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July 22, 2014 / 24 Tammuz, 5774
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Show Me The Service!


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I am on a bus as I write this article and the ride will be at least 11 hours. For me, one of the big draws of traveling in a manner most would feel is quite tedious, is that several long distance bus companies offer free WIFI service. This allows me the opportunity to possibly enrich myself financially (by watching the ebb and flow of the stock market); educate myself (by reading various online newspapers, including The Jewish Press); entertain myself (downloading the many humorous, sometimes witty, satirical articles/photos/cartoons available to brighten a person’s day) or write a column, (and for a change not have the pressure of stressfully productive hours before my deadline) – all time consuming activities that should make time pass quickly.

I tell myself that despite being in transit, it’s almost like being at home, the only difference being that the “living-room” I am in is on wheels, and taking me to a much anticipated destination (visiting my kids for Yom Tov and beyond, as they live-in three different states). I save money, maybe even time, since flying to where you are planning to get to can take much longer than ground transportation. Scheduled times of departure and the ACTUAL time of departure are all too often not even close. Which brings me to the point of this article: More often than not, consumers do not get what they pay for. In fact, customer satisfaction is the exception these days, not the rule. And initially, this bus trip was representative of this new “norm.”

You see, like many companies/consumer products in the 21st century, the bus line failed to deliver. There was no Internet, again. It’s not the first time on this route where I watched, with diminishing hope, my computer try mightily to access the World Wide Web – but to no avail. Out of curiosity, I asked other passengers, who must have had the same look of frustration on their faces as I did, if this lack of WIFI was an isolated incident for them. Most told me that on previous trips, including ones to different destinations (so it just wasn’t because of mountains, or passing through rural areas) the same thing had happened.

I resigned myself to staring out the window but fortunately, a couple of hours into the journey, we did get WIFI .

Sadly, non-deliverance of a much ballyhooed service or product is all too common. Shoddy work and service has become the new normal, to the extent that consumers buy a product knowing full well that they will likely have to go to the place of purchase in the not too distant future to exchange or return it.

It was not always this way. I am not that old, relatively speaking (although some of my younger relatives might disagree) and I remember a time when you were never asked at the check-out counter if you wanted to buy an extended warranty for an appliance or electronic gadget – because there was no such entity. There was no need for what basically was “life insurance” for a manufactured product, because the likelihood of its untimely death was almost zero. It was built to last for years, even decades. And on the rare occasion when there was a problem with a product that was several years old, the manufacturer would readily replace it. The consumer did not have to.

But those days of product or service integrity are for the most part historic. There is a saying one comes across from time to time – “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Nowadays, that saying, ironically, is appropriate for the opposite situation as well – “If it IS broken, don’t fix it.” In other words, don’t waste your time and money. Just replace it.

It just isn’t worth repairing something damaged because the work will likely be haphazard and you’ll be back to square one.

My son recently waited weeks for his car to be repaired after it got partially submerged in a water- filled pothole during a flash thunderstorm. When the car was supposedly repaired, he drove on an outing with his family only to lose power – which meant the steering wheel was useless, and smoke was coming out of the engine – on a multi-lane highway. “We don’t understand, we road tested it…and it was fine” was the excuse he got for having a repaired vehicle returned to him with so not functioning there could have been a very tragic outcome.

In the meantime, the repairs to his home alarm system to get rid of a very annoying, sleep disturbing beeping lasted only several hours, necessitating another call, and other re-arranging of schedules to make sure someone was home. Another son had to call in a repairman just days before Yom Tov to fix his four year old fridge – the fan had broken. A couple of days later, the same repairman was yet again in their kitchen repairing a “youngish” oven that would not heat up. Almost comically, my son with the “repaired” car also had his four-year-old fridge start “acting up” on Yom Tov. He may need his fan replaced or his compressor – the jury is still out on that one.

It seems almost daily there is a recall of a mass-produced, popular item, such as a car, children’s toys, cribs –even food. Thousands of pounds of meat have been pulled off of store shelves in recent months. Last year, eating certain cantaloupes or walnuts could have made the consumer seriously ill. The list goes on and on.

This unfortunate, but prevalent hefkeirus, of just not doing your best, of doing the bare minimum, can be seen in our personal relationships as well. Little kids are being raised by hired help – most of who are adequate, but who do not go “the extra mile.” A friend and I while stopped at a red light were disturbed to see four little girls, about 6 years old, hesitatingly cross a busy intersection by themselves, one anxiously running across to get it over with.

At shul, I overheard a conversation between two older women who were bemoaning that today’s young wives buy take out for their families. For whatever reason, they can’t be bothered to cook. Their families are fed, but with minimum effort on their part. I am sure many such conversations in regards to other domestic responsibilities take place in the community.

Sadly, this lackadaisical attitude has permeated the spiritual realm as well. You look around you and see people speed bentching and davening with no thought, no pride, just a rush to get it out of the way. Like merchandise and services that are barely functional, so too are many of our personal and spiritual relationships.

It is felt by many that the Internet poses a threat to our integrity as Am Yisrael. Apathy, laziness and a disregard for working hard and putting in the effort to be the best we can be is also a threat. At Har Sinai we shouted na’ aseh ve’nishma. We will do it and listen. We didn’t first ask how hard it would be.

We are exhorted in Shema to love Hashem with all our heart, all our soul and all our ability. That is the quintessential blueprint that should guide us in our daily endeavors both at home at work, and with family and community alike.

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