Monday, November 20, 2006

How can you help?

Orthonomics had an excellent, sensitive post about how difficult it is for religious people who are in debt to deal with being uable to give generously to others. it is in our nature and so painful and frustrasting to have to turn down even simple requests to donate to the school or shul, let alone being able to give to others who are in worse situations than our own.

SephardiLady also asks, "What should the Orthodox community be doing, if anything, to help its members avoid falling into debt in the first place, or deeper into debt?"

1. Rabbis and others in the position to give advice should not encourage (or even pressure) young couples to engage in lifestyle choices that will put them in seriously poor financial straits. My husband's rabbi (at the time we were married) knew that my husband would follow his advice and basically required him to continue in yeshiva. I questioned him on several occasions to find out how he felt we would be able to make it financially. His response was that when he was in yeshiva they managed to do fine. Then he admitted that he didn't know how and I should ask his wife. His wife's answer? Their parents supported them! If you put yourself in a position where you are giving advice that you believe will be followed, take responsibility for it.

2. When offering job suggestions, offer real suggestions. A minimum wage or part-time job with no beenfits will not support a frum couple, let alone a family. Those who are in a position to have connections (especially business owners) should make a real effort to reach out to hire people in the frum community to real positions. Rabbis should be going to their successful congregants to tell them to make these efforts. There are several major businesses here whose owners are members of local shuls and do not make any effort to help those who are looking for jobs.

3. There is a need in the community at large for more access to free loans. Speaking anecdotely from my own and other people's experiences, it is currently a very negative experience to ask for these loans to help get out of debt, and is often denied. (One person who went for help ended up with the agency calling his anti-Orthodox parents who lied baout him and the agency chose to believe them and deny him help.) This is halacha.

4. Something everyone can do - be supportive. Genuinely supportive. If you might be able to help them make connections, do so. (Just telling them a name of "someone who might be hiring" will probably not help them at all unless you are willing to make a follow-up call to the hiring manager or be listed as a reference. Even better if you can forward the resume with a note yourself.) If not, maybe you have other expertise that you can help them with. Or you actually have the means to help them financially with a loan. Or with other things they need - we certainly would not have made it at all without the generous boxes of clothing that continue to show up at our door for the kids. If not, at least be a sensitive person.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Plastics, Frum Style

Last night we watched "Mean Girls." First of all, I highly recommend it -- it was hysterically funny and not at all like I thought it would be. The focus of the movie is about the Plastics, the girls who always dressed perfectly, were obsessed with their looks, and everyone hated and yet desperately wanted to be liked by them.

I strongly believe that people are the same basic personality as a religious person that they would have been (or were) as a non-religious person. Baalei Teshuvah who have a falling out with their parents about religion would have had a falling out with them about something else. Men who spend no time at home because they are learning would have been workaholics. Men who hang around yeshiva all day and night as an excuse to spend no time at home would have gone out to bars or golfing all the time. Someone who is obsessive about ritual halacha would have been a strict vegan. (Of course some people are both but that is a whole other story.) And so on...

Which brings us to.....Hot Chanies! See Ask Shifra's great series - start at this link and then see her other follow up post since then. She really expresses it so well!

And Out of Town also wrote about cliques based on appearance.

Might as well make this into a mini-blog roundup because today Rabbi Maryles (Emes VeEmunah) wrote yet another great post on the extremes of the tsnius police. (He had another post on this topic sometime in the last few weeks in which he reveals that there really are official Tsnius Police! I will try to find the link later.) I especially love how he structured this post.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Ask Shifra: Jewish Debt

Ask Shifra has a great post about how many of us are struggling with debt and expenses. She has opened up her comments for people to share their own experiences and I think it will be a great forum for people to feel that others understand. I know one of the biggest frustrations (besides the actual debt of course) is seeing other people who seem to have no financial troubles. but this applies to anyone's problems - it always seems like no one else struggles as much as you do. I do always keep in mind several specific people I know who face terrible situations, but it is still difficult.

Speaking of financial difficulties, I am dealing with an unfortunate turn of events on the job front. I had been rpogressing on my temp job, doing very advanced work and even enjoying some of it. After many times of asking the boss for a status, she finally told me that they were only hiring for nights and weekends. Since I can't do it because of Shabbos, I can't take the position. (She did not say it like that, of course - she just showed me a chart of what the open hours were and I told her that I would not be available those hours.) So that's the end of any hope for being hired in this position. She was really nice about it - she said to keep checking the job board at the company, tell the agency that I had her permission to take a different assignment, and let her know whenever I needed time off for interviews. But I was really tired - and I mean literally tired - of the job search and was hoping that I could finally just have a real position with a decent salary and benefits. instead, I am still on temp pay (not enough to even come close to covering our monthly expenses), and we are all uninsured.

This topic was the original subject of my blog and I will try to keep posting again. I also have a ton of articles that I saved to write about, so I want to start pushing those out even if I don't add my own comments.

