In the fall of 2019 a series of fortunate events led Technically Religious contributor Leon Adato to take a journey of a lifetime. He transformed an unexpected convention trip to Barcelona into a mission to bring a Torah back to the US from Israel. Like the movie that this episode is named for, along the way he experienced unexpected challenges and met larger-than-life characters who helped him on his way. Listen or read the transcript below
Kate: 00:00 Welcome to our podcast where we talk about the interesting, frustrating and inspiring experience we have as people with strongly held religious views working in corporate IT. We’re not here to preach or teach you our religion or lack thereof. We’re here to explore ways we make our career. Is IT professionals mesh or at least not conflict with our religious life. This is Technically Religious.
Josh: 00:24 In the fall of 2019 a series of fortunate events led Technically Religious contributor, Leon Adato, to take a journey of a lifetime. He transformed an unexpected convention trip to Barcelona into a mission to bring a Torah back to the U S from Israel. Like the movie that this episode is named for, along the way, he experienced unexpected challenges and met larger than life characters who helped him on his way. I’m Josh Biggley and the other voices you’re going to hear on this episode are my partner in crime, Leon, Adato.
Leon: 00:57 Hello.
Josh: 00:59 Alright, Leon. You know how this goes, time for some shameless self promotion. So tell us who you are and where we can find you.
Leon: 01:06 Fantastic. I am Leon Adato, as we’ve said, probably three times already. I am a Head Geek at SolarWinds. Uh, you can find me on the twitters @leonadato and you can also read my pontificating about monitoring and other things at adatosystems.com and I identify religiously as an Orthodox Jew.
Josh: 01:26 Wonderful! And I’m Josh Biggley. Uh, this is the first time I think we’ve officially announced that I am a TechOps Strategy Consultant with New Relic. Uh, super excited about that. Started two weeks ago and I feel like I’m living the dream.
Leon: 01:40 Mazal Tov, mazel tov!
Josh: 01:41 Mazal Tov indeed. Uh, you can find me on the Twitters, uh, @Jbiggley. Uh, I’ve actually shut down all of my, all of my um, non-work related discussions maybe I’m just tired of social media. I don’t know. Um, but I do identify as post-Mormon. Um, so Leon, you, you had a trip.
Leon: 02:02 I did. I did. And, but before we dive into the particulars of the trip, which is sort of the central part of this episode, I want to talk about something that I think is near and dear to a lot of it practitioners, which is travel hacking.
Josh: 02:16 Oh yes, yes, please.
Leon: 02:18 Because a lot of the, a lot of the parts of the trip that I took were predicated on or were built on my ability to, um, travel both comfortably and also efficiently. Um, you know, not being independently wealthy as I think all of our listeners are. And if you are a listener and you’re independently wealthy, please consider taking a sponsorship. Um, we would love to, we’d love to have your support. Um, in any case, uh, I wanted to take a minute and talk about some things that I’ve learned over the last five and a half, almost six years as a head geek doing a lot of traveling. And Josh, I know that you have stuff to contribute.
Josh: 02:57 I’m actually going to do a lot of listening here because, uh, as part and parcel of my new job, I’m going to be doing a fair bit of traveling. So, uh, I mean I’m going to take some notes. Uh, wait, no, hold on. We’re going to put the details in the show notes. I’m not taking notes.
Leon: 03:11 Very good. Okay, good. I, you know, and we forgot to mention that earlier, so that was a nice way to slide it in there. The first point, especially when we’re talking about non US/Canada travel is all you need to do is get to Europe. Everything else is cheap. Once you do that, just get to Europe. I think a lot of Americans, and I’m assuming also Canadians, um, think, well, I’m going to go from, you know, France to Italy to this and they feel like they have to book it all out from the American perspective and you can, it’s going to cost a lot of money. The reality is that just land anywhere in Europe, it doesn’t have to be your final destination. It doesn’t even have to be on your itinerary. Wherever it’s cheapest to land get there because once you’re on the continent at that point, getting around is ridiculously cheap. You live, for example, uh, you can get a one week pass on the train system for about a hundred dollars US and that allows you to get on and off the train as much as you want. So you can go from city to city and if you get someplace and it’s like, wow, I didn’t even expect to be here and it’s beautiful here and I want to spend more time, fine, stay here and get on the train tomorrow or the day after or whatever. Also, there’s a lot of cheap airlines, um, easy jets, one of them, but there’s others. So again, just get into the region and from there you can build your trip off of that. Another thing is airline travel points are your friend and therefore, um, you want to work those points. And just to give you an example, a round trip ticket from the U S to Israel on United. I happened to be a United flyer. That’s my airline of choice a is 80,000 points. Round trip from Barcelona is 30,000 points. You know, I was already, as we’ll get into, I was already going to be in Barcelona, so I was able to build off of that to go do something else. Credit cards are a great tool for travel if they make sense for you. I’m not insisting that people get involved in credit cards. You get into credit card debt. I know that it’s a slippery slope for a lot of folks, but the reality is that there are a lot of cards you can get that come with a signing bonus and you get 50, 60, 100,000 points. That’s a European trip right there. Just that, you know, especially if it’s a credit card that you know you’re not going to use after that and you’ve got the, the willpower to do it.
