Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

3 Cheshvan 5763 - October 9, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Home and Family

Iyov, a minister in Pharaoh's court, was visited by terrible misfortunes. Chazal ask the obvious question: Why? And they say it is because he failed to protest the evil decrees passed by the Egyptian tyrant. He knew he would be overruled - - but, says R' Chaim Shmulevitz zt'l, even knowing that it was futile, he should have protested, nonetheless.

If there are injustices, discrepancies, double standards where the chareidi sector is involved (and there certainly are), perhaps these CAN be redressed. By a fax, a phone call, a letter. Who can deny the power of cumulative protest?

Fighting City Battles
by Tzvia Ehrlich-Klein

There are so many problems, irritations and aggravations thrown at us each day that some of us find it easier to just `turn off' to those problems that don't affect us personally. I mean, how many wars can we enter in a week, and how many battles can we fight? Better to preserve our energy and stick to what's within the four walls of our homes.

Yes, this sounds true, and it certainly makes life easier, but what about all those comments in the Torah about caring for the quality of life of our neighbors, improving the situation of the world and the public in general? And perhaps, extending it, being models for the secular world? Replanting a tree before cutting one down, not standing by our brother's blood (or money) etc. Wasn't it R' Boruch Ber Leibowitz, zt'l, who said that the yetzer hora has many names, the first of which is "Nothing can be done"?

One of the problems, I think, is that we are often daunted by the prospect of "fighting City Hall," envisioning hours of wasted time and effort, all to no avail. I do not know if that feeling justifies our being the kind of person who "doesn't get involved," which isn't a very Torah-dic attitude, but I do know that we are taught that "It is not ours to finish, but we do not have the right to desist completely."

Isn't it a fallacy to think that just because something hasn't changed due to our efforts, that it means that our efforts were wasted?

The kind of people we are, and that our children become, is reflected in how we behave on a daily level. Do we exist only in our own little world, oblivious to what goes on around us, or do we try to fix and/or improve things around us, knowing that ultimate success is in the hands of the A-mighty but that it is in our hands to at least care, be concerned and try (a very important lesson for our children to see in practice).

And yet there is more... Rabbi Akiva and those little drops of water that made a hole in the rock should be a lesson for us all. No one can ever know which little drop of water will break the rock, and it is thus imperative that there be many previous drops of water in a spot.

So, too, in our lives. Each separate voice and each individual fax or letter is important, if only for the cumulative effect -- though , of course, putting truth into the air is also important in general, as it helps prevent us from becoming inured to injustice or incompetence, and falling into an attitude of lethargy and "not getting involved."


In an effort to raise our involvement level so that we can show Hashem and general society how much we care about the public welfare of society and not solely our own individual problems (in addition to our 500,000 gemachim), I therefore present a HOW TO FIGHT CITY HALL instruction sheet. Results, as we know, are always in the hands of Hashem. But with trying, at least we can show Him that we also care about the situation of our city.

Though Israel is certainly the best country in the entire world in which to live, we can sometimes see things that we'd like to correct and/or improve. This "How To" list has been culled from many mistakes, and some successes, in trying to "FIGHT CITY HALL." I hope that these hints are helpful in whichever city in the world you currently find yourself.

1. ALWAYS SEND A COPY of your letter/e-mail to several relevant people, including all bosses and relevant department heads, and to the City Comptroller. Be sure to include each additional person's name at the bottom of your communication [c:]. This helps ensure a prompt, non-form-letter response to your letter, while enlarging the circle of responsible people who will learn of the problem/deficiency in city services. In addition, the recipient of your letter is more liable to answer you appropriately since several people will know if s/he doesn't.

2. ALWAYS KEEP A COPY of every letter that you send, and be sure that the recipient's correct address and phone and fax number is on each letter. This will make it much easier if you want to contact him/her again, or if you want to get other people to contact him/her as well.

3. KEEP A TIME LOG in a notebook near your telephone, listing the dates and times that you made each and every phone call. [Always make sure that your written communications are dated!] Also include the year as well as the day and the month, because sometimes... well, it is impressive to refer to past dates, no matter when you speak to the particular Department personnel.

Make a different section for each of the different Departments with which you have contact (a small looseleaf notebook means that you can always add more pages and/or new sub-departments as you go). The phone number/s and names of the people involved in the department should be listed at the top of each section for ease in making phone calls.

Though it sounds crazy, each and every communication should be listed separately, one below the other, in this notebook. The impact when making a phone call of being able to rattle off the dates of two or three previous times that you have already called is immeasurable. Though you may think that you will be `finished' with one call, chances are that you won't. Be prepared: writing it down only takes a second.

Remember to also list the dates (and times, if possible) that you called even if nobody answered the phone, as well as the times that you were put on hold for such a long time (how long?) that you just hung up. All this is very impressive to specify when communicating with the people involved. Hopefully, it will also enable them to see problem areas in communications with the public of which they might not have been aware.

If it is necessary to send a follow-up letter re: the complaint, it is unbelievably impressive to list all of the dates that you have already called and/or sent letters. That can prod any bureacrat into action -- and it is simple if it is all listed in your notebook!

4. BE SURE TO GET THE NAME of each and every person with whom you speak or leave a message when calling, and be sure to include the name of that person/secretary in your notebook. When calling, try to always ask, "Is this XXX?" when someone picks up the phone. Even if it isn't, the person at the other end will give you more attention since they'll assume that you know someone who works there.

5. IT IS WORTHWHILE TO ALSO INCLUDE THE DATES that you mailed any letters and/or e-mails in this telephone log, as when you are in contact with people from the Department, it always sounds impressive to list the specific dates that you have mailed a letter and/or last tried to speak with them. It is, therefore, imperative that this log should be kept according to dates. If you indent each letter/e-mail, you'll be able to differentiate dates of letters vs. phone calls at a glance.

6. Though it is much preferable to write to goverment/municipal offices in Hebrew, if that will mean putting off writing, or an inordinate delay, then WRITE IN ENGLISH. Most offices have personnel who can read English.

7. AFTER FAXING/E-MAILING, CALL AND CONFIRM that it was received (and by whom). If the number is old, a call before sending it will ensure that the number hasn't been changed.

8. KEEP ALL CORRESPONDENCE SHORT and to the point. Leave flights of flowery description for writing magazine articles.

9. At a meeting with officials, don't trust or "take his word" for anything, If at all possible -- no matter how much you think the person is on your side, TRY TO GET THE OFFICIAL TO WRITE DOWN (or sign your memo to) what he is agreeing to, even if "just for clarification."

10. NEVER, NEVER GIVE OR SEND IN YOUR ONLY COPY of a signed petition! Always make a copy -- and be sure that it is dark enough to see the signatures. Having people sign with a black pen will ensure a better quality when photocopying the original.

11. DON'T GIVE UP THE ATTEMPT. The trying also counts.

12. [Ed. IF YOU SUCCEED, show your appreciation by a WRITTEN letter, addressed to the particular official who helped you get what you asked for.

And, 13. REFER TO YOUR SUCCESSES in future appeals.]

POSSIBLE PROJECTS TO AIM FOR: Equipment for or repairs in your local playground, like sand in the sandbox / better lighting on your street / removal of a public hazard like a tree about to fall / outdoor benches -- all these problems can be redressed, sometimes by even a single call.

You can make a personal hobby of this, and even include friends for greater impact. All without stepping out of your house!


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