One more thing - for those of you reading this blog who have helped us, I want to tell you how much it means to us. (I mean both those of you who have helped us financially and those who have provided their kindness and support in listening to us.) And I really appreciate anyone who is reading this blog because, well, it just feels neat to have readers! And to the specific person who has contacted me by e-mail - I am thinking of you and wishing you the best, and hope maybe we could even meet in person this year.

I hope to get back to blogging again this week but in case I don't I want to wish everyone a Shana Tova, a wonderful year in which we will each acheive what we need.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Other People's Kids

SpehardiLady has a very thought-provoking discussion about disciplining other people's kids. However, it was actually Out of Town's cute post about her son's first day of school that led me to write the following. (I'll add in the links to you guys later.)

When my son and Out of Town's were babies, they were best friends. Well, they really had no choice in the matter, because we're friends and had them play together. And last year, I spent the first half hour (at least) every day in my son's classroom. So even though I didn't pick his friends, I knew all the kids very well. I could discuss them with him and guide him towards the kids I liked. There was one boy, the most mild-mannered child in school, who my son decided he hated. (In a 3-year-old, "I hate him" sort of way, of course.) I spent months trying to encourage him to reconsider and in the end they actually became friends, though now they are in different grades.

This year, however, I might not be able to be as much of a presence in his social life because of work. And because of him being older and more able to choose his own friends. And I am really scared about some of the kids in his class, and how they could either hurt my son or influence him. There are two boys who were not in his class last year yet he knew them from the playground and told me they were mean. I met them on the first day of school - they are best friends with each other, and they are definitely mean. There's also a little girl who told an explicit potty-humor joke at the lunch table and was making a point of not listening to the teacher.

I had horrible experiences going to small private schools for long periods of time with the same kids. (7 years of elementary school and then six years at another school.) There were not enough of each type of kid to allow healthy friendships. Instead. life revolved around the "popular" group and their decisions about the social structure. I saw a lot of perfectly nice people become scary between entering 7th grade and high school graduation. I reconnected with a former friend recently who had been part of my small group of friends in high school until he decided to become "popular." He spent two years passing us in the halls without a word, chose to remain in he regular classes instead of honors courses that he qualified for, got invovled with drinking and drugs, and I can only imagine what his dating life was like. Then a whole group of them went to the same college and arranged to live in the same dorm. Now, he has gone back to being a normal guy and told me that he really regrets that whole time period in his life, that he really dislikes the type of people he wanted so much to be with, and is now trying to get his life back together. Another very close friend had her life basically destroyed by horrible ahrrassment and sexual pressure during high school. She's also very smart and talented, but also got involved with drugs, excessive "dating" (you know what I mean by this), and presenting herself in a trashy manner with her choice of clothing and lifestyle. As soon as she got out of that environment and into a large university, she was able to succeed academically and socially. She is now a professional who dresses very classy, enjoys talking about literature and her many artistic interests, and just got married to a very traditional guy.

I could really go on with more examples but my point is that I really worry about leaving my sweet little boy around these kids all day. Some of the kids in his class are great kids and at the moment those are his friends. But there are only 15 kids in the class, so he is really going to have to socialize with all of them. Even the potty-humor girl.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Worrying About Other People's Opinions

SephardiLady had a great post today about people butting into each other's business. She was specifically talking about people seeing you having a difficult parenting moment, and choosing to make it worse by adding unsolicited criticism instead of either minding their own business or offering to help. But the bigger point is that there will always be people ready to hand out judgement and criticism of everything you are doing. You have to live your life by doing what is right for you and your family, maybe asking the advice of close trusted friends, but not overly worrying about "what will everyone think".

When we moved to our community, we were familiar with one school which we understood was excellent. The friend who showed me around told me that she wanted me to check out the other school also, which is a Religious Zionist program. Based on our research of both programs, we chose the second one and are very happy. It never meant that we thought any less of the other school, just that we selected one that was right for us.

I heard about several people I am acquainted with whose children are in the other school and have a lot of complaints. But it would never be "acceptable" for them to switch schools. Then I found out that a person whose child has very serious issues is switching to our school because he is not getting the help he needs in his current situation. Unfortunately, the father had to add the remark that "some people won't speak to me anymore because we go to the other school."

First of all, I find that really sad. And also, I wish that this father wasn't so overly concerned with what other people think of him. It seems like this comes up in so many of the "issues" - school selection, shidduchim, choosing what community to live in or whether to learn full time or not. People need to take responsibility for making life decisions and not keep doing things that are making them miserable just because "everybody" will think negatively of them. (Plus they might be surprised at how many people applaud their decision if they make it confidently.)

Monday, August 21, 2006

We're Not the Only Ones...

Church fires teacher for being woman - Yahoo! News

Just thought this was a very interesting tie-in to many of the issues being discussed in the J-Blog world lately about gender issues.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Where People Get Some of Their Weird Ideas

Instead of a whole explanation of everything that's been going on lately, I will just jump right in with a real post!

