Cellphones are like Brussels sprouts – people either love them or hate them.

I was never a lover of them; at first.

But then, in 1992, during a Livnot tiyul, Dana the Tzfat work foreman was bitten twice by a viper and only through Divine Intervention were we able to get him to the hospital in time. It was then that we realized that we’d have to get some form of mobile communication; it was a matter of life and death. At the time, due to a lack of infrastructure, mobile communication in Israel meant using walkie-talkies. A base station and one walkie-talkie cost 36,000 shekels – back then. Our conclusion: only the rich can afford life.

Luckily, the cellular phone revolution in Israel (and the rest of the world) solved the problem. Now, even not-for-profits can enjoy relative safety when in need.

One problem remains: bad reception in remote parts of the country. And since we often hike way-off-the-beaten-path, this is also a potential safety hazard.

A few days ago, as I was driving through the Golan Heights on the way home from a tiyul, I saw about a thousand storks settling down for the evening in a ploughed wheat field. I pulled off the main road and drove on a dirt path until I could get a close view of this rare site. After spending a few minutes in watch, I took a short cut to get back to my moshav. To my horror, I found a huge antenna lying on its side in the middle of a field, only a few hundred meters from my home. When this thing gets erected, I thought, it’s going to destroy the view of our entire countryside. This is an outrage! Who is the evil force behind this mean machine?

Soon the truth came out: this antenna was the fruit of an Israeli cellular phone company attempting to improve the reception quality of users in the area.

Off the beaten path, but with more antennas these days

The next day, the antenna went up.

That evening, our neighbors called. “This is an outrage! How dare they destroy our landscape? We must act, and now! We’re meeting tonight to form an ad hoc committee. If we work quickly, we can get a lot done before they start transmitting.”

At the meeting, we divided tasks between ourselves. Into my lap fell the following responsibilities: to call the Israeli Environmental Protection Agency, two newspapers, and the competing cellphone company. These calls were to be placed at 8am the next morning. The next morning at 8am, I was leaving my village on the way to meet a bus for a Livnot hike. I called the EPA. There was a thin, silent voice on the other end of the line, and lots of static.

“Shalom, is this the EPA?”

“Hello, this is the EPA. Can you speak up?”

“Yes, can you hear me now? I’m calling to complain about…”

“Hello? This is the EPA. Are you calling from a cellphone? Can you reach higher ground? We can barely hear you…”

“Can you hear me now? I want to file a complaint about…”

“Hello, this is the EPA. Listen, I can’t understand a word you’re saying. Can you get yourself near a cellphone antenna?”

Sigh.

Michael

(This edition of “Not Kansas” is reprinted from August 1998.)