Josh: 05:25 I liked that actually. I did. I didn’t use that piece of advice. Um, when I started my new job, I, I, I am an Air Canada flyer because I’m in Canada and there’s really two airlines, so yay. Star Alliance partner. Um, right. Got out, went out and got myself a credit card. They gave me, uh, a bonus for signing up and then a bonus if I spent more than X number of dollars, which wasn’t a problem because it’s also their credit card, I used to reimburse all my expenses.
Leon: 05:50 So as an IT pro, as long as your company doesn’t have a thing against it, use that credit card. First of all, you get all of your perks if you use that card rather than the corporate card. And yeah, you get, even if even if the dollars are going to be reimbursed, you get the points for the miles. And to your point, especially if you know you’re going to do a lot of travel, take a look at, you know, a lot of credit cards and a lot of airlines have a card that gives you club access. It costs. For example, the…, I have the chase United card. It is I think $400 a year for a fee. Now, $200 of that are refunded to me if they’re travel related. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about taking a taxi or an Uber or Lyft or a hotel room or an extra bag that I’m checking in or whatever, whatever it is, those $200 get reimbursed right off the top second. If I need to get something like nexus or global entry or TSA pre that’s covered, you’re automatically covered with that, but on top of it, it gets you automatic access to the airline club and the reason why you want that there’s, there’s the living, the high life aspect, right? You walk in there, they treat you nice, you free drinks, there’s food, there’s even showers and stuff like that. That’s nice. However, that’s not the perk. The perk is that there’s a different category of travel agent who works inside the club and I really believe that those agents are exclusively graduates of Hogwarts, school of witchcraft and wizardry because they will make things happen that can’t happen anywhere else. I have gotten can’t, you know, flights canceled, bumped off my flight, missed my flight, whatever. And I walk into the club and I tell them, Hey, this happened and type, type, type, type, type, Mr Adato, I’ve got you on the very next flight. There wasn’t a very next flight. There is now. Oh wow. I mean like they literally conjure a new airplane. I don’t know. They’re magic people. That is worth the price of the card right there is having that, that fallback. So that’s another thing. You had something about your status.
Josh: 07:57 I mean, I don’t do a lot of traveling, but I am, I got silver status, um, uh, on Air Canada this year and I am five segments away from getting to gold status when traveling first, getting on the plane before, um, you know, zones three, four and five is pretty awesome because everyone wants to take their non-checked bags with them. So everyone’s trying to cram their carry-ons. So you get in early, you always are gonna find some carry on space second, um, you, you’re going to get your pick of seats. I mean, not first class. Sometimes you get a first class upgrade, but you’re going to get that premium economy. Um, so you actually have leg room. Um, and I mean third, you just want the ability to access some of the perks that come along with it. Like, Hey, if you rent at the Marriott hotels, you automatically get, um, 250 or 500 points. Little things like that. And I think that’s another hack. Let’s make sure we’re stacking our, um, our rewards. You know, if Air Canada and Marriott have a, an agreement which they do, um, Hey, um, fly air Canada and stay at a Marriott hotel. Fortunately without even planning it, I always fly Air Canada, uh, or star Alliance partner. And I also, um, usually stay at a Marriott hotel, uh, when it makes sense, uh, only because it was really close to, um, you know, our, our previous employer, um, and made just perfect sense and there was, it was a great rate. So yeah, I mean, find those, find those synergies and uh, and work them.