I was very fortunate to have attended a serious learning program after I [became religious? became Orthodox? This is a topic for another post but anyway...] I truly believe that I wouldn't have genuinely been mitzvah-observant had I not taken detailed classes on halacha and Tanach. I would have had no framework for knowing the halacha. So I do understand why there are so many BT people who really don't know anything and just ask a rav questions on every single thing without understanding the process behind the answers, and then they do things that are weird.

One big example is, how do you learn the laws of Shabbos without taking classes? A lot of people seem to pick up pieces of information by spending time in the homes of frum people and doing "watch and learn." Which is certainly a component of learning what to do. But the problem is when you don't understand what you are seeing. And I am not just singling out BTs for that issue - people raised in a frum home don't know what parts of their home rituals are halacha, community custom, family custom, etc. unless they have formal halacha instruction as well.

Anyway, I chose to write about this topic because I recently had an experience that illustrated this situation. My husband was raised by BTs who had NO formal halacha instruction. They certainly have their own understanding of a number of things, many of which my husband does differently because of his learning, though there are things that he also has changed more recently as he learned differently. (I am trying to say this in a repsectful way and asked DH's permission to say this.) Anyway, there are a few things that come up that I see DH do/not do on Shabbos that are different than my understanding of the halacha. I almost never bring it up because they are minor things. (I am focusing on hilchos Shabbos only because this is the area that we studied in depth - when it is in other areas, such as holiday observance, I will assume that I am the one who is incorrect because he certainly has way more learning from sources in those areas.)

So after five years of marriage (!), I fianlly asked him what was the deal with putting towels over the pots on the stove erev Shabbos. And he said, "It's to keep them warm." I really thought all this time that it was some halachic thing for him. And I happened to know that it wasn't really halacha. But it gave me a reminder of how other people without that knowledge would approach things they see at people's houses - especially if they either didn't get a chance to ask or the person they asked also didn't know and gave them an incorrect answer. They might go through life believeing, for example, that you had to cover your pots with the kitchen towels, and may even either make up extra chumras about it (like what thickness of towel) or make actual halachic errors -- like not realizing that you actually can't do the covering after Shabbos starts.

Sadly, we personally know a really nice couple who are this type. They take everything that one particular rabbi says literally - even when they admit that it makes no sense to them. The wife does not have any formal learning as far as I know, and the husband is in the "learn Gemara all the time" mode that this rabbi subscribes to, rather than a broader base of halacha and Tanach. Their rabbi has chumras about kashrut so they stopped eating certain KOSHER things. (This rabbi handed out a list of acceptable hechshers and crossed off KSA). Their rabbi told them something about baby care on Shabbos that we believe they totally misunderstood and is now making their life difficult. The husband repeats ideas that he clearly does not understand -- it's like "here's word-for-word what the rabbi said in shul" rather than "I heard a great idea from the rav that I really liked and I want to explain it."

I have a related funny story on the topic of Learning to Daven from "Rabbi Art Scroll" but I will save that for tomorrow.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Trivia question - Jewish communities

I am trying to post every day - we'll see how long that lasts! =-)

One of my interests, especially since we first did our research before moving, is hearing about Jewish communities where you wouldn't expect them. In a recent article about cities that are growing, I was surprised by one of the cities named and looked up whether there was a Jewish community there. I found a great article about the Chabad family who moved there in 2005, starting the first Chabad in that state. The article said that there are only five states left now with no Chabad.

Can you guess which five states do not have a Chabad, and what the sixth one was?
(It's not a trick question - it's really just the places with almost no Jews.)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

P.S. About Our Rabbi

My husband came home tonight with a great encounter with Rabbi B (from previous post). He came up to my husband and said, "I have something to show you." He pulled out a piece of paper which was a to do list, and one of the items was to call my husband. Then he asked how he was doing and how his parents were doing, and apologized again for not having the chance to call them. He explained specifically the things with which he has been involved (including 4 upcoming weddings that he will be officiating.)

Can't help but compare to our former rabbi who would always say "I was just going to call you" if my husband called him. Only he wasn't just about to call. It was said in a very insincere way, like the kind of thing you say to make conversation. Other times he would promise to call - he even put it in his palm pilot once - and of course no call came. Then eventually my husband would call him and, what a surprise, "I was going to call you."

Anyone can be sincere. Even if Rabbi B wasn't so attentive that he actually followed up with people, I am sure he would sincerely say "I am sorry I have not been in touch," rather than putting on an act.

I really try to focus on people who are doing the right thing rather than go off on what could be endless stories of people doing the wrong thing, but the comparison just had to be made,

Thanks to everyone who is reading and/or commenting. Especially those of you whom I don't know in person.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

How a rabbi should act

I still have way too many thoughts of things I want to post, but this will tie in to both my previous post and my comment on a very thought-provoking post by Shifra. I wanted to start profiling people who act the way we should, so I want to start with the rabbi at our shul.

I first met Rabbi B when he appeared at our doorstep with te welcome basket from the shul. Yes, our community does welcome baskets, and Rabbi B delivers them personally. And not just to "prospective members" -- he was very concerned about getting one to our friends who live in a different neighborhood and wouldn't possibly be joining the shul. He also brought a welcome basket to my husband's parents when he found out they moved here.

