Like Clockwork: The Incredible Lengths One High-Tech Company Went to Keep Shabbat

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27 Feb 2018

“Rafi, we have a problem.”

Rafi could tell in Eli’s voice that something important had happened. It was Friday morning; a sizzling August day in Israel.

Eli was the CEO of an Israeli hi-tech company that had been purchased several years earlier by a large American parent company. Rafi was the company’s VP of Technology and was highly valued and trusted by Eli. Both were observant Jews.

“What’s up?” asked Rafi.

“I just got a call from our parent company. They’re nervous about the upcoming rollout of our new products. They want us to be available next Friday night for emergency last-minute changes to the software, and they’re saying we have to attend a mandatory conference call…on Saturday morning!”

Rafi froze. The American company was located in the east coast of the United States. Friday night and Saturday morning fell smack in the middle of Shabbat.

“But Eli, they know all about Shabbat! They’ve always been able to live with our workarounds, like working late on other days. But never on Friday and Saturday. What’s going on?”

“Chad, the VP at our parent company, told me there’s a lot riding on the successful rollout. He said, ‘Sorry about your Sabbath, but this is a one-time exception. Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake!’ Rafi, you’ve got to come up with a plan!”

“Plan? What kind of plan? We can’t work on Shabbat!”

“I know, but if we flatly refuse it will cause massive damage between us and the parent company. I’m counting on you to figure out a solution that allows us to stick to our principles, yet not violate the Sabbath.”

Rafi was shocked. What kind of solution could I possibly come up with?

“Eli, I’ll do what I can.”

Rafi hung up the phone and closed his office door. “I’ve got to think!” he said to himself.

Rafi was in the high-tech world for a long time. During his career, he found himself in various countries around the world. Once he had to be in Auckland, New Zealand, for a project. His first Friday night there, he was asked to lead the services in the synagogue.

After the service was over, the rabbi said, “I want you to know that you have a special merit.”

“Why is that?” asked Rafi.

“Because you led the service for the first minyan on the planet to celebrate Shabbat today!”

“Are you serious?”

“Yes!” said the rabbi. “We’re are the closest Jewish community to the International Dateline. We’re the first community to usher in the Shabbat! Any Jewish community to the east of us is still experiencing Thursday.”

While in New Zealand, Rafi became sensitive to the various time zones and their ramifications, having family back home in Israel as well as the States, and needing to interface with other cities which working in Auckland.

As he now contemplated the present situation, he suddenly realized that the solution may lie in utilizing various time zones.

That Sunday morning, Rafi called together all the directors of the company, who reported to him.

“Guys, we have a situation.” He explained the sudden requirements of the parent company and what was at stake.

“Who’s the best technical expert to work on the software issues Friday night?”

“Anat,” was the unanimous response.

“Great,” said Rafi. “And who is our best project manager for handling the Saturday conference call?”

The directors looked at one another. “Nir,” they said. Nobody disagreed.

“Please have the two of them report to my office in 15 minutes”.

The directors left. Rafi sat at his desk, plotting the next step. Now that the people were selected, where would he send them? The parent company’s headquarters was on the east coast of the United States. He’d need to send Anat far to the west. Rafi realized that Anchorage, Alaska, would be a perfect choice.

Anat will go to Anchorage and Nir will head off to Hong Kong.

He booked a reservation for Anat at the hotel in Anchorage. She’d be charged with making the final software bug fixes on Friday during the day, while the Shabbat would have already started on the east coast.

So far, so good. Now for setting up the Saturday morning conference call. It was called for 8:00am Saturday, Daylight Savings Time. Rafi needed a city for Nir to jump on the call at that time while Shabbat will already have already ended for him.

But where? Hong Kong had the fastest and most reliable internet service in the Far East, and its time zone was exactly 12 hours later than the US east coast. Rafi jumped online. What time was Shabbat over in Hong Kong? 7:39pm. Which equated to 7:39am Shabbat morning in the east coast. That would give Nir 21 minutes after Shabbat to jump onto the call.

There was a knock on the door. Anat and Nir stepped inside.

“You called for us?”

“Please sit down,” said Rafi.

