Working as a Freelancer in Israel, while serving as a reservist in the IDF
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Usually us freelancers are on the “bottom” of the list when the money gets tight and the company has to decide whom to pay. As a graphic/website designer my work is easily transferrable to someone else…..
And so it was. I was working for a company where the marketing director worked in the States and the research, and management were here in Israel. In general it worked out fine as the marketing guy in the States and I got along just great and payments were regular and on time…until they weren’t.
At one point they started to get sporadic and late, not too late but enough for me to take notice. When we were two invoices behind and I was still working, I decided that it was time to stop the work or at least threaten to.
However my threat to stop working is limited as I wrote, I’m easily replaceable, so the strategy had to be different, more personal. The marketing guy was coming to Israel in a few weeks and of course I had reserves then as well, but perhaps could use to my advantage.
The background: The marketing guy was an ex marine who infact trained in an Israeli army base in the Negev (where the IDF trains for urban warfare in a fake arab village (complete with broken cars in the street). The CEO of the company was an ex Israeli Paratrooper. Since I’ll be coming from reserves, I’ll just make sure that I’m a bit dirty and that my weapon is outfitted with some kind of optic site (we don’t always get them but they look cool-and they work well.)
The Plan: Simply to spend more time talking about the army and our experiences and less about being paid. (Paying me, the graphic artist is not really going to affect their bottom line, its just easiest not to do). Once were all “friends” and we have something strong in common, it will be harder for the CEO not to pay me, especially with the Director of Marketing pushing for me as well.
I enter the CEO’s office and meet the Marketing guy for the first time (a big guy 180cm, wth a tattoo on his army-something to do with the marines.). He quickly looks me over, notices the boots (dirty), the army shirt hanging out (very typical israeli reserve), and of course the weapon, I notice a small smile). A quick introduction and we all sit down, but now for attention getter: I sit but have to take out the double magazine from my pants pocket as its uncomfortable, so I stand up take it out, look to where to put it and put it down on the floor next to my weapon which is between me and the marketing guy.
He looks at it, looks at me and with his eyes asks if he can pick it up. I tell him feel free. He picks up the double magazine (a double magazine is two magazines together, in Israel we tape them together, using electrical tape and a cheap metal “cup” on the bottom). I did an especially nice job of taping my two magazines together, knowing full well that in the Marines they have a special piece of equipment that does that and they don’t use electoral tape. It was however a conversation starter….
So the next hour was spent on Army stories, equipment failures, the value of electrical tape, etc. My late payments? well that was taken care of as well, that was mentioned as I got up to leave and return to my unit. (actually I was going home for a few hours and see my family first)
This is just a short story of how we see our own policeman here in Israel. All over the world the Police are the most obvious symbol of govt authority and if not respected at least feared. Its a little different here in Israel, perhaps because many of us have been that symbol of authority while in the army. I see them as people doing their job and less the symbol.
At any rate, we were returning last night from dinner at my mothers and rounding a curve we had two policemen waving us to stop before their car. I was traveling too fast to stop before their car, so I slowed, passed their parked police car and stopped afterward.
They approached us from the passenger side, where my wife opened the window and after a few pleasantries, and even before we knew why they waved us to stop, my wife proceed to scold them on the positioning of their “ambush.” She told them that not only couldn’t we stop before their car, if we had tried we might have hit one of them, and it would be safer if they found a better place…..(they looked like the age of our own kids – late 20’s).
Since they were just checking random cars, we were soon on our way. Just an interesting contrast from what I remember of the police in the States where I grew up.
I’ll be giving a lecture on this Sept 27 in Ran’anna (info here)
Search Engine Optimization / PageRank / or just getting on Googles first 3 pages.
First a few notes just to get us started:
Serious Internet Marketing its usually a monthly retainer fee and results may take 6 months before ones site actually starts to move up in Google. Even then, you might not get your return on the investment.
Since you can’t afford the internet marketing company, you’ll have to find the time to do it yourself or at best supervise an employee, but before that you’ll need the basic knowledge of what to do.
The lecture I”ll be giving in Ran’anna on Sept 27, will be DIY guide, which means I’ll show you how to Do It Yourself, how to adjust your website’s content, the title pages, keywords for Google, count people entering it (google analytics), check where they are going, etc.
I’ll show you how to make the initial assumptions about the way people search for your profession. and how to adjust as time goes on.