But making "first contact" is just the beginning of Rabbi B's attention to his congregants. We have frequently received phone calls from him "just to say hello and see how you're doing." He apologized profusely to my husband when he was not able to be at our daughter's naming at the early minyan. He apologized again for not calling my husband's parents more often - and they have never been to his shul. He then followed up by actually calling them. When he noticed my husband seemed upset about something, he inquired about it and made time to meet with us to basically be a sympathetic listener. He offered a few possible solutions but didn't attempt to solve the unsolvable by giving standard advice like "just have emunah and bitachon."

Rabbi B doesn't only do things to be nice, though. When there are halachic issues in the community, he will address it directly rather than do what will make him popular. One incident that stands out is when he lectured the congregation for allowing teenagers to hang out on the streets on Friday night. He specifically said that it is the parents' fault and it needs to stop. He didn't worry that his wealthy members would take away their funding or fire him -- it is a problem and he spoke out because that's his job. On another occasion, my husband asked him a question regarding an issue that is political in this community -- the status of a particular hechsher (kosher certification). He directly admitted that it was simply a political issue, and told us the truth about the status. We were newcomers, and he could absolutely have just told us "don't use it," but instead gave us all the facts.

Rabbi B is a big contrast to a number of other congregational rabbis who unfortunately do not act in this way. There were a number of rabbis across the "spectrum" who hesitate to rebuke their community because they are afraid of losing the donations. There are too many times that someone feels that their rabbi doesn't care who they are because they are not a big donor. Certainly it is difficult for a rabbi in a large congregation to keep up with all his congregants. But when someone approaches them, do they make the time to talk or brush the person off? Do they allow a more "important" person to interrupt your conversation with them, or do they make sure to give you their full attention? Do they take the time to at least learn the names of the members? (We have a friend who was called ten different names by the rabbi - "I've been Dave, Steve, Leonard, Richard, Ronald, Frederick and Franklin" - and his name is not even close to any of these.)

Making people feel that you genuinely care about them, while also caring enough about their neshamas to rebuke when necessary - instead of just criticizing the behavior of other communities' members....That is how a rabbi should behave, and we greatly appreciate Rabbi B.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Thinking about chesed

I hope some of you are still reading - it has been quite a while since I blogged. Partly this was because of feeling a bit ill and having several out-of-town visitors including a brief visit from my parents. But mostly it was an old problem that has kept me from ever regularly keeping a journal - having way too many topics I want to write about and not just sitting down to write! (At the moment I have about six articles/posts that I want to comment on saved as drafts.) So I am just going to start with the following:

Renegade Rebbetzin had a post that expressed so well a topic I have talked about before and one which led my husband and I to move across the country a year ago. What does it mean to really help people?

Cool Yiddishe Mama wrote about her friend (whom I know) who is struggling to get help with finding a job and having a place to live and food in the meantime. I have another friend, "Jacob", who has also struggled with extreme financial difficulties for quite some time. A small number of friends have repeatedly helped him out, but he could not seem to find support and help from the community at large. What do these two people have in common? They are both gerrim, not long-standing members of a specific shul community, and have the kind of financial problems that people don't connect to their fellow Jew sitting next to them in shul. Poverty is something that happens to people in Israel or some widowed mother with ten children (chas v'shalom), not to the guy who I see in shul but have never introduced myself to. The rabbis who were involved in the conversions basically abandoned them after a few months. Jacob practicallly begged his rabbi to help him meet people at shul. The rabbi e-mailed about five guys to ask them to invite him to meals. He got one or two invitations, then nothing - even the rabbi only invited him once, and when they got seperated during kiddush he went home for lunch without his invited guest! As Jacob cannot afford to move to the more expensive area near the shuls, he was walking over 2 miles to get to shul. With no invitations, he then turned around and walked back home. Then he was seriously injured and could not attend shul for a long time, and no one noticed.

I could go on -- I could write ten posts about how I was treated as a newcomer when I married my husband and went to NY for him to continue in yeshiva, how we were treated when we tried to get $3000 in pay that was owed to my husband from a rabbi at the yeshiva, how we lived in a building owned by the rabbi of the shul across the street and with a frum manager but neither treated us as fellow frum Jews -- but instead I will try to cntinue tomorrow with examples of things that DO represent how Jews should treat each other and help each other. (There are at least three of my readers that will find their actions in my post!)

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Orthodox Apprentice

I just found the blog Orthodox Apprentice which has great background information about the Jewish finalist Lee Bienstock. It also has an interview with Lenny, who it turns out is a lot less anti-religious than the producers made him out to be.

Some interesting points:

- One of the tasks was during Sukkos and Lee did not take the day off but the comments suggest that maybe he didn't "work" on the task in his usual way. (There is an interesting debate in the comments about whether this is a chilul Hashem, or even a kiddush Hashem.)

