We volunteered on an IDF base for my birthday

Joyce, AllenLast year for Joyce’s birthday we went to Israel (our first time) and did a tour organized by the Jewish Federation.  We both had a fantastic time and really made a connection with the homeland.  This year Joyce asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday and I told her I wanted to go back to Israel and that I wanted to do something different.  I didn’t want to do another tour – I wanted to do something that would have a volunteering aspect to it.  I called my friend Barbara Miller at the Jewish Federation in Cincinnati and she put me in touch with Avi Kagan in Israel.  Somewhere along the line, after emailing with Avi and talking with our friend Allan Goldstein, I started to think that the Sar-el.org program was what I wanted to do. I discussed this with my wonderful wife Joyce and she said ‘sure, that sounds like a real adventure’.  Volunteers for Israel (vfi-usa.org) is the US arm that handles applications for the Sar-el program.  VFI does a thorough job to make sure that applicants are suited for the program and have an accurate idea of what they are getting themselves in to.

Sar-el wants volunteers to understand that they are ‘volunteering on an Israeli Army base’ as opposed to ‘volunteering for the army’. Volunteers pay their transportation cost to get to Israel (if they live outside of Israel) and then room, board and clothing are supplied by the Army while volunteers are on the base. Volunteers do manual labor which in turn frees up soldiers and other resources for other work. The session that we signed up for was one week long although many people sign up for for sessions that are several weeks long.  The work week in Israel is Sunday to Thursday and we started off by meeting the program managers at 8am on Sunday morning near Tel Aviv

Our group of about 25 volunteers was assigned to 2 madrichot (soldiers assigned to oversee volunteers).  These young women were fantastic and were a HUGE part of the experience of our adventure.  Amit and Jessica were happy, engaging, interested and interesting.  They got us on our bus where we started our trip southward into the desert.  We eventually arrived at our base.  On arrival, one of our first tasks was to be issued uniforms (shirt, pants & belt) in army green.  Back at the guys’ barracks I swapped my pants which were too large with a bunk-mate who had some that were too small. Our barracks had a bathroom attached although I understand some bases have barracks that are separate from the bathrooms.  Next we gathered in the meeting room and were given an orientation by our madrichot.  Our first meal on the base was lunch.  What I can tell you about the food in the army is that you get 3 kosher meals a day.  That’s about all there is to say about it.  However I could go on to tell you that most of what you get are vegetables.  Breakfast and dinner are dairy meals and lunch is a meat meal.  There are a lot of dishes that consist of vegetables and that goes for breakfast too. Lunch, Breakfast or Dinner I’m not a coffee drinker so I don’t really care but it does not appear that the Israeli army drinks coffee.  This was a bit of an issue for Joyce who finally found another volunteer that had brought some of their own coffee.

Our first work day started with breakfast at 7am.  This was followed by the flag raising ceremony and singing of Hatikva along with the soldiers.  From this point we were split up into different work details and sent to our respective work spots.  There were a variety of jobs and each day assignments were given out so that we had a chance to pick different jobs on different days.  One day I worked in the kitchen.  The soldiers that we worked with/for were good at keeping us busy and the time went fast.  Some of the soldiers spoke some English but many did not.  We still were able to manage some communications using signs and a few words that I had apparently learned way back when in Hebrew school and a few words of English that they knew.  It was a lot of fun communicating with the soldiers and sharing.  Also, everyone of the volunteers in our group were great to be with.  Our volunteers came from across the US, Canada and parts of Europe.  Sharing time and experiences with the volunteers was a great opportunity and both Joyce and I made friends that I expect we will have future connections with. Another day I worked in the ‘shop’.  Hannan ran his small shop and he strikes me as one of those guys that can make anything from anything.  Out on a base in the desert you are far from the nearest Home Depot.  Recycling takes on a very large meaning.  I spent a day swinging a sledge hammer to take apart wooden beams to salvage the boards for reuse, and using a claw hammer to pull out all the nails that had held the beams together.  While I was doing this some of our other guys were taking my boards and already redeploying them to be sides of new storage bins.

Each evening in the meeting room Amit and Jessica would have an activity for the volunteers.  These activities helped us to get to know each other, taught us a few Hebrew words and gave us a better understanding of the place of Israel in the world.

In case you are thinking I have been a bit vague on exactly where our base was, and exactly what kind of jobs there were to do there – this was intentional.  We were instructed at the beginning of our time that security is paramount in Israel.  We were directed to only take photos that did not expose anything sensitive about the base we were on or equipment contained thereon.

If you think the Sar-el program would be good for you – I urge you to apply.  I had a great time on this trip and both Joyce and I would like to return and do it again.