He proceeded to explain the challenge and what he had worked out. “You know how important Shabbat is to the leadership of the company. The only way to pull this off is for you guys to pack your bags. Anat, you’ll be going to Anchorage. Nir, you’re off to Hong Kong.”

Anat was Sabbath observant and understood. She was happy to help the company in a way that would strictly adhere to the rules of Shabbat. But Nir was another story.

“Rafi, this is nonsense. You know I don’t keep Shabbat. Why are you knocking yourself out to make all these arrangements in Hong Kong? I am perfectly happy to be on the call from my home in Tel Aviv!”

Rafi smiled. “Nir, what you do on your own time is none of my business. But you are doing this for the company. Shabbat is more important than our business. I would never ask any of our employees to do any type of work on Shabbat. What you do in Hong Kong all day Saturday is not my business. My only concern is that I not require you to do work on Shabbat.”

Nir was stunned. He had never realized just how important Shabbat was to these industrious and hardworking leaders of his company. It made him proud.

He agreed to make the lengthy trip, and Rafi thanked him and Anat profusely.

Rafi told Eli the solution and he was elated. “Run it by Corporate,” Eli said.

“Will do.”

Rafi called the parent company.

“Chad here,” said the voice on the other line.

“Hi, Chad, it’s Rafi.”

Chad cleared his throat. He was a non-observant Protestant and always had tried to be sensitive to the religious needs of his employees. But this was different.

“Uh, Rafi. How are you? Listen, I’m really sorry about the last minute requirement for this weekend. I know you guys like to celebrate the Sabbath when you can.”

“Chad, it’s not a problem. We were able to service the company’s needs. We’ll have our best people on it.”

Chad let out a sigh. “Rafi, please convey to Eli that Corporate is very grateful. We will not forget that you guys are foregoing your Sabbath for our company goals.”

“Chad, we were able to work things out in a way that will take care of the company’s goals, without compromising our Sabbath even one iota.”

Chad was nonplussed. “Are you kidding me? This I’ve gotta hear.”

“I’m sending our top programmer to Anchorage for the Friday night bug fixes. She can get everything ready even when Sabbath hits the east coast, since for her it will still be daylight, pre-Sabbath. My top project manager is going to Hong Kong. He’ll be on your Saturday morning call, but for him, Sabbath will have been over for 21 minutes in Hong Kong.”

Chad was still confused. “Aren’t you guys bending the rules here? I mean, Sabbath is Sabbath. Don’t get me wrong – I’m happy you’re getting the work done. But it sounds like you’re pulling a fast one,” Chad said with a chuckle.

“Actually, we are being totally compliant with the Sabbath rules, since Sabbath begins and ends at different times, depending on the person’s local time zone,” Rafi explained. He went into greater detail and Chad was dazzled by the solution. He gave the green light for the two trips.

Anat and Nir went to the airport that Tuesday morning to ensure they’d have plenty of time to arrive and set up their laptops and other equipment. Everyone was anxious as Friday began. Rafi and Eli said a prayer and then logged off their laptops and phones, soaking in the spirituality of Shabbat, and trusting in God to bless their Herculean efforts to make this work.

As feared, there were multiple issues with the software. Not a problem; Anat was ready. She was already online from Anchorage and got to the heart of the problem. By the time Shabbat was ready to start in Alaska, Anat had resolved over a hundred issues and enabled the products to get to market. Now it was her turn to log off and enjoy the heady atmosphere of Shabbat. She had brought wine and challah for the occasion, accompanied by a small but delicious meal.

Saturday morning, 8am Eastern Daylight Time on the US east coast, the conference call began.

“Alright, you guys. I need a status update on the software fixes,” said Chad nervously.

“Certainly,” said Nir from Hong Kong, at 8:01 pm local time. He launched into a detailed explanation of everything that Anat had resolved the night before and discussed next steps for rolling out the products.

Chad and the other execs from Corporate were absolutely thrilled with the outcome and praised the Israeli subsidiary for how efficiently everything was handled.

When Shabbat ended in Israel, Eli and Rafi dove for their phones, checking texts and emails. They were relieved to discover that the delicate operation was a smashing success! The parent company was delighted with the results.

Everyone felt that because they took a stand regarding the importance of Shabbat, God made everything run.

Like clockwork.

This article appears courtesy of Aish.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.