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