Gedalyah Reback

An Efficient Israel? In Our Dreams

"Brain Storm" by alexiuss of deviantART
“Brain Storm” by alexiuss of deviantART

Some experts theorize dreams are the mind’s way of abstracting solutions to everyday problems.  Freud’s famed student Alfred Adler saw them as prepping the dreamer for the emotional ordeal of confronting problems. Modern psychologist Deirdre Barrett sees that as dreams’ main function, particularly for:

“ones where the conventional wisdom is just wrong about how to approach the problem.”

Sometimes we push a problem to the side for long periods before we really tackle it.  It burns at you.  Conventional wisdom isn’t just wrong on how to solve it; conventional wisdom is the problem.  My wife and I woke up this morning and told each other these vivid dreams we had had following the epic fast of Yom Kippur. All three of these dreams that we could remember involved something absurd happening . . . because we lived in Israel.

Three Dreams

In the first dream, our sister-in-law, who thank God had a baby girl last week (in real life), had managed to have the girl in the dream. But in this version of events, the Israeli doctors decided that the baby (who was 9 months along) wasn’t ready to come out. So they stuffed her back in. We were slightly puzzled by their decision.  But they assured us this was normal.  After being sent home, we all returned to “try” again.  A second perfect birth.  But the doctors thought something was missing, so back in she had to go again.  “Don’t worry, ma’am,” they said, “just come back when you feel the contractions again and hopefully next time it will be fine.”  They told her mother to come back later to have the baby again. After the third labor, the doctors decided the baby could stay out.  No explanation was ever given.

In the second dream, my wife was in a car when she noticed two buildings on fire down the street. “Someone must have called already, right?”  Deciding she couldn’t rely on that assumption, she made the call to the fire department. On the other line she got an answer and told them what was happening.

In Hebrew, someone at the station answered the call:

Responder: “Sorry, these are not our working hours. We can’t help you.”

Wife: “WHAT?! The buildings are going up in flames and there are probably people in there! You’re letting them die!”

Responder: “I am sorry, but we do not have the authority to leave when it is not during our working hours.”

Then ensued several minutes of screaming at this person to assemble her crew and extinguish the flames. Without luck, my wife hanged up and called the police, who promptly came and took care of the problem.


When she asked the police why the fire department wouldn’t respond,  the officer simply said, “Well, they don’t get many calls and we don’t have many fire engines. We just give the crew regular working hours because they don’t usually get called for an emergency. That’s why when you called, they didn’t take you seriously.”

Confused and frustrated, my wife replied, “Well . . . wouldn’t that ‘once in a while’ call mean that there actually is an emergency?”

Police officer: Hm. That’s true…

For the third dream, my wife wanted to go to Emek Refaim in the middle of Jerusalem.  Having worked there full time last year, it wasn’t an uncommon occurrence. But this time she couldn’t find the street and walked into a restaurant to ask directions.

Waitress: “Hello. Do you need any help?”

Wife: “Can you tell me where I can find Emek Refaim street?”

Waitress: “Okay, ma’am, it’s that way, but you need an ishur to enter.”

Wife: “WHAT?!”

The waitress went to the manager to ask for special permission for an ishur, but he said no. In a bout of frustration, my wife angrily started making her way towards the door to Emek Refaim against the waitress’ orders. Finally, the waitress yelled, “Wait! Okay, I’ll give you an ishur,” stamped a piece of paper and handed it to her.

Was it a dream?

In the case of these three dreams, which the two of us had just before waking up this morning, it seems our brains are telling us something.  Our minds are expressing frustration and satire in order to highlight a common problem Israeli society has: inefficiency.  The reason the phrase “rosh gadol” (“out-of-the-box thinker”) is so popular in Israel is because so few people seem to operate that way.

As much as I’ve heard rhetoric about Israelis going with the flow, they clearly don’t.  Israeli innovation gets a lot of press, but it’s noticeably absent from public life.

There’s something terribly wrong with this country. – 

Every new ministry stokes the flames.  The Rabbanut seems to only exist to dig up traditionally unnecessary amounts of paper proof for someone’s Jewish background.  Misrad al ha’Panim usually can’t authorize things without the approval of other ministries.  Hebrew University is much worse than Rutgers University ever was for me back in the States – and Rutgers’ rep for bureaucratic mess-ups is so bad it’s dubbed the “RU Screw” by students and professors alike.  Why not find a better way?

The "RU Screw" is infamous at Rutgers U
The “RU Screw” is infamous at Rutgers U

I’ve heard explanations for all these very different institutions.  For one there’s too much redundancy.  Office jobs seem to exist for no other reason but to employ the people that work in them.  As one friend explains the bureaucratic delays in the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the people working there aren’t professional office managers but “Shas-titutes” that got their job because of the connections they had to someone in the ministry, to someone in that party.