- As I mentioned above, Lenny actually liked Lee from the beginjning and claims in the interview that he never had a problem with his taking off time for the holiday, but rather was saying that it is not looked at positively in the working world. He also went to shul for part of Yom Kippur and fasted even as he worked on the task.

- Tarek is quoted with praise for Lee's faithfulness to his beliefs and says that he was surprised that Lee didn't take off for Sukkos.

I haven't finsihed reading the whole site but want to do so before the show tomorrow. Go Lee!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Hurting Other With Words (Part 1)

Cool Yiddishe Mama writes about one of my "favorite" topics, people who worry so much about tiny details of tsnius, kashrut, etc. but hurt others with their words and actions on a regular basis.

I am not really in favor of the Lesson A Day program -- not because I don't think people should learn the laws of Lashon HaRa, but because I think many people honestly believe that any issue of interpersonal behavior not covered in that one sefer is therefore not a violation of halacha. In fact, the Chofetz Chaim's teaching on proper behavior extend to all aspects of how to treat others. (He even wrote other sefarim!) There are some excellent books that cover a broader scope of the halacha, including anything by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin (especially "Power of Words") and "Journey to Virtue" by Rabbi Avrohom Ehrman. (I love giving this book as a gift, and currently don't own a copy because I gave mine away.)

But then there's the bigger problem that has entered so many of "the issues" -- why does something have to be codified in order to be the correct way to act? Shouldn't it be obvious that Hashem needs us to be Not Mean? Maybe even, NICE? Why should I even have to write a post about "frum" people being rude and thinking it's ok because the exact thing that they said isn't mentioned in Shmiras HaLashon?

Like the person who was double-parked and had a bumper sticker saying "I don't speak Lashon HaRa" (or something like that), and screamed and cursed at another frum person who asked them to move their car, and claimed that "Nothing I just said is Lashon HaRa."

Or a rabbi with whom we were previously involved who had smicha from Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, emphasized learning the Lesson A Day in his shul, showed the Chofetz Chaim Heritage videos on Tisha B'Av....and yet constantly spoke negatively about former congregants and people he saw as "not frum" (which was basically anyone who did not wear a black hat). My husband was very close with this person and was told these negative things in many conversations. We're talking extremely nasty remarks. Then my husband "parted ways" with this rabbi and -- what a shock -- became the TOPIC of the nasty remarks.

I guess I am a J-Blog now.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Lag BaOmer Mini-Meme

I was wondering when we would start these! I was tagged by Out of Town and Orthonomics.

It is so hard for me not to listen to music in the car during sefira, so I was really excited to turn on the radio on the way to work. But -- it was ALL talk. Six stations, no music. I'm sure eventually they played something but nothing memorable. The first song that I like that I remember hearing (on the ride home, of course), was "Beautiful" by James Blunt.

I tag Every Artist is a Cannibal. He's a good friend with a great music blog.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Jewish at work - the update

Unlike several friends who have jumped into blogging with insightful posts every day, I am having a hard time actually sitting down to write. But I wanted to give an update on my accidental experiment into not dealing with religion at work.

Even before I was Torah-observant, I always had a deep sense of my Jewish identity and was often in a position to emphasize it. I always wrote about Jewish topics for history class, and kept a very basic standard of kashrut that led me to openly not eat certain things at school or social events. I stopped eating red meat when I went to a ranch camp where they killed the cows on-site, and continued this new stringency until I got to the kosher cafeteria in college and hated the dairy meals.

Since I was already observant when I entered the working world, I found that I had to bring up early Fridays immediately. So I was pretty open in general about kashrut, holidays, even davening.

In Ohio, Shabbos in the summer doesn't start until after 8:00, and the earliest it starts in the winter is around 4:30. Pesach is over, Shavuos only uses one weekday, and then the only holiday we need off the rest of this year is Yom Kippur. So there was absolutely no reason why I had to bring up early Fridays, and therefore I started the job without anyone knowing my religious business. And I found, quite by accident, that I kind of enjoyed this! I am not actively hiding anything - and certainly not violating any halacha - but I am not putting my beliefs out there or making an issue of kashrut.

I will continue this tomorrow hopefully as there have been some interesting results.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Temp frustrations

So I was going to post more about the Jewish aspect at work but I am currently very frustrated about the way the temps are being treated. The manager, who is supposed to be my boss, is a sweet and intelligent person who I would love to work closely with - but she is rarely around. Instead, we have a "supervisor" who is the stereotypical mean boss. She is always screaming about something, talks in a harsh manner even in her normal speech, and picks on every little thing. Yesterday she came into the room that i share with another temp, and proceeded to list five things that we were doing wrong. None of these were related to our actual work - I don't think she even knows what we are doing for the boss. She just wants us to LOOK busy. Ironically, within an hour of her tirade, I was in a meeting with the boss being asked my opinion on how to proceed with some changes she is planning, and was assigned a special project for her. So there is no issue with my work habits, but I dread next week when my boss will be out and the supervisor will completely be in charge of us.