Leon: 09:33 I will also say don’t get sort of psychologically locked in. Sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes you can’t fly your preferred airline, you can’t do that. But you know, have an eye for that. And then the last thing, and this is something I think as Americans were less, I don’t know, less comfortable with, is the whole cell phone thing. You know, because America is so just geographically big and the carriers cover such a large range. I think once we get into the European theater, uh, the idea of what do we do with my cell phone comes up now, I will tell you I solved this this year by moving to Google Fi which rides on top of networks in almost every country. And so I didn’t have to think about it. I landed and literally got a message. “Hey, good to know that you’re in Switzerland right now and we’ve got you covered.” Like literally a pop up on my phone came up and said, but as a non-American, you know, what advice do you have?
Josh: 10:27 The advice that I’ve always been given and that I know that a few friends of mine who travel extensively always say is, um, don’t roam Europe. Yes. All the cell phone companies. And including, you know, bell who I’m now with so that I can call the U S without unlimited calling. Um, they will tell you that you can roam for like $12 or $15 a day. The reality is don’t roam. If you’re going to be in Europe for any period of time, buy a SIM card. Um, I mean there’s, they’re like $25 for unlimited calling, uh, uh, a very generous helping of data. Uh, if you’re going to use all of that, you should probably get out and see the sites a little more.
Leon: 11:09 So my son, this is going to factor into the longer story, but my son is, uh, in Israel in a hundred gig data SIM card is effectively $12.
Leon: 11:19 Oh, come on!
Leon: 11:19 If you’re going to be there for a week or two or whatever it is, and you’re going to use a hundred gig of cell data yet, like you said, you’re doing your traveling wrong.
Josh: 11:28 You are definitely travel or you’re, or you’re traveling all sorts of, right. I don’t know. Maybe you’re live streaming.
Leon: 11:34 Yeah, maybe a live streaming. Sure. Okay.
Josh: 11:36 Streaming your entire trip. I mean, not, maybe that’s a thing.
Leon: 11:38 Okay. So that’s, that’s, you know, part one, travel hacking, just general travel hacking ideas. And some of that will factor into the story. But I, I think we want to pivot now into the story of me bringing back the Torah. Um, again, the Frisco kid for those people who aren’t familiar is a wonderful movie with Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford story of a sort of a naive rabbi from Poland who travels across America to deliver a Torah to, uh, San Francisco. Uh, I felt very much like that along the way. Where it started was that I was set up to go to VMworld Europe this year, which is in Barcelona. And when I realized that that was a thing, I immediately decided I was going to take a cheap flight to Israel to visit my son who’s there at Yeshiva.
Josh: 12:22 No, wait, hold on, Leon. Yeah. Um, I think last time we talked your son was struggling with Yeshiva.
Leon: 12:29 Yeah, he was. And in fact, um, when we talked about it, he was coming home. Like that night there was a flurry of activity. There were some correct course corrections made and some assurances made. And in fact he was able to feel comfortable staying with 15 minutes to spare.
Josh: 12:46 Wow. Fantastic.
Leon: 12:47 Yeah. So he was there and you know, he’s doing, he is doing much better and growing and learning and doing the things that you want to do. But I was going to be there and I thought this is a wonderful chance for me to check up on him and see what he gets to see. And so I did that. And like I said before, the flight from Barcelona to Israel is significantly cheaper than the flight from the U S so it made a lot of sense. You know, I found the cheapest code partners that I could find and I got those flights booked. And so I mentioned to my, to my rabbi, just in passing, I said, Hey, I’m going to visit my son and he’s, you know, in Israel. And he said, Oh, if you’re going to be in Israel while you’re there, can you bring a Torah back with you? And I said, well, yeah, sure, I guess. Sure. And he immediately, his entire tone changed. Like he was surprised like, well you mean it like will you ask me to, sure. Is that, are you sure? He must have asked me if I was sure five times until finally I said, what are you not telling me about this? You know, because I thought I’m bringing a Torah back. Is there something else I should know? Is there some major risks that I’m unaware of? What’s what’s going on
Josh: 13:47 Now, to be clear, we are talking about the first five books of the old Testament. Right?
Leon: 13:53 Right. So, so in this context, when I say bringing back a Torah, it is the scroll and we’ll have pictures of it in the show notes, but it’s just, it is, it is a, you know, scroll of parchment may, it can range in size from let’s say, you know, two feet long and you know, kind of like, you know, eight inches wide and maybe 10 pounds and it can get, they can be larger than that, but,
Josh: 14:14 okay. Well I just wanted to make sure that Torah wasn’t code for, I don’t know. An alligator. But apparently you can’t bring on the airlines. I, I,
Leon: 14:24 They really don’t allow emotional support alligators anymore.
Josh: 14:28 Oh, weird.