And most important, don’t piss off Google, like many Deities, he / she can be very unforgiving
It was 2007 and finally laptops were fast, compact and useful. Wireless, though not everywhere could be combined with a cellphone to be the “hotspot”. All of this meant that during the reserves I could actually get some work done as long as I was “stationary” and not moving all of the time. No longer would I have to tell my clients a month previous to the reserve duty that I wont be working and hope they understand (usually they do, but still…).
We had duty in the WestBank for the month. Across from our little base was a typical Palestenian village with the usual mosque with loudspeakers making sure we don’t sleep with its call to prayer 5 times a day (more on that later). Our missions for the most part had us patrolling around the village as well as some of us being stationed in several static pillboxes. It was those pillboxes where I planned on going.
The first part, however, for me was always the hardest, learning the maps with the arab village names. When we’re out on the border the names of the hills and areas all have Hebrew code names, those are easier to remember, but the arab villages I can barely pronounce let alone remember. So after the initial briefing with one of the officers and after everyone has left the briefing room I go and sit in front of the map and using the standard memory techniques of association I learn the names (pronunciation is something else however).
After a week of patrols, I tell the “guys in charge” (officers) that I would like to go to one of the Pillboxes, but first I need to go home and get my computer. The deal is easy, I take my “days of leave” now and the rest of the period I’m in a pillbox. This makes it easier on the “management as they have less juggling around of the soldiers, their leaves and missions and I get to get some work done.
Three days later I’m back on the base with laptop all ready to go. I get a ride with the commander to my new home: A tall gray pillbox, sort of like a submarine thats verticle.
So all is good, we have a limited area to watch, and there are only a few arab village names to remember (actually its better since we were using a computer system with coordinates that we send to pinpoint the area of an event. Anyway, I get my laptop out and get to work. The telephone is working as the hotspot, electricity is good and I set up a mini desk to work on. So except for taking my loaded weapon to the bathroom, which is outside, its almost like working at home.
While I’m not working on my projects, the two other guys get to use my laptop, emails, movies, surfing etc. At one point I get the call I’ve been waiting for, I ‘ve been chasing a new client for about three months and finally the marketing guy from the US will be in Israel and he will have time for me. We set up a meeting for the afternoon in a few days. I work out the timing with the solider who is in charge of “manpower.” We arrange for someone to come in a switch with me, while I take the 4 hours off (travel 1hr- meeting/parking/food 2hrs – travel back 1hr).
The afternoon before, I prepare for the meeting. I have a list of my projects that are relevant on the computer, a list of websites that will be good examples. I then climb the ladder and start my shift. The other guys get to play on the computer now. I finished at 6:00am, take a nap for a few hours, my replacement comes and I get a lift back to our base and to my car.
Within a few minutes I’m back one the main road heading toward Tel Aviv, uniform, weapon and laptop (and I’m a bit tired).
First some technical information: As the websites have gotten larger and larger with more information, which meant longer loading times, the newer browsers started to implement a cache system. The browser stores some of the information of a the site you visited so that the browser doesn’t have to upload the whole website every time you visit the site. This was relativly new in 2007.
I arrive at the office and enter the boardroom where I start to set up to present, which means open the browser up, make sure the websites are listed, etc. In the middle of this, I get a call from one of the officers about when I’ll be returning. It seems there was a little incident (nothing deadly, but time consuming) and they’ll be needing a few more people then what they have. This is in fact normal, so though it was distracting, it wasn’t anything unusual.
By the time I finish the call, the potential clients are now entering the room. There are 4 of us: 3 men in management, and the single woman from the marketing department. And if you can’t guess what happened now, you have little imagination.
Usually I run through my presentation before they arrive, but given my distraction before they entered and my lack of concentration from the week, I turned on the projector opened the browser, and guess what my buddies in our pillbox were looking at?
It wasn’t porn, but it was pretty close…..and I had no idea what to say. I looked over at the guys who had little smirks on the faces (sort of a “guys will be guys” kind of thing). A look over at the Marketing woman, and I knew this was not going to end well.
I actually have no idea what I said, no real recollection as I’m sure it was nonsense and my brain decided to erase it to save myself the embarrassing memory years later. I did continue with the presentation just because it would have been even worse to “pack it up and leave right there, and I’m sure the guys had a good chuckle after I left, but the woman, well, I decided that she had no “sense of humor.”
