Sunday, June 29, 2003

Preaching to the Choir

“I have some bad news,” Merav announced with great solemnity as she came home from school the other day.

I braced myself for what I knew she imagined as an utter disaster, but which was, in all likelihood, just a minor inconvenience for anyone over the age of nine.

“I forgot to tell you about something,” she continued. “We have a special program in school. The choir is singing.”

Merav is very dedicated to her school's singing group. She never misses a practice or a performance.

“OK…when is it?” I asked.


Ah ha…this was going to be a problem.

“Oh sweetie, we can’t make it tonight. Imma is teaching her class tonight. And I need to take care of Aviv during that time.”

Jody and I had arranged that I would be “on” the kids downstairs whenever she is teaching her students the finer points of Household Financial Management in the living room upstairs.

But the next act in this proto-Maccabean tragedy was already underway. Merav’s eyes had seemingly grown bigger and browner than ever, making the tears that now began to drizzle down all the more impossible to ignore. An overreaction, perhaps. But then it’s been a long time since I was nine.

And I was never a girl.

“When is it tonight, exactly?” I asked.

“6:15,” she said, now sobbing.

Thinking on my feet (which was no easy feat, so to speak, given that this was during the time when I was still in my toe-to-knee cast after breaking my ankle), I proposed a compromise.

“Listen, I can come for an hour. Then I have to get back to Aviv. Is that OK?”

Merav threw herself into my arms.

I guess it was.

I arrived promptly at 6:15. Mistake. Nothing in Israel starts on time. Half an hour later, the program began. Now only 30 minutes until I had to leave.

Just as the program finally began, my cellphone rang. It was a work call. I whispered into the phone so as not to disturb the show.

I should never have taken the call.

Apparently the hyperlinks in an email I had prepared had gotten all messed up. The email had already been sent out, the panicked department secretary explained. Under the boss’s name.

Should we send out a clarification? Did I think anyone would notice? What were we going to do?

The choir had taken the stage but now all I could think about was work. Was this one of those trivialities that tend to get blown entirely out of proportion in an office environment? Was I going to get hauled into the VP’s office for a dressing down?

“Come on, Abba, let’s go. We need to go to my classroom now. We have another activity there.”

Merav was standing right in front of me and I had barely noticed, so absorbed was I in my unnecessary thoughts.

And right then and there, I stopped myself. How, I’m really not sure. Something just clicked. Something that said: get your priorities right, man. You are here for your daughter. Focus.

How many times are we confronted, every day, with choices we’d rather not make? You know what I’m talking about.

Finishing up a work project that no one will care about in a year or a month or even a week vs. attending a parent-teacher meeting with a beaming and proud child.

Participating in a 10:00 PM conference call instead of tucking the kids into bed. Or worse, canceling a late night “date” with your wife.

Doing just “one more thing” when dinner’s hot and waiting.

It’s not our fault. Not entirely at least. Workaholism has long been an identifiable "disease." and Israel holds the dubious distinction of being third place in the world, following the U.S. and Japan.

According to a survey by the University of Haifa’s Center for the Study of Organizations and Human Resource Management, 8.1% of the Israeli workforce can be described as workaholics, compared with 12.7% of Americans and 9.3% of Japanese. (Belgium and Holland follow Israel with 6.75% and 6.5% respectively).

But blaming it all on workaholism wouldn’t be fair. Or correct.

The truth is many of us never learned the fine art of balance. It’s not like it’s taught in school. Actually, the opposite is drilled into our Western heads from a young age: work hard and you will achieve all that you dream of. Not a bad motto. But at what price?

I certainly don’t want to be seen making a case for slacking off. On the contrary. But I’m increasingly aware of the need for balance. To move beyond the old joke about the old man on his deathbed, who upon reviewing his life exclaims to his family: “darn, if only I’d filed just one more report.”

On this occasion I was aided by my temporary disability. Frankly, it was a real schlep getting to Merav’s school, swinging my injured foot between two wooden crutches, avoiding the potholes and hidden curbs that had caused the ankle break in the first place.

But I think it was that added effort that, in the end, helped drive home the realization. As long as I had worked so hard to get there, I might as well put my all into it.

And I did.

7:15 crept up before I even knew it. But Merav and I had our half an hour of quality time. Before I hobbled out, I grabbed a piece of blueberry pie – what good school activity in Israel doesn’t end with sweets?

“Abba?” Merav said.


“Thank you for coming.”

“No problem. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.”

And I smiled with the satisfaction of knowing that I really meant it.

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