Leon: 14:29 I know. I know. Um, so yeah, it’s, it’s a fairly specific object and, and non-dangerous it doesn’t bite or anything like that from an it perspective because we want to talk about the technically part as well as the religiously parked. I was immediately struck by what happens when you volunteer for a project that nobody expects you to say yes to. My rabbi had made a comment sort of as a, and I took it seriously and all of a sudden he was sort of stuck like, what do well, but nobody would say yes to that. And, um, you know, we, I think many of us have been in that situation with projects where it’s like, Hey, who wants to do X? You know, who wants to write that ebook? Or who wants to, yes, please. May I? And I was like, no, you don’t. You don’t really want to do that. I’m like, Oh yeah, I totally wanted to.
Josh: 15:16 Uh, I think we all definitely need a Leon Adato on our teams to, uh, write all the documentation, uh, in fun ebook style.
Leon: 15:24 Yes, absolutely. Um, I think that, you know, for any tech writers who are here, you can men, you can talk in the comments to this post on TechnicallyReligious.com and say I’m available and I will volunteer to write eBooks also, you know, uh, volunteer meaning pay me. But, um, so I think from an it perspective though, there’s some lessons that we can pull from this just even at this point in the story, you know, volunteering for things that other people consider to be a hard job is a really good career idea.
Josh: 15:53 Yeah, I would definitely agree with that. Over the last five and a half years. Um, well, I mean, let’s bring up the story, right? Hey Josh, it’d be really awesome if, you know, you joined, you know, Cardinal Health and you know, came to work for Leon Adato and then four days later someone quit on me.
Leon: 16:15 Okay. It was to become head gig and SolarWinds. Like, I couldn’t not take that opportunity, but yes, I,
Josh: 16:22 Yeah, but yeah, it’s saying yes to opportunities even when they’re hard, like, Hey, will you fill Leon shoes? I’ll try it. It works out really well. And that really set me up for, for my entire career at a, at Cardinal Health, right. I as a non-cloud engineer, I was the co lead of the cloud community of practice as a just an engineer, uh, air quote, just an engineer, not a senior engineer. Um, I was the enterprise monitoring representative on the smash committee. It’s not a whole idea of always be learning and you don’t know that you can or cannot do something until you volunteer to do it and Hey, why not do it in a, what should be a safe space, um, of work. Yes. It means putting yourself out there. Yes. It means being risky. Yes. It means you have to trust your colleagues, but Oh my goodness. If you’re going to try something, try it with the tactical support of a really strong team.
Leon: 17:19 I also want to say that, you know, I got a lot of pushback from, from my Rabbi. Are you sure? Are you really sure? Do you mean it? Sometimes that’s a warning sign. Sometimes when people say, you know, when nobody else is volunteering and the person in charge is, is really looking for that confirmation, it’s a clue that this is not, you might’ve missed something. So ask questions. Not just the people in charge, but ask other folks, you know? But at a certain point, you also recognize that what appears to impossible or odious or frustrating kind of work that may not be how you see it. And that means that that’s your superpower. So again, I love writing. I really do. And so while we’re, a lot of other people in it will say, you know, write something. Are you joking? I’d rather take a fork through the eyeball. I’m like, I really wish I had more time to do this. That just happens to be the thing that I like. Recognize when that’s the case and run with it.
Josh: 18:19 My super power is apparently financial models. Right? Which is totally weird. Since I failed math in ninth grade. So Zack Mutchler and I who were colleagues up until two weeks ago, despises financial models. He never wants to do that. And I’m like, Oh my goodness, please. Yes, let me, it’s, it’s my grounding place. If I can figure out how it works financially, then I’ll go and figure out how the technology works. So, um, yeah, I, I will volunteer to do financial models any day of the week. Yeah.