I will definitely get back to the Jewish-at-work topic soon. In the meantime, I have started listing some of the J-Blogs that I read and generally agree with. (There are a few not listed that I read regularly because I disagree and enjoy the comments and discussions.) The tuition discussion, because it is close to home, has been particularly interesting. Living Out of Town has a lot of great suggestions, and SephardiLady (Orthonomics) of course has both interesting ideas and detaied links to everyone else talking about the topic.

I want to welcome my friend Cool Yiddishe Mama to the J-Blog world!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Jewish at work...a new perspective

When I started this blog, I was pretty sure it was not going to become just a Jewish Blog. I read a lot of these and find that most of what I believe has been said very well by others, or can be added as a comment to other blogs.

But when I started my long-term temp job two weeks ago, I inadvertently started an experiment of sorts that I would like to share on this blog. In previous jobs, my religious issues had to come up before I was even hired, as I needed to ask for early Fridays off. And of course, with the emphasis of food in the workplace, I usually was discussing my dietary restrictions with everyone.

So it was a different experience looking for a job in Ohio in the spring, when Shabbos doesn't start until after 8:00 and when, after Shavuos, I won't even need any holidays off this year except Yom Kippur. So I was actually able to interview and accept temporary positions without ever having to talk about religion. (Obviously if I was offered a permanent position I would bring up the distant issue of Fridays, but as you all know from earlier posts, no such offer has happened yet...)

So I will post a bit this week about my new experience of not being indentifiably Orthodox at work. It has been strange, and certainly something I could change anytime by being more open -- but I am enjoying having some aspect of my life private, especially as many of my coworkers are openly Christian and I am not really looking to get into religious conversations with them. And I will probably also blog about "the issues" a bit more soon.

Friday, April 21, 2006

So I know how to fish, now what?

Everyone knows the "wise" saying, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." it suddenly struck me how inaccurate this really is. It is great to have job training. However, so many well-qualified people are unemployed for long periods of time. And so many other less-qualified people are successful. In fact, there is a more accurate saying, "It's not what you know, it's whom you know."

So going with the original saying, I think the person in question should provide the right fishing equipment to the man, teach him how to fish (although he may already know how), and then provide him an entry into the fishing field by offering him a fishing spot where he will definitely succeed in catching something. (And not just telling him suggested places, but actually brining him there and making sure that the others already there make room for him.) And lend him interest-free some money to live off of while he builds his fishing business.

Here are things people have done for us that are not helpful with regards to jobs: tell me to look at a website, tell me about some vague position they've heard about third-hand and suggest that I cold-call the person who they think might know something about it, tell me about a position that pays minimum wage and/or is 10 hours a week.

Here's what actually helped: lending us a significant sum of money so that we could actually make a dent in our debt, personally delivering my resume to the HR department at the company they work for, serving as a reference, calling to see how we're doing and if we need anything, speaking to potential investors on my husband's behalf regarding a business he would like to start.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Money and power

When I was younger, I wanted to be a teacher or a profession that helps people. My father discouraged this because they don't make a lot of money. (This is a topic for a whole other post...)

Later, I had the idea to make a lot of money in the corporate world as a way to take money from them and use it towards tzedakah -- as an alternate way of helping people.

We just saw the "Lexmas" episode of Smallville which, in my opinion, dealt with a big question: Why does it end up that people who make a lot of money and have power are almost always "bad guys"? Why are there so few people like Bono, who puts his fame and fortune to use as a way to help the world?

In the show, Lex chooses between giving up his family's money but having his wife die because she can't get the best medical care, or being a disgusting person who destroys other people in order to get as much power as possible. As a viewer, I felt Lex had a third option -- he could continue to make money but bring ethics into the picture and be a good person. But reality shows that his view plays out most of the time.

(Of course, the other problem is that people without money can't get even their basic medical or nutritional needs...)

Friday, March 31, 2006

Blog quizzes

These are always fun!

You Are Kermit

Hi, ho! Lovable and friendly, you get along well with everyone you know.
You're a big thinker, and sometimes you over think life's problems.
Don't worry - everyone know's it's not easy being green.
Just remember, time's fun when you're having flies!

You Are Olive Green

You are the most real of all the green shades. You're always true to yourself.
For you, authenticity and honesty are very important... both in others and yourself.
You are grounded and secure. It takes a lot to shake you.
People see you as dependable, probably the most dependable person they know.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Tired of the Search

I have been sending out resumes for a few weeks. I am frustrated knowing that most likely I will never get a call from any of my submissions, and it will take some random connection from networking that will finally get me a position. I know I can do these jobs, and do them well. There are some that I read about that I actually feel great about the possibility. Unfortunately, so many of the posts are from agencies and the jobs don't really exist anymore. I am signed up with three agencies, which means I took the typing & Microsoft Office tests, filled out extensive paperwork, and had meetings with the associates -- and so far the only result was being sent out on one interview for a long-term position.

I had an amazing interview at a community organization where we know someone who works there. Our friend brought my resume to HR and they invited me to interview even though there are no open positions. I met with the nice HR person for over an hour -- she said a lot of great things about my experience and that I would be a good possiblity for the possible future jobs opening up. But obviously this doesn't mean anything if there are no open positions right now.

