “He always brought the best apples.”  Her voice sounds a bit dreamy.  “I don’t remember apples,” I am a bit annoyed.  “Watermelons too,” my mom still muses.  “I remember that,” I say and can’t help the wide smile that springs to my face. “I remember how in Yom Kippur War, when aba was in the army, he went all over the place looking for milk for Guy [youngest brother, 7 months old at the time].”  A long sad sigh clearly sounds on both ends of this Skype call.

“So, where did saba and savta meet,” I ask.  “In Germany? In Vlademritz?  Where?”

“In 1944,” my dad begins, “the War was over.”

“No,” I counter, it was over in 1945.”

“Ukraine was released by the Russians by the end of 1944, and this is when we left the forest [I have yet to complete this part of the story].  We settled in one of the empty Jewish homes.  I started going to school. I remember German bombers still dropping bombs on us.  The War was completely over in May 1945.”

He continues.  “In the winter of 1945, we moved from the Ukraine to Poland; to Lodz.  From Lodz we moved to WALBRZICH [See].

“In between, we also spent a few weeks in Czechoslovakia,” he adds.  “This is getting to be really confusing,” I sigh.  For one, I don’t completely trust his memory.  Then, given that he was only a kid, how can one remember all this after so many years of denial and repressing.  [Checking the maps however, reveals that WALBRZICH  was located 10 KM from the Czech border]

“Then it was Austria.  We moved around.  It was the fall of 1946, maybe September…”

“Then we made it to Germany.  In the winter of 1946, we settled down in Wetzlar.  We got a one room apartment on the 3rd floor.  It was the three of us and saba’s brother, Jonas.  It was the top floor.  And there was a staircase to the roof.  In the staircases that lead to the roof I had a goat. It was my pet.  I named her KuzuKuzu. She followed me around like a dog.  I would tie a rope to her neck and she would pull me on by bicycle.”  I can’t help laughing.  The image I have in my mind is too funny.

Saba brought her to me as a gift… she was tiny and he carried her home under his coat.  Every evening I had to carry her up the three floors.”

“Why did you call it kuzukuzu,” I ask.

“Well, koza means goat in Polish.”  I verified it with my very own personal Polish interpreter and was satisfied with the explanation.

“Wait,” I stop.  “You had nothing, it’s after the war.  What do you mean kuzukuzu pulled you around the camp?”

I don’t need to be in the room to see the “you are so stupid” look I know he has all over his face.

“I had a bicycle.  Saba had a pair too.  Both pairs made it to Israel with us.  And your cousins got my pair.  These bicycles were made PRIOR to WWII.”  I remember my saba’s bike.  Very solid.  And he took great care of them.  Bike that was made in the late forties and survived until 1978 or so.  Impressive.

There’s no stopping now.

“Once, she run away, with the rope tied to her neck.  Her rope got caught in the fence that separated between the Jewish camp and the American Army camp.  The Jewish Wetzlar camp was split to East and West.  It neighbored with an American Military camp.  I looked for her all over, running through the camp calling kuzukuzu…

Hearing my calls, she started beh-ing.

Before we left Wetzlar, on our way to France, we got one of the locals to butcher her. We got her back preserved and canned.  She traveled with us to France… got on the boat and made it to Israel.   we still ate her when we got to Israel, but not much, only when we had to.  I couldn’t.”

“Stop,” I burst as I keep typing trying to capture what he says..  “WHEN did saba enter your life?  This is what I asked about.  Kuzukuzu can wait.”  Weeks later I’m finally ready to admit that in a childish way, the story angered me.  And for multiple reasons.  Growing with a dad that won’t talk about his past, hide it, lie by omission about it….  And then plain refuse to share, visibly choke when you get him to share…  my assumption was that it was all bad, horrible, unbearable part of his life.  To have a pat, to have a bicycle doesn’t fit into this visualization of misery, having lost everything you own, your own father included.  Why wouldn’t he share these stories with us?  why didn’t he?  My saba was already part of his life, there was no risk of revealing the big Schwartzblatt secret, and yet he didn’t.  and I’m angry, was angry and now am getting over it, ready to share and continue.

My grandparents met in 1946, not sure in which of the displaced persons locations my aba went through since the war was over.  most likely it was in WALBRZICH.

here’s the story of how my saba become my saba:

“Grandma had to support herself since a very young age, as she was orphaned and depended on the favors of relatives.”

Post war, responsible for herself and my dad, she said no to no job, took upon herself whatever it took to support them two, started looking for a job as soon as they arrived anywhere. That independence, the resourcefulness and determination were admired by men [not clear of at that point she already knew if her husband perished in the war or not].  One guy was more proactive, more persistent than the others.  I didn’t like him.  He didn’t like me.

“I was a spoiled kid,” my dad admits.  “It was a Friday night and mom made a Shabbat dinner.  The suitor came for our Shabbat dinner.   I was expecting the pulke – it was MY part of the chicken.   To my surprise, disappointment, anger the suitor got the pulke, and I got the wing.  I remember it as if it was today.  That was his end.  No one can have my pulke!!! [and my mother too]”

My dad was about 7-8 years old at the time.

“what was his name,” I ask.  “Menashe, I think.”

“I guess menashe pulke is how he’ll be named from now on,” I say.

“Then your saba started chasing mom.  He spoiled me.  I was THE ONE.

I know he was married before the war; his wife delivered a baby boy, most likely he never saw his son.  Then he was recruited to the red army; his wife was sent to a concentration camp with the baby.  He served in the srudavoya armia.  At the end of the war he went AWOL and made it to WALBRZICH.”

In response to my question, my aba says impatiently, “I don’t know how many people were there.  Grandma was looking for a job, anywhere, anything… always a survivor.”

“Saba was not only courting mom, but he was also dating me.  He took me to the zoo, , brought me sweets…

When other men visited I didn’t talk to them, kept my mouth tight, no conversation.

They got married without me. I wasn’t at the wedding.  It wasn’t a real wedding.  Maybe they registered.  I don’t know.  I don’t think so.”

“And at this point, are you Schwartzblatt or a Wagner,” I challenge.  There’s a brief pause.

“There wasn’t a ceremony.  While we were on the boat they changed the names.  I remember saba asking me, ‘Vous vilste, Schwartzblatt or Wagner?’ [in Yiddish, what do you want Schwartzblatt or Wagner?”

And I chose Wagner

But I never called him “dad”. I called him Uncle.

I am shocked.  And somehow I vividly recall that my dad would always tease him, “Mr. Wagner”, Moshe Wagner”…  I truly can’t recall even once when he said “aba”.  It was saba said this, saba said that…  how good are we kids in repressing what we don’t want to know; what may hurt us, break our illusion of perfection, they way things need to be…

Everyone knew he is a stepfather, my dad adds, meaning in Israel.  But we didn’t.  And no one said a word.

My mom intervenes “uncle” in Yiddish is “feter”.  Close enough in sound to father…  I keep quiet.

How do you make sense of your ignorance, of finding out, so many years later, that what you thought, what you knew and what you didn’t want to know were all there, in front of you, and yet…  I saw nothing.

And so I say it again, with sadness and longing that never seem to fade, I loved my saba more than the three other grandparents; he was the perfect kind of a saba.  Thank you!

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