By RABBI BOB ALPER
Hey kids! Here’s a really neat experiment you can try, right in the privacy of your own home!
“Shalom. Israel Bonds.”
“Shalom. Temple Beth Melissa.”
“Shalom. Jewish Community Center.”
Now comes the special, fun part! Dial any number…any number at all, in Israel! It’s easy: Punch in 011-972-2 and six random digits. Know what you’ll hear?
Not only do American Jewish organizations out-Israeli the Israelis, they’ve all pretty much gone high tech. This means that many of them have voice mail (“Sorry, I’m either on the phone or away from my desk…” which really means “I’m taking yet another extended lunch or I’m standing outside the front door smoking.”)
Occasionally, though, you’ll encounter a live voice, a real, honest-to-goodness human being, who will say “Shalom.” “Shalom,” of course, is immediately followed by, “Can you hold?” As fast as humanly possible I utter, “Actually, no, I just need to…” but, by then, I’ve been cut off, and am now a full two measures into the telephone serenade, music to entertain, music to make the passing minutes fly by as you ever-so-patiently await the return of the voice who will then say, “Thank-you-for-waiting-can-I-help-you-oh-sorry-please-hold….”
It’s the “on hold” music that’s really been getting to me lately. Used to be one standard, bland selection on the old systems. Nowadays, though, everyone’s into customization. Auto parts stores treat you to Howard Stern broadcasts. A Catholic book publisher plays the most insipid version of Amazing Grace ever recorded. And Jewish institutions are nearly universally into…what else?…Israeli music.
When I’m put on hold, my standard “charmingly placid” mood swings abruptly into the “annoyed/angry” category, bypassing the incremental stages of “empathetic,” “non-plussed,” and “growing impatient.” I don’t want to hold, but if I must hold, and if I must listen to music, I want to hear something that reflects my mood. Something like the Dies Irae from Verdi’s Requiem. I want furious trumpets and pounding, ominous kettle drums. I want a musical mirror of my personal pique.
Not a lilting, chirpy Erev Shel Shoshanim.
In my humble yet savvy opinion, the top prize for on-hold torture music should be awarded, without question, to a certain Jewish Community Center located in, let’s just say, the southwestern part of Ohio. (I don’t want to be more specific, lest I somehow offend the sensitive folks of Cincinnati.)
This actually happened to me:
Voice: “Shalom. Jewish Community Center.”
Me: “Hello. May I speak with…”
Voice: “Can you hold?”
Switch immediately to the music, a song already in progress:
“…tzena tzena, TZENA tzena tzena, tzena, tzena, tzena tzena tzena tzena, tzena, tzena, TZENA tzena tzena, tzena, tzena, tzena tzena tzena…”