Leon: 18:50 And that’s something I would never do. Right. Okay. All right. So, so fast forward, um, you know, VMworld Barcelona is wonderful and I wrote some blog posts about it and then I, you know, went from there to Israel and had a great week with my son and had a great time. And I even got a chance to speak at cloud native day in Israel. Um, so I had called a friend of mine, Sharone Zitzman and said, “Hey, I’m…” She has kids. and she’s Israeli, “…so I’m going to be there with myself. What’s really fun things to do?” And she said, “Oh, you’re going to be there. I’m running a convention. Can you speak?” Like Sharon, that’s not why I, that’s not what I called you for is to do another convention talk. But here I am. So I did that. Now, what’s interesting about this, and this is relevant to this story, is that, um, the morning of the convention, it happens to be a Tuesday, uh, Israel executed an airstrike that killed, uh, uh, Palestinian Islamic jihad commander. And, uh, I know that it gets political. It gets into, you know, the whole middle East politics and things. So a trigger warning up front about that for people who feel strongly about it. But there was a, uh, an airstrike that killed this Islamic jihad commander and that triggered a retaliatory strike of 160 rockets that were fired from Gaza into Israel. And six of those reached Tel Aviv, which meant that the talk I was giving in Tel Aviv, you know, might not happen. And we were on our way from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv and I was getting emails that, you know, despite the fact that businesses and schools had been ordered to shut down, the convention was permitted to continue. Um, and then I got a call from the organizer who said, “You know, if you don’t want to come in, if you’re not comfortable, if it makes you nervous, I completely understand.” Nope, we’re on our way. It’s fine. You know, 160 rockets, just another day in Israel. Here we go. So I went in and, and gave the talk and that was fine. So the next day, Wednesday I’m set to fly home. It’s me, my luggage and the Torah. Um, so I need to describe in a little bit more detailed what this is. So the Torah is a scroll, it’s on two wooden dowels. And um, like I said, it can be anywhere from say a foot and a half to three feet tall or long and you know, six, eight inches a foot wide when you roll it up and everything. So that’s wrapped up, you know, packed up nice and tight and bubble wrap and wrapped in plastic and put into a a duffle bag that I can take with me. Then there’s a box that goes in because, uh, some Torahs are just the scroll, but some come in their own sort of self contained container and this is called an Aron. So when I use that word from now on in the Aron is the box that comes in and this is a circular box. It’s about two and a half, three feet high, about a foot in diameter. It’s usually made out of plywood and covered in silver and has all sorts of literally bells hanging off of it. Uh, so that’s, that’s also there. Now the, the Torah itself cannot be checked as luggage. You treat it with respect and you know, I wouldn’t check my grandmother is luggage. I’m not going to check the Torah, his luggage either. Um, so that has to come with me on the plane. Uh, you don’t have to buy it its own seat, but you do have to bring it with you on the plane. It can’t be checked as luggage. The Aron, the box can be checked as luggage. So that was all packed up. Also, it was wrapped nice and tight and foam and bubble wrap. And you know, a layer of plastic just to keep it all self contained. And that was in another duffle bag. And the Torah itself, uh, it turns out was about 25-30 pounds and the, our own was probably closer to 40 pounds.
Josh: 22:24 Oh wow. Okay.
Leon: 22:25 Along with my overloaded suitcase cause it had all the convention crap I had collected and a couple of things my son wanted to send home with me and a pita maker that I bought while I was in Israel for my wife, like one does. Right, right. All right. I just need to remind you at this point in the story that I had booked my flight, uh, my flights back and forth before I knew I was bringing the Torah. And it was also predicated on this convention trip. So my flights were Barcelona, Israel, and then Israel, Barcelona and work was paying for the Cleveland, Barcelona, Barcelona, Cleveland leg. So I had these two separate trips that, that dovetailed, that I booked before I knew I was bringing a Torah. And the second thing I wanna remind you is that there were 160 rockets fired from, you know, Gaza into Israel the day before I flew. And the reason I mentioned this is because of the flight home was on Turkish airlines.
Josh: 23:13 I mean… what???
Leon: 23:13 It was on Turkish airlines. Yeah.
Josh: 23:16 So a Jewish dude.