The resume and cover letter game is also annoying. I have seen job descriptions a page long on some of the internet sites, but I am supposed to keep my experience/education/skills/contact info to no more than a page. There is no way to completely describe the many facets of my last job in four bullet points, though I continue to revise and rewrite.

I will continue later this week after I see if I get any more responses to my latest resume submissions.

Thanks to everyone for your support.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Got a few interviews

I have been a bit frustrated with the slow start to the job search process. Although there is a specific position that I would like, I don't have the "keyword" experience to get picked for interviews when I am one of many applying. And since I need to work, I may have to take a position that is not what I really want to do. I finally have a few interviews, though one is for a job I really don't see myself doing and the other is "in case something opens up in the future."

The most promising, though, is actually not from applying for a job but from a friend passing the resume to a business contact, who passed it to a specific person at another employment agency. So I do have to go through all the ridiculous agency tests again, but the person I spoke to actually has direct hire positions in mind for me.

If I am not employed by the end of the week, I may also try a job fair although I feel very awkward about approaching the recruiters.

So I am feeling less worried about being unemployed, but just frustrated that most likely I will not be progressing in a direction that I want to and instead will be doing the same thing yet again. But at least G-d willing we'll have health insurance and be able to pay our bills.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

A friendly community

It's hard to meet people here in the winter because everyone stays inside, but today was the beginning of spring weather and we had a great Shabbos afternoon very similar to when we first moved here. Everyone walks around visiting each other, people sit out on their lawn, and you meet a lot of new faces. In the 10 minute walk to my in-laws, we ran into friends we hadn't seen in months, who introduced me to a woman walking by that I had spoken to on the phone but never met. Then my son ran ahead and started talking to another little boy, and we ended up schmoozing with the parents for a while.

The best experience like this happened our third day here. We got to Cleveland on Friday and Shavuos was on Sunday night. So on Sunday we were buying food and met someone in the store. She told me that every year her friend gave an open ice cream social on Shavuos, and told me to just show up. I am normally really shy about doing something like that but I thought it couldn't hurt so I went over and there were a ton of people standing around outside. One of them immediately introduced herself, then stuck with me throughout the next hour introducing me to various people. A few weeks later, she arranged a meal with several other couples with kids my son's age so we could make those connections.

To me, this is the true meaning of a community and I love it.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

School office issues

One of the top undervalued professions is the administrative assistant. This person is the first contact for your clients, the one who makes sure things get done on time, and often in charge of financial matters as well. But as usual, they want a highly skilled person for as little money as possible. (Sometimes they don't even want a highly skilled person because they are afraid they will get a better job, so they purposely hire a mediocre person.) During my job hunt, I most often see positions looking for someone with extensive computer skills, often a 20 line list of tasks and responsibilities, and requesting someone with 5+ years of experience -- but the salary listed is $20K. Or they want someone to do a full time job in part time hours so they can avoid paying benefits. (This was my experience at my previous job -- I had to work very hard to convince my boss's boss that the head of a school needs an assistant for more than 15-20 hours a week.)

Anyway, I got a demonstration of this point today when I attempted for th third time to deal with a billing error at my son's school. (They cashed a check but never entered it intot he computer so I am still getting billed.) I had been unable to get a person on the phone, and received no response to my letter, so I went in with the actual check. The front-desk person was helpful, directing me to the billing office and explaining to the person there what the problem was. He essentially said that it wasn't his job and I needed to talk to "Jane." Problem: Jane isn't in the office today (and I got the idea from the ensuing conversation that she has been out a lot lately and falling behind in work.) Helpful office person starts SCREAMING at unhelpful person, right in front a parent (me). Person ignores us and gets on a phone call. Helpful person made a copy of the check and wrote a note for Jane to call me, then continued screaming at unhelpful guy.

But if I approached them about hiring me, assuming they admitted that they were understaffed, I am sure they would offer an insulting salary. And I know that when I bring the situation to the business manager's attention, which I intend to do, he won't care or take any action.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Rule #1 of customer service


My husband went to get meat and the guy behind the counter (who would be handling the food) was puffing away.

Needless to say, we had to spend extra to get the meat somewhere else!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

A better way to grow up

To all those who said "CLEVELAND????" when we moved:

Today our family went to see how they make maple syrup. We went on a hike to see the different collection methods they use to get out the sap (and tasted some right out of the tree), and then learned how they prepared it.

Since June, we have also gone blueberry picking, apple picking, and to the Farm park (which included the chance to help milk a cow) -- all within a half hour drive of our home. And the museums are so much cheaper, with free parking -- and free zoo admission every Monday. The libraries are open on Sundays and have playrooms and weekly activities.

So our son has done more activities outside the home in the eight months we've been here than in his first three years in Los Angeles. Yay!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

TV songs

Just wanted to share something random...