So where are all the out-of-the-box thinkers?  Apparently, they’re in the elite units.  Army buddies have told me their ideas on why paper-pushers are so bad here: they aren’t the creative thinkers.  To paraphrase an oft-repeated explanation I’ve gotten from friends in the army:

(Nearly all of) the country’s population goes through the army.  There, the best, the brightest and the most motivated are placed in elite combat or intelligence units.  Some receive more special training and many even volunteer for rigorous courses and exercises.  But then others get sorted in the opposite direction.  The least motivated and worst aptitude test scores end up behind desks.  The army isn’t going to spend money on them.  They are just there to keep things together.  But they’re not receiving extra training in these ‘menial’ jobs.  They’re there because the army doesn’t want them anywhere else.  And when they leave, that’s the experience they leave with.  Then, they fill civilian paper-pushing jobs.  They become the bureaucracy.

Competitiveness Going Up in Smoke


Israel is considered a creativity superpower.  Just two weeks ago, it was ranked 3rd in ” capacity for innovation” and 4th in patents per capita by the World Economic Forum, but also scolded for its absurd bureaucracy.  As CEO of the Manufacturers Association of Israel Amir Hayek put it, the Forum’s report shows Israel is:

…falling to unpleasant places in terms of the burden of regulation and taxation and the quality of infrastructure, preventing the ability of competitiveness that Israeli innovation can and should present in the international arena.

So where are the big thinkers?  Where are our innovative tech elites to come save the day?  Have they become so used to the daily grind that they are too complacent to care?  Why isn’t this CEO, among others, mapping out a solution for what is an endemic problem?

It’s come time to shift a lot of that brain power into the management industry, then turn a lot of the government investment in emerging technologies over to repairing the inefficiencies of government and institutionalization.

If the army truly is a major source for this pandemic problem, then imagine the crises that could face the country as that attitude infects all walks of life – especially the higher echelons of military command.

What Puts out the Flames?


We’re dealing with a cultural fire that needs to be put out.  It demands massive social solutions.  On the ground and in the office buildings, these are the priorities in fighting off this sort of fire:

Make things more efficient.  Conventional wisdom would tell us we should have an office for government accountability – an office authorized to restructure the inefficiencies of government.  An overgrown forest clearly should be thinned.

Sometimes Firing is the Best Weapon against the Flames
Sometimes Firing is the Best Weapon against the Flames

Streamline things.  The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  Why fill out multiple forms with the same info when all government agencies could be linked onto one single intranet?  Why have two offices that deal with the same issues (the Rabbanut and Interior Ministry)?  The US merged the Departments of Navy and War into the Department of Defense.  Shouldn’t that be a model to revere?  Could you imagine if Israel’s armed forces actually were this divided in command structure (maybe they already are)?

Why Israel?  Why?
Why Israel? Why?

Increase transparency.  The only politicians talking about this haven’t made it out of their primaries yet.  But the issue is clear, an increase in transparency would go a long way in forcing government to be accountable for its policies.  Citizens would have the chance to ask why certain policies have to exist.

Management classes; management consultancy.  I said Israel needs a government accountability office.  Well, so do many schools and private institutions.  This industry exists for a reason. It makes and breaks companies; it makes and breaks countries.  If something can be done quicker and sleeker, it should be.

You don’t need a degree to run an office, but a couple of courses might help.  Everyone needs training, even in customer service.  Look, there are entire companies based off this idea. Anyone who shows potential in the office should be given the chance to advance.  As Israel thins its civil jobs, it will scout who has the most potential to become the best managers, then train them to be the efficiency experts this government (and culture) desperately need.

Another Way of Looking at Things

We’ve known about these issues for so long.  Why haven’t we done anything about it until now?

It’s that complacency dowsing our motivation.  That exhaustion from explaining the logical way of doing things to people who just want to get a paycheck, not change the institutions they’re employed at.  We want a smoother way of life, but there is so much stubbornness in these ministries, these offices and institutions that we burn ourselves out complaining.  Stories equally as absurd as the ones from our dreams plague Israelis everyday.  It makes us numb.

It’s not just like a war.  It’s hard to unify people to do something important unless there’s some external target, some external tormentor and enemy.  That enemy is decline.  If Israel can’t compete, that spells danger for this country’s ability to prosper and be strong when it truly matters.  These issues could impact us when we least need them, during a war.  Then, we’d really be under fire.

Dreams give us another medium through which to solve problems.  I’ve felt for quite a while that Israel needs to start thinking outside the box.  But the Talmud famously equates dreams to a 60th of prophecy; in terms of Jewish law, a 60th of something might as well not exist.  Make it reality.  The illustration our minds put in front of us need to be executed: take away jobs that don’t need to exist and force people to develop new ones.  Force people to be creative.  It doesn’t have to be a painful process of rapidly firing thousands of people – it should take time to develop a new layout for any government or company that works better than a current, less efficient one.  But it needs to be done.


About the Author
Gedalyah Reback is an experienced writer on technology, startups, the Middle East and Islam. He also focuses on issues of personal status in Judaism, namely conversion.