This time being in the reserves didn’t give me any credit….and no, I did not get the work and though it was over 10 years ago, its still pretty embarrassing, and funny (but in a sit in the bar and tell stories kind of way) and still embarrassing.
so it turns out there is a downside to having that laptop with me in the reserves.
I’ve been told by my American friends and family that one keeps ones personal life outside from ones business, meaning one simply doesn’t mention whats happening in ones personal life while “conducting business.”. It always seemed a bit cold to me, since what happens with ones family does in fact affect our “business…”
It was August 2012, when I was invited to Jerusalem to present my work to a company that was looking for a new website. I arrived late morning and was shown the board room where I started to set up my computer and was looking for the monitor cord to hook it up to the projector, when I heard in the hallway someone mention about an attack on the Egyptian border. Well my son was on that border in a combat unit, meaning he might be involved.
I stopped with the preparations and went straight to the internet to learn about the attack. At this point people starting entering the board room, the CEO, marketing people, business development, it was to be a full room. I looked up at them and mentioned that I heard there was an attack on the border, the CEO confirmed it. I told them that my son was there on the border and if they wouldn’t mind I would like to take a few minutes to find out where exactly the attack occurred. I had spent many many hours on that very border, knew where my sons patrol area was so I just need a bit more info on where exactly the attack took place.
The marketing woman ask me which unit and if I knew the exact area, while I was giving her the information, I noticed that a map of the border area appeared on the wall, which made it even easier to show. The business development guy was on the phone asking someone for some details. Its seems that half of the room were making phone calls asking their friends, army buddies etc what they knew. It turns out the CEO was an F16 pilot, the marketing woman was active in the reserves in the south, the Business Development guy was from the commandos…..In about 10 minutes It was clear that the attack was not in my sons immediate area and that larger forces were already moving in the area (these guys had good connections). This meant that my sons unit would probably not be directly involved unless there were additional attacks in a different area (always a possibility).
At any rate, once we cleared up that, and I was a bit more relaxed, I returned to connecting my computer to the projector and to start my presentation. Israel is a personal place and it was obvious to everyone in that room that before I started my presentation I needed to know about my son (just as they would, in a similar situation) and everyone did what they could to help. It was a good feeling that here in Israel somethings are simply more important than business….and I got the job.
It was 2009, my daughter, had started her army service and I knew the beginning was going to be difficult. She was raised as a princess (I plead guilty) and was to get the shock of her life. Though we taken camping trips before, canoed in Northern Canada, spent time in the mountains of Northern Italy, the conditions of the army were a whole different world. Adding to that being yelled at, and punished by someone who is only a few years older than yourself was going to be a difficult period.
During this period, I also found myself in the reserves. I decided to take a day and visit my daughter, not on “visitors day” or during some ceremony but in the middle of the basic training. Given that I was one of the older guys in my unit, I knew there wouldn’t be a problem with taking the day. One of the officers secured for me a pass to her base (one of the larger ones in the south that I had spent many many many days on).
I really wasn’t worried about not being able to see her, or by having one of her officers telling me “I can’t, ” this is the IDF, a “family” oriented army. I arrived after about an hour driving, parked my car and entered the base. Though the base was large, I knew where her tents were and within a short walk of 10 minutes I arrived. Nobody was there, I looked at my watch and noticed that it was 12:30, which meant they were probably having lunch. I decided to do this the “respectful way.” I could have just walked straight to the cafeteria and found her there, but I decided to go to her officer and “ask permission.”
Her officer I presumed was in the little “room” next to the tents. The door was closed so I knocked. A young officer opened the door. I asked her if she was Karen’s commander. My American accent made it pretty clear that I was probably her dad. She answered yes. I told her that I took a few hours off and I came to see her. She looked at me and I could see that she wasn’t really sure what to do, so I decided to help her. I mentioned that I just came from training (that was obvious given my uniform and weapon) and that I managed to get away for a few hours. She mentioned that, Karen is in the middle of basic training and as I must know discipline is very important here. At this point I couldn’t help but smile. The girl in front of me may be an officer in the army and I may be just a sergeant in the reserves, but she is also a 20 year old girl, and I”m old enough to be her dad. I gave her the “dad” look, the one that is slightly condescending that says, ” I know more than you.” I said that its better that as an officer you know that I ‘ll be seeing my daughter rather than not knowing of my visit. She really didn’t have a choice. I promised it would be short, just a few minutes. At that point she understood she really didn’t have much of a choice, she relaxed (maybe she thought of her own dad visiting her), gave me the cute smile of a 20 year old and told me which cafeteria she was in.
