Archive for March, 2009

Facebook: It’s a Small World, After All

March 26, 2009

It’s been a long time since we gathered for our first introductory broadcasting course in the basement transmitter room of the Butler University’s 50-thousand watt radio station. This was my very first college class, on a very early 8:00AM Monday morning in Indianapolis. Also in that class was an out-of-place Jewish kid named Tom who’d never seen so much green in one place as we have in Indiana.

Democrat Tom Weiss may have been out of place in conservative Indiana, but he is certainly one-of-a-kind. A Marv Albert wannabe sportscaster, Tom was the son of then-Congressman Ted Weiss of New York. The same Ted Weiss who represented midtown Manhattan and Wall Street also sent his son to school in the Hoosier state.

Tom’s dad had emigrated to the U.S. from Hungary, fleeing the Nazi invasion. Educated as an attorney and elected to the New York City Council, he ran for Congress and won a seat in the 1976 bicentennial year. He died while in office as a Congressman, one day before the state’s primary election in 1992. Even with five Democratic challengers on the ballot, Ted Weiss still posthumously won that election with 89% of the vote.  

At Butler, we were all adjusting to a new reality of being away from home.

Tom joined the same fraternity that I did, and we were classmates from that first day through four (or in his case, I think, six) years of school. We learned a lot. We had wonderful times with our band of merry men. He’s always been a good singer – someone you could count on when trying to fill out the ranks for Spring Sing competitions.

(One night we heard Tom’s dad on Larry King’s national call-in radio show. This was during the Reagan Administration, and Congressman Weiss was railing against the President and his policies. We goaded Tom into calling up the show and asking his Dad for money, since he was just a poor college student. That was a fun night.)

At 13, Tom played the role of Benjamin Franklin in a local production of the musical “1776.” 

Now, almost 25 years after graduating from college, I found Tom Weiss – the first Jewish man I’d ever met – alive and well and living in Jerusalem.

This year, he is reprising his interest in American history and the musical “1776.”

The story of the American revolution, told in song, is playing now on an Israeli stage? But why?

“Leadership, Courage, Freedom, and Independence. And we have the first African-American President. Slaves built the White House in 1792, and John Adams was the first president to reside there,” wrote Tom on Facebook chat earlier tonight. The show is being done all over the country, in English.

In this production, Tom Weiss plays Roger Sherman – who opens the show. Connecticut’s Sherman was the only American to have signed all four of the great state papers – a signer of the Declaration of 1774, the Declaration of 1776, the Articles of Confederation of 1781 and the U.S. Constitution of 1788.

“We’re trying to teach coalition building. We call it musically harmonized, creative charismatic coalition building. That’s where Israel and Bibi Netanyahu is today,” Tom explains, referring to the incoming Israeli prime minister.

The show has actors from north and south, from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The theatre company has been going for two years. The show’s director is from Broadway in New York.

“We were in a bus last week heading to Ra’anana above Tel Aviv and we watched the movie ‘1776’ together. For some it was the first time,” Brother Weiss wrote, noting that the cast on the bus sounds better singing together than do the actors on the DVD.

For seven weeks now, Israeli audiences have been lining up to see the story of the American Revolution told in song.

“We had Knesset Night tonight,” Tom relays. “From what I am told, this is the longest running in the history of the English speaking theatre in Israel.”

Tom’s Facebook message had a special offer for Knesset Night – get three tickets for the price of one. “Special for my Facebook friends, like Broadway TKTS @ 47th Street,” he wrote, referring to the same-day discount ticket show offers in Times Square.

Small world, indeed.


How Low Will It Go?

March 1, 2009

The spiraling, sputtering economy is throwing off jobs – and careers – like the hot air balloon pilot cutting loose sandbags in an attempt to gain altitude.

My friend the home salesman was let go a few months ago, ahead of the tidal wave that is rippling through our economy.  The national builder he worked for just pulled up stakes from Colorado and left town. 

A fraternity brother in the home improvement business called with news of a layoff from his Baltimore tool company, after 15 years on the job. 

A woman who graduated from Butler with me (but majored in psychology) spread word of her layoff from an Indianapolis advertising agency through Facebook.  

A groomsman from my wedding can’t find work in Indiana, so the electrician travels to West Virginia to work – coming home on the weekends to be with his girls. 

A friend from the gym thought his job was safe because he was the only IT person at a small insurance firm, but he was laid off. 

Just seven months into the job, an advertising executive lured to Indianapolis by a large electronics firm is sacked as business sours.  His list of local contacts is limited, to say the least.

A relative in the Florida hospitality business worries when word hits the papers that sagging vacation commitments have forced layoffs at his blue-chip company – voluntary layoffs at first, but more pain to come.

The only bright spot – so far — in my circle of laid off friends is the adaptable computer expert who endures the personal pain of a layoff but lands another job before his severance is spent.

Others keep their heads low and nose to the grindstone as contracts expire, new business slows, and companies everywhere look for things to throw overboard.

How low can it go?  Much lower, probably.

Somehow, I don’t think nationalizing the financial networks and health care system is the answer. 

Who’s going to be left to pay the bill?