Fire in the hole: A postcard from an Israeli hi-tech company

WHEN EVERYTHINGS urgent, nothing’s urgent.” That’s the approach I take whenever a code red alert blares out of my CEO’s office. Every day here at People Pleasers, Inc. brings new do or die nightmare scenarios. Think of it as Groundhog Day, and the groundhog is a North Korean nuclear-tipped missile that’s about to strike your favorite dive bar while you’re in it. Sure you survive each attack, but you wind up jumping out of your skin every time a pigeon flies over your head.

To stay sane, I jog a hard 40 minutes every morning. I live in Florentine, a hipster haven in southern Tel Aviv. I kick off my run at 5:00 am from outside my studio flat. I end up at the Azrieli Sarona Tower where I work. Those 40 minutes are my refuge from the storms ahead.

But even a hard run through Hayarkon Park wasn’t enough the other week. That was when I was put in charge of keeping the universe from collapsing on itself. The Big Crunch that time was the wording of an email I had spent a good, hard, five minutes working on for our CEO to send to other CEOs.

“‘Want to end turnover at your company? Let us help your people help themselves.” This isn’t a subject line, it’s a suicide note.

That was the opening salvo, fired by Michal Kratzenberg – my hi-tech firm’s vice president of people. “Phrasing a subject line like a question will increase eyeballs and conversions,” said I, Greg Benveniste, content manager at this human resources solutions provider. “We don’t help people, we enable talent. Helping is for crybabies. There’s no crying in baseball!” was the sage advice given by Hannah Sela, People Pleaser’s director of sales.

Keep in mind, dear reader, that this discourse on the finer points of email marketing was being led by two native-born Israelis, whose English fluency amounted to a hodgepodge of corporate slogans, movie dialogue and song lyrics.

“Why do you write ‘let us’? In Hebrew this sounds weak, like we’re looking for love in all the wrong places,” Kratzenberg asked. “But this is an English email meant for an audience of American executives,” I countered. “No good. The subject line needs to kick ass and take names!” Kratzenberg ejaculated. “There are several ways to write this, some pointers as to the email’s call to action would be most helpful,” I coolly responded. “It’s too long. Should be five words, tops.” Sela asserted. “Two of the words need to be ‘or else!’”

Some more highlights from this hour-long migraine trigger: “How about we change it to ‘Turnover no more: Contact us now?’” (Me)

“That’s six words.” (Sela).

“Give turnover a bad name” (Kratzenberg). “That’s funny!” (Me, laughing)

“Why are you laughing?” (Kratzenberg, scowling).

“Short and to the point: ‘You’ll go broke without us.’” (Sela) “You forgot the ‘or else’.” (Me)

“I like it. Slap me some skin, sista souljah! (Kratzenberg). She and Sela fist pump.

Just then, the office manager, Bracha Bat Sheva, burst in with an urgent message from our company’s founder and CEO, Donny Abukasis.

“All hands on deck, people! Donny wants everyone to meet in the conference room, pronto,” Bracha wailed.

“What is it?” I asked.

“We need to come up with a new company tagline by 4 p.m. We’ve workshopped We’ll find out who your losers are, you do the rest. It needs to be reimagined. Yallah, it’s time to dream out loud, homies!” Bracha bellowed, turned on her heel, and exited in a huff.

And away we went.

That night, I calmed my frayed nerves with the nuclear option: an entire bottle of Mount Hermon Indigo.

The following morning, around 5:00, I was right back out there – running on the empty streets of Tel Aviv: hung-over, bleary eyed, arms pumping hard, legs flicking out.

One day, I just may outrun Groundhog Day…


This very short story was originally published in The Jerusalem Report magazine, July 2020.

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