I arrive at the cafeteria and enter the main lobby area where I saw two female soldiers (sergeant and a corporal). It was clear that they were her commanders as the way their ranks were nicely sewed on their sleeves and not stuck on with a bobby pin (see karens pict above with her own stripes held on with a bobby pin- classic IDF.
Again I really don’t need their permission, but I did think I would give them the chance to decide how best to do this. So I approached one of them, confirmed that they were responsible for Karen’s unit and mentioned I had already spoken to their lieutenant about seeing my daughter.
They spoke a few minutes among themselves obviously trying to decide how best to handle this situation. They asked that I wait and they will bring her out. The cafeteria is pretty big with many soldiers all over the place. I could see the “girls” at the far end and that they had called Karen out. I could also see the anxiety on her face. No one likes being called out in basic, it is never anything good.
When she exits the eating hall and sees me…..(see the movie below). Moments us Dads live for.
It was 2012 and I received an emergency call up. It seems the government had had enough of the rockets coming out of gaza and decided to do something about it. So I went to my closet, filled up the my bag with amy uniform, socks etc and drove down south to the base. There was quite a lot of activity going on, but it wasn’t hard to find my unit (mobile phones…). The days were busy as we got organized, hunted down equipment, trained, etc. The officers were especially busy as they had quite a lot to learn and prepare for in a short time.
One of our officers had a meeting in Tel Aviv and needed someone to drive him as he was exhausted, I was chosen. He actually wasn’t much company as he slept all the way. We arrived at the meeting and I had a few hours to kill (we guessed at between 2-4).
The Haircut 🙁
I had a car so I decided first of all to get haircut (my wife was complaining about my hair, and actually longer hair in a helmet is not that comfortable). I drove north a bit a found a nice fancy mall in north Tel Aviv. I was pretty filthy having been training in the desert, and as I approached the “salon” I felt slightly out of place. I looked in, wasn’t sure, but the guy waved me in, so I entered. I sat in the nice wide chair, and really didn’t know where to place my weapon. I didn’t want to put it on floor nor did I want to place it out of my sight, so I held it under the “cape,” while he cut my hair. It felt like I was in some kind of action movie. He asked me about where I was, where I was going (it was rather obvious he understood little) and then he went into a 20 minute monologue about how he would like to go down to the front where everyone is training and give everyone a haircut, how we deserved it, how its the least he could do for those of us who are willing put our lives on line (such a cliche). I’m thinking ok, so at least I’ll get a free haircut out of all of this. He finishes up, I look in the mirror and the haircut is good, but I’m still filthy. I reach down to the small pocket on my leg where I keep my wallet, and I’m expecting him any minute to tell me to keep it, but he doesn’t and I pay him his 60nis. So much for those free haircuts that we “deserved.”
The Salesman 🙁
Next stop, a camping/army supply store. Before we left I asked if anybody needed anything and was rewarded with quite a list. Seems the emergency call up (zav 8) meant many forgot to take some basics: socks, batteries, headlamps etc. I go north to the nearest store. The store is empty and I give the salesman my list. And he asks, which unit I’m in, that he wished that he was going and other small talk, he then mentioned that there will be a special discount price for me and the guys in my unit. (I’m thinking ok, now were talking). We put everything on the counter he adds them up and then comes the special price – 5%. Thats it? just 5%. We’re going to war and thats all we get is 5% off?
The Prostitute 🙂
Finished with my list, I call up the officer for a time estimate, 2 more hours. I’m getting tired and I do have a 2-3 hour drive back down south. There is a hotel in North Tel Aviv, along the beach but far from the crowds. with a big field next to it and large parking area (Tel Baruch). I used to play tennis there. I figure I could go there, park and take a nap for an hour or two.
I arrive and its pretty empty. In the field I could see a few cars moving around and a few prostitutes walking up to them. I get out for some fresh air and to asses the situation, one of the girls (a bit older) walks over to me and asks me for a cigaret. I don’t smoke and it was clear that I wasn’t interested. She looked me over and unlike the hairdresser, and unlike the salesmen, it was clear she knew exactly where I was going nor did she ask. She said that I should stay safe, not take chances and that she appreciates what I’m doing…and then she offered me a “freebie”. I had to smile. Though I turned her down, just the fact that of the three people I met, she was the only one that didn’t say much, gave me a feeling that she cared and offered me a real “price break.” I felt like showing her how much I appreciated her few words and her offer and asked if she needed a ride anywhere, she answered that I could give her a ride home, which I did.