Leon: 23:18 Yeah. Orthodox Jewish dude flying on Turkish airlines. Okay, I’m going to give this spoiler Turkish airlines rocks. They are amazing people. Uh, they, everybody was delightful and lovely. So I’m just going to, I’m going to put that out up front. Okay. However, I didn’t know what to expect. I also want to point out that, um, it, Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, the, the airport in Israel, all of the check areas, uh, are on the same level when you walk in the door, except for Turkish airlines, which is two floors down and off to the right in its own little section. And that section is predominantly a Palestinian Arabic travelers going back and forth. So I’m traveling as, as incognito as I possibly can. For those people who’ve seen me. I have little fringy things hanging out of my, uh, you know, out of my shirt, the tzitzit, those were tucked in a, I wear a kippah, but I was wearing a ball cap over it. I just wanted to be like as nonchalantly American as I possibly could be. Just again, didn’t want to be in people’s face, especially given what was happening, you know, that day and the day before. I get up to the checkout counter and delightful, a Palestinian young lady is checking me in and I give her the our own first because if there’s gonna be a problem with my tickets, because I have three, I have three bags. I was only supposed to be traveling with one, they’re overweight. There’s a lot of extra charges on me. I want to make sure the, our own gets on before, you know, before anything else happens. So she asked me “Mah zeh?”, what is that? My Hebrew is very, very bad. So in English I, I said “it’s, um, it’s a box that a Torah goes in?” I’m not sure if any of these words are going to have any meaning to anybody. And she looks at the duffle hanging off my shoulder and she says, “Zeh sefer Torah?” that bag over there, that’s a safer tour. That’s a, that’s a Holy Torah? “Ken”. I said, yes. “Ah, very good.” She puts a fragile sticker on the bag that has the our own on it and she says, please take this off. We will use special handling for this. And then she takes my other bag, which is overweight and she puts a heavy sticker on it and off it goes. And then she takes my other bag and off it goes and I have my credit card out. I said, “I know this is going to cost.” And she says, “There is no charge.”
Josh: 25:34 Waaaaaat???
Leon: 25:34 I know. I literally said, “no, no, I just gave you three bags like I have to pay for these ” She says “No, no, no, it is all good.” Okay. And then she hands me a card, she says, this is a pass for the VIP lounge. Please enjoy.
Josh: 25:49 Wow.
Leon: 25:50 Okay. So now I have to take the Aron to special handling. So I take it around the corner to the special handling air. It’s where it just right there and these two Palestinian guys are, you know, you know Israeli Palestinian, Israeli guys are there and uh, they open the bag and it’s of course wrapped in bubble wrap, wrapped in plastic wrap and whatever, and they put it through the x-ray. Now I just want to remind you, it is a, a wooden box wrapped in silver wrapped in bubble wrap, et cetera. What’s that gonna look like on the X Ray? It’s gonna look like a big metal tube. So these guys, these guys like we’re going to have to open this up. It had been so carefully, professionally packed and look, you’re going to do what you’re going to do, right? You’ve got to do it. So they open it up and they’re like, yup, that’s exactly what we thought we were gonna say there. And then immediately pull out their own roll of bubble wrap and they wrap it up just as good as it had been before. Just boom, boom, boom, wrap it up, put it back in the bag and off it goes. Like no problem. No. You can also say that, you know, tourists coming back from Israel is something that is seen a lot at Ben Gurion airport. That’s a pretty normal thing. So, okay, so I get through the rest of security. I get to the lounge, I have a delightful time in the lounge. Um, get on my plane. My flight is going on Turkish airlines from Tel Aviv to Istanbul. Of course, that’s the, the, you know, hub for that. Change. planes, go from Istanbul to Barcelona and that’s where I have to change flights again. So I’m stay overnight in Barcelona, get up the next morning, come back to Barcelona airport, and I’m basically doing the same thing all over again. I get into check in this time it’s United and, uh, this time everything’s going to happen except it’s going to happen in Spanish. Now my Spanish is better than my Hebrew. Uh, it’s not great, but it’s better than than that. And so I get to the line and uh, you know, get through the line and I get up to the guy at the counter and he once again, you know, I hand him the Aron and I put it up on the conveyor and he says, “well, what’s that?” All right, I’m talking to you in a predominantly Christian country. How am I gonna explain this? “Uh, it’s a box that, that a Torah scroll, a Holy scroll goes into,” I’m, I’m trying to figure out how to say this. And he spoke English, but I’m still, and he says, “Oh,” like recognition dawned and his face, he hands me a sticker that’s his fragile, he says, would you like to put that on here? Okay, fine. So I put the sticker on, he says, “okay, please take it off and we’ll special handle it in the moment.” And he takes my bag, the overweight one, and he takes the other bag and I pull up my credit card cause I’m going to pay. And he’s like, “no charge.” Like what is this? No, no, no charge. And again, he hands me a pass. He says, “here’s a pass to the VIP lounge, please enjoy.”
Josh: 28:32 Oh my goodness.
Leon: 28:33 Okay. He gets up. Now there’s a line of people behind me. He says, please follow me. So I follow him. There’s, there’s other people, you know, it’s not like he left the line waiting, but you know, I follow him around to where the special handling area is. And he says, please “put this up on the conveyor.” Like he’s standing, he’s standing right there, but please put on me. So I put on the conveyor and I put it, apparently the wrong direction, “would you please turn it?” And I realized at that moment, he’s not touching this thing. So I turn it and it goes and it goes on and he comes down and as we’re walking back, he says, “We see this sometimes Shalom.”