Verizon Mobile International Data Rates Rant

I’ve been a customer of Verizon cellular since before it was Verizon.  I have repeatedly found their coverage map and service to be superior to other carriers that my friends and colleagues use.  I travel out of the country from time to time and their “World Phone” options for the smart phones that I like to use have been a big plus.

For example, my wife and I traveled to Israel last fall.  By changing my $30 per month data plan to the $65 per month International Data plan – I was able to have full use of my Android phone.  I could get all my email which included voicemails forwarded by my 3CX office phone system as well as all of the web browsing and mobile navigation I wanted.  By the way, this increase in my charge for the data plan could be prorated for just the portion of the month that I was away.

Move forward a year and we are now planning some new out of the country travel.  As usual, I called the Verizon International Customer Service phone number to go over my options and make preparations.  Now I know that not everyone on the help desk has had umpteen years of experience doing this job.  Some must be newer and that is okay. When the agent I spoke to seemed to me to be less experienced I politely asked if I could speak to a manager because I wanted to talk to someone that had more experience.  She put me on hold to fetch a manager.  When she came back she told me that she had already answered my questions and for that reason the manager would not speak to me.  I really feel like putting an exclamation mark after that last sentence because that is  the way I remembered it.  I told her that I had no personal complaint against her, it was just that I wished to speak to someone with more experience and that I was starting to get unhappy with the way I was being treated.  She put me on hold for a while again and came back and said – you should love this – “there is no manager available now”.  I guess all the worker bees have been abandoned and left unsupervised – coincidentally.

So, this was actually a digression.  This rant is not about this crappy customer service that I received – which I have already reported to Verizon – it is about what has happened in the last year to International Data Roaming charges.

There is no more $65 per month International Data Roaming plan at Verizon.  The explanation is that Verizon has to pay local carriers for their customers to use the foreign service while traveling.  Well, duh, hasn’t this always been the case?  But wait – it gets better.  I asked about what the cost would be now.  The two countries that we have travel planned to are in their Pay as you Go plan.  What that means is for email and web browsing there is just a charge of 2 cents per KB.  2 cents doesn’t sound like much does it?  Here comes the math.  I made a call and asked a Verizon agent what my data usage has been by month for the last 3 months.  She told me that this information was not available and that if I needed it I would have to subpoena it.  Okay, hang up the phone and push redial.  My next person told me the numbers I was looking for and also where I could find this information online.  I like when they ask me if I just want the average for the last 3 months.  No, I don’t want the average, I want the individual numbers because on the next month my usage will not be the average it will be like some previous month – maybe even the worst month.   I use a smartphone (Android) and I consider myself a moderate data user, not a heavy data user.  I read email and browse the web to look things up and read some news.  I do not do any streaming of music or video. Anyway, in 2 of the last 3 months I used 1 gb of data.  One is a small number, right?  Here’s what it converts to if I would be paying at the 2 cents per kb rate.  It would just be $20,971 and change!  Now my trip won’t be for a full month so if it were only for 1 week, which it won’t be, my cost would only be $4,893.

I did some checking and it looks like Sprint, TMobile, and ATT all have these type of charges now for International Data Roaming.

I would say that where I thought we were moving to a global economy – the US wireless carriers are not part of it.

I think I will be getting a short term phone in my destination country if I want to have data access.  Much more reasonable.

Adirondack Chair Repair

I wish I had thought of this – but when originality fails – plagiarize.   I have been trying to figure out how to repair these plastic Adirondack chairs for quite a while and even been looking on the net for ideas.  Finally on Sisterical blog I found a great solution and immediately copied it.  Thanks.

PaddleFest 2011

Joyce & I did the PaddleFest today for our first time ever.  It was a lot of fun and the most gorgeous day ever.  Thanks Brewster and all the rest of your crew for making such a fun event.  I heard that there may have been over 2,000 paddlers out there on the Ohio River today.

I’ve got a few pictures here


Diver Allen

Plaque – Diver Allen – Newport Aquarium


Mockingbird Attack Redux

The attack bird near Hyde Park Square is a Mockingbird.  It’s also been corroborated by Ginger, a friend and neighbor, who also walks her dog on Erie Avenue.

I’m not sure how long these animals live – I’m figuring it must be the same bird since the circumstances are exactly the same.  This is the third or fourth year that it has appeared.

This bird perches on a wire at the same location while Lola and I are having our morning walk.  As we pass by it – it swoops down from behind and dive bombs either me or the dog.  This is not just one pass but it will circle and make multiple passes.

Here are a couple pictures from a previous post. 

Truth in Advertizing

Locally Grown – When you think about it – isn’t everything locally grown. It’s all relative but where things are grown – they are local. But what about this? This product is being sold in the grocery in Cincinnati. It’s Hand Selected in California and being sold here as “Locally Grown”. All on the same label!