Well I’m not really sure Ben-Gurion was right.
Quoted in the book “The Billionaire’s Apprentice” by Anita Raghavan is David Ben-Gurion’s reported comment,
“When Israel has prostitutes and thieves, we’ll be a state just like any other.”
Quoted in the New York Times’ review of the book June 30.
When laptops finally came out, a lot of pressure was taken off of me. I could now just stay in touch with my clients while in the reserves, and in fact continue to do the work. The pace would be slowed down but at least the flow will not have stopped and for those graphic emergencies I could now take care of them myself instead of handing them off to someone else (including my competition sometimes).
However, very quickly I discovered a new problem I had not considered. My laptop was very valuable and at the same time, fragile. It was not made to be bumped around too much, didn’t like sand, its battery life wasn’t that long and its was vulnerable to being stolen when I wasn’t looking. When we were static on a base for a few weeks I could always store it in the communications room where there was always somebody to watch it, when I had to leave to a patrol or something. but when we are on the move during training? Hell, I didn’t even know where to put it to protect it. There maybe coffee cup and ammunition holders in those armored personal carriers but no laptop holders.
However I did solve the problem: I simply left the computer in my car….and stayed in the 1990’s.
This post is for those who actually use their websites for commercial reasons, what I do. And since I design those very websites I thought that perhaps its time for a short interesting lesson on the differences between the mobile and desktop (laptop).
To begin with, on mobile our preference is to scroll, its faster and more natural than opening up a menu that covers part of the mobile screen and looking for something. On the desktop, our hand is one the mouse so we are “ready to click” ready to open up the menus on top.
I have attached two screen shots, one of my mobile which has a simple screen with a single click to send the user, where I want them to go (if your one of those 50% who are now on mobile, this is the page it goes to).
You’ll notice that on the mobile image here its more “business like” the space is at a premium so I get right down to the relevant information of who I am, whereas on the desktop, I get to “play” with my cool graphics to “show off.
If your interested in me taking a look at your site and its mobile version, obviously get in touch with me.
I had a client in New York for a quite a few years (until they were bought out). The company was Jewish owned and many of the employees were also Jewish. They actually looked to work with an Israeli graphic design company and found me on Google. We spoke on the phone several times, and I did some small work them (data sheets). So far so good, they had some larger projects in the pipeline and for this they wanted to meet me. There was a professional conference coming up where the owners would be attending here in Israel, so this would work out easy enough.
Of course I also had milluyim during their conference. It really wasn’t much of a concern as I knew I could easily take the hours anyd meet my clients in Tel Aviv where their conference was. I might be a bit dirty and not dressed properly, but given that they were Jewish Americans who were also Zionists, I figure this would make the meeting that much easier.
A few days before they arrived we spoke on the phone, and as we arranged the time, I explained that I will becoming from the reserves and might be a bit dirty. The owner asked me a few more questions about my service, I assumed that it was just simple curiosity and being polite I was surprised when he told me he would rather meet me outside of my base, but I agreed.
The time of the meeting came and I met them at a restaurant at the gas station a few kilometers outside of that big base in the Negev. I started to explain more about my work as a designer, my experiences, my knowledge, my clients, but the owner was more interested in my service both in the regular army and in the reserves. First I put it down to the simple fascination of an American Jew who had had no connection to the army at all (he was close to my age, so I understood that very well). His questions were getting however a bit more specific, like hours we sleep, the food, etc. I asked him what’s going on. He told me that his son will soon be coming to Israel as a “lone soldier” and he was worried. I couldn’t help but smile it reminded me of that ridiculous decision of mine to do the same so many years ago, except I didn’t tell my parents of my plan.
So we spoke, I told him of my own service (ok I left out a few things, like my lack of Hebrew and how much trouble I got into because of it.). I told him of the people in the army, the Druze, the Bedouin, the Christians,, how it feels to take an active part in the defense of Israel. I mentioned that every time I do the reserves I take a financial “hit” but its more than worth it. I told him of the resourcefulness of the the soldiers and their motivation (and skipped over some of the realities like having ones batteries go dead on some equipment on a mission with the backups being almost dead.) I just told him what it meant to me…
In fact we barely spoke about my design work but I knew the job was mine.
and I also promised to look after his son, which I did.