Josh: 29:06 Oh my goodness, I’ve got chills. Leon chills.
Leon: 29:09 So I go through Barcelona airport security and, and here I get stuck again because the Torah again is wrapped in bubble wrap, whatever. It’s just this big blob on the x-ray. “Que es esto?”Kay the guy says, uh, “Halbas Ingles?”. No. Okay. Here we go. There’s, there’s a phrase that you have that I try to say it’s really bad. So for those native Spanish speakers, please feel free to mock me. “Una objeto religioso” it’s a religious object. “Yo no comprendo.” “Una scrol de Bible?” Like now I’m running out of words here to describe what a Torah is to the security dude in Barcelona airport. And so he calls the supervisor over and they have a quick conversation and she looks at me and she says a word, which if you’re ever in Spain is the most important word you can possibly know in Spain. It’s Vale. Vale means okay. In the same way that we would use it, it’s a question. It’s an answer. It’s a statement. It’s everything. Vale. So I say “Vale??” and she says, “Tu puedas va. Vale”, You can go. Okay. So I go, I go to the, I go to the lounge, have another delightful time. I get on, uh, the airplane. I should mention one of the other things, one of the other issues. Remember I said the Torah can’t be checked as baggage. So each time I’m getting on the plane, I’m worried that they’re going to gate check this extra piece of luggage, this Torah, because it can’t go. Never happened. Each time I would go to the flight attendants say, “I’m really sorry. I know this is sort of oversized. It’s, it’s a few inches larger than normal carry on, you know, but it’s, it’s a religious object.” Again, I’m, I’m describing it in, in non-Jewish terms and it really, and they’re like, “no problem. Put it right up there. It’s fine.” Like it was not a problem at all. Um, but back to your point about being able to check on early, it really helped to know that I was one of the first people boarding, so there was going to be overhead space. It made a difference in this case. So we’re flying in and uh, you know, Barcelona, New Jersey, I land in New Jersey at Newark airport and that’s when I realize I have this incredibly valuable object. How do you claim a Torah at immigration? Like how do you,
Josh: 31:21 how do you claim?…
Leon: 31:23 …What is it worth? So I’m real quick texting a bunch of people like people do this, how do you do whatever they say? It’s not worth anything to anybody else. Yes, you’re right. We would pay a lot of money for it, but it’s not actually on the street worth anything, so just don’t claim it. It turns out however that something else happened. I have global entry. Back to the travel hacking. I have TSA pre. I also have global entry, which means that I can go through the really fast lane when I come in through the country, but I also on my phone have the TSA app, which allows you to do the claim form on the plane four hours ahead of landing and put everything in there and then the record’s already in there. However, don’t do both. It turns out that if you do both, it creates a conflicting record in immigration systems that if you’re, if you have Global Entry, you simply use global entry, use the paper form and go through. I didn’t know that, so I did both. So I get through personal immigration and they say, Oh yeah, if you’re going to do, you know, so I scan my phone app and I show them my Global Entry and they’re like, the Global Entry doesn’t count because you did the phone app, it’s going to create a conflict. Don’t do that. So okay, fine. So then when I’m pick up my bags and I’m going to go through the check, I go through global entry and the guy sees the phone app and he spends a good solid like two minutes. “Why did you do that? You already have Global Entry. Why did you do the TSA App?” “I didn’t know it was going to create a problem.” This is… “Just please next time don’t do that.” And he waves me through an off I go. He didn’t ever look at the fact that I had four pieces of luggage, you know, I’m a single guy going through, didn’t even pay attention to that. He was more concerned about the fact that I had made an IT error.
Josh: 33:06 Lovely, yes, you had done the steps out of order. Incorrect. The problem exists between the keyboard and the chair, obviously.
Leon: 33:17 Right? So, right. PEBKAC rules. I am clearly the ID10T error of the day. That was the problem, not the toy, the ancient Torah scroll and the silver case and that, that wasn’t okay. So I get through and uh, I get home and uh, one of the lessons to, to spin this back around again to the more technical is that I had, I knew the entire flight plan. I knew each of the steps along the way. I knew that I was gonna have personal security at these places and I was gonna have luggage security at these places. I knew I was going to have all these things. I had my steps in a row, but I, I took each step as it came. I didn’t take a hiccup or an issue at one moment as a sign of things to come. Good or bad. I really, and I think that as IT professionals, we also need to think about that. That, you know, we have a project, we know what the project plan is. Things are going to work, other things aren’t going to work. That doesn’t mean it’s a sign of how the whole project is going to go. That each moment is its own moment and doesn’t necessarily have bearing on the next moment to come.