We've been watching "Smallville" on DVD. (We watch whole shows from Netflix.) We've notcied how perfectly they select the music - I haven't noticed something like that since Party of Five many years ago. Anyway, from the first time I heard James Blunt's song "You're Beautiful," I was convinced that it was perfect for the show, both in the words and style of the music, for one of the loft scenes with Lana and Clark. I told my husband that I know they will use it. We are only up to season 2 and don't watch the current ones yet, but just out of curiousity I found a site listing all the music used on the show. Sure enough, they used the song just 2 weeks ago!

Anyway, just thought I'd share. There is a lot more serious stuff I'll be getting to this week...

Thanks to everyone who is reading!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Respect in the Workplace

Simple rule for employers - if you show respect to your employees, you can expect them to show respect to you. If you treat them like garbage, they will have no incentive to respect you or the company.

I have been fortunate that in most of my job experience, my employer has treated me in a respectful manner. For me, that means speaking politely, giving clear descriptions of what the expected duties are, noticing when I have done a good job, and paying the agreed amount on time. If there are things that need to be done differently, the employer explains what the problem is (not waiting to drop it into a bad performance review months later) and then allows the employee to resolve the problem.

I even stayed at a job that was seriously under-paying me because I felt that I was a vital part of the organization, I was treated amazingly by my boss and coworkers, and I was given the opportunity to contribute in ways that developed my resume to make it worthwhile.

What the employer has gotten from me in return is someone who feels loyal, and therefore acts in the best interest of the company by going out of my way to do the best possible job and looking for ways to help beyond my basic job description. It also means that I feel a responsibility to show up promptly, not goof off on company time, and speak politely to customers. It also means that when the time has come to leave a job (which I have always done for a specific life-event reason, never because I was seeking a better position), I went immediately to my employe to give them notice and made sure to complete projects and get things in order before my last day,

Now here's the more usual situation, which is what my husband is facing now:

Employer is short and sarcastic to the employees. Employee is left wondering what exactly is expected, because no matter what they do it turns out to be wrong. Employer never notices the positive, but never fails to notice the negative. Employer has in their head a list of what the person has done wrong but never mentions it until review time, so that the employee has no opportunity to improve. Bonuses (or even paychecks!) are not what was promised, are late or otherwise messed with.

And the resulting employee behavior:

Employee feels, at best, neutral to the job - and at worst, vindictive and out to get even with the company. Therefore, they do the minimum amount of work they can get away with, and maximize how much time they spend chatting or doing personal business. They certainly never see if they can go above and beyond their assignments because they know they will receive no credit for doing so. They don't worry about coming late, take off fake sick days, act rudely to customers. And when the time comes to leave a job because they found something better or just can't take the stress anymore, they quit - minimal if any notice, and certainly not concerned with making the tranition easier on the employer. (They may even enjoy the idea of leaving the employer with a screwed up workplace.)

My husband is intending to quit with no notice at the end of this week. After all, the company cut his bonuses with no notice, never instituted his pay raise that he was promised THREE MONTHS ago, and the 200 people laid off last month found out when they showed up to work and the news cameras were outside.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Cell H*ll

Once again we are having cell phone issues. This time it isn't being falsely billed for months, or getting no reception anywhere, or being told that we can't get a local phone number when we moved unless we pay tons of fees and sign a new contract. No, this time it's the poor quality of the phone itself.

My husband loves getting the latest phone when he can find a rebate. He had been having difficulty charging his Motorola and we were still suck with the phone numbers from a different city. So he found a great rebate on a Motorola Razr V3 and took a lesser plan with Cingular to get the phone, a new phone for me, and Cleveland numbers for both of us.

I wasn't thrilled with my new phone but I don't use it so often. My husband was satisfied with his purchase, until he started having problems charging it. Basically after a few weeks it didn't stay plugged into the charger unless he stood there holding it. Same problem as his previous Motorola. So he called and asked for a new phone, which surprisingly arrived in less than 24 hours. Problem -- it didn't plug into the charger.

The customer service sent him from one person to another, and the end result was being told that he would just need to buy a new phone. Fortunately the people at the local store are a bit more into actual customer service, so he will be going in tomorrow to see what they can do.

The bigger issue here, of course, is that EVERYONE seems to have these problems. Almost everyone has a cell phone, and no matter which company they use there are billing, reception, and phone quality issues. There's not even a point in switching companies because you'll just have a new set of problems. (Although we are not with Cingular by choice -- we were satisfied with AT&T and have not been receiving the promised "benefits" of Cingular's buyout.)

I will try to post later this week my thoughts on how this is the real morality issue today.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Job Hunt Begins

I sent out six resumes after hours of searching online. Here's my observations so far:

- The junk postings ("work from home!") make some of the major sites useless.

- There were more than six jobs I could do. But they don't care if I can do the job, only if my resume shows the exact experience they need. It's the old paradox - how can I get the experience without the job opportunity? (This will be a topic for a future post!)

- Other jobs that I am qualified for don't pay anywhere near a livable salary. Some of these had descriptions a page long and required attention to detail, 5 years experience, etc. but wanted to pay this qualified person $10 an hour.