Josh: 34:28 Yeah. I, when we think about how, how do you build a resilient system, there are two things that you factor in. One is a system that is resistant to failure and a system that can quickly recover from failure because there is no such thing as no downtime. It does not exist. There will always be failures, right? And as IT professionals, we need to figure that out, not just in the technology but also in the way that we execute projects in the way that we execute our careers. I mean, it’s all about that personal, professional resilience. Failure is going to happen. Roll with the punches
Leon: 35:12 And you know, don’t, yeah, don’t imagine the punches aren’t going to come, but just because one step along the way knocked you down doesn’t mean every step is going to knock you down. It’s not. Um, so we got it back to America. Um, in the show notes, I will link to the live tweeting I did of the entire process and a picture of the Torah itself so you can see it in its, in its new home. But after I, I got back, I went over to the rabbi’s house and the rabbi’s wife and I were, and she said something very interesting and I have to give you a little bit of history. So as I mentioned before, um, the kind of Jewish we are or the culture that we come from is the Spanish Jewish culture. So that means that, uh, after the expulsion of the Jews from Israel in 72 CE, after the second destruction, they settled in Spain and they lived in Spain until about 1492 during, you know, the Inquisition. And then our family, my Rabbi’s family and my family settled from Spain into Istanbul and they lived in Istanbul, in a little town outside of his temple until about 1920. And that’s when they came to America. So when I got everything back and I was sitting at the house and I was talking to her, she said, you know that Torah stopped every place our family lived. And I got chills. It went from Israel to Istanbul to Spain to America. And if I had said to you, Hey Josh, you know, I just want bring a Torah back but I want to do this really, really cool thing. I’m going to stop every place or a, you would tell me, Leon, you are way overthinking this and just bring the thing back and be done with it. But it just happened. It just, you know, it just worked out that way.
Leon: 36:49 And again, from an it perspective, I think it speaks to that serendipity of life, whether that’s religious or it or otherwise. Sometimes you know and have this in caps, you know, things happen for a reason. Trademark, copyright, all rights reserved. Things do happen for a reason. And it’s okay to know that that happens. And sometimes you say, I’m just going to see how this works out. I’m going to let things happen. I’m not going to try to control the outcome. I’m not gonna try to make it be something, I’m going to let things go and, and just let it be. I didn’t intend for that to be, my travel path, but it did. And, and the experience was that much richer because of it.
Josh: 37:33 You know, I, I had an interesting, uh, moment over the past month or so going through the interview process with new Relic and talking to a number of my current team members who were on that interview panel and explaining the journey that I had toward being someone who is, uh, an enterprise monitoring practitioner. And I realized in recounting the journey over the past 20 years that my very first job than IT laid the, the framework for me becoming a, a monitoring practitioner. I worked for a small company, uh, in Michigan that focused on call center software and they designed software that would connect to your PBX, uh, for your call center and would allow you to monitor the phone status of all of your agents and then would correlate all of that data up onto a big screen. That would allow you to run reports. It did call center monitoring my very first job and then my next job had an HP OpenView workstation and then my next job had an HP OpenView work station that I replaced with SolarWinds. It’s a wonderful journey. Uh, I, that’s, it’s, it’s weird. I think like you and your Torah story, uh, your Torah journey, you didn’t realize the importance of that journey until you paused for a moment to reflect on the journey that you took. And I, I think we have to do IT as well. Sometimes we’re so focused on where we want to get to that we forget where we’ve come from and the power that comes to us. I think that’s important, right? Right. What we value in our IT lives. We have to take time to look back what we value in our personal lives and our religious lives. Yeah. You know, I think I’d like to end Leon with a quote from, uh, Ralph Waldo Emerson. So he, you know, prolific writer, um, wrote a series of essays and a second series and an essay entitled experience. He said “To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end and every step of the road to live. The greatest number of good hours is wisdom.”
Destiny: 39:46 Thanks for making time for us this week. To hear more of technically religious visit our website, technically religious.com where you can find our other episodes, leave us ideas for future discussions and connect to us on social media.
Josh: 40:00 So you brought a Torah back from Israel?
Leon: 40:03 And all I got was this t-shirt…I mean, this podcast story.