Archive | July, 2017

A New Chapter…Still in Limbo

4 Jul

Lifestyle choices.

My wife just joined the “gig economy.”  She is driving for one of those services that connect driver and passenger through a cell phone app (in light of their vast reach and rather spotty record of employee relations, I will refrain from mentioning them by name). She has given up her regular and not insignificant paycheck, her employer subsidized health insurance, and regular contributions to her 403b (like a 401k for the non-profit world) in exchange for a greater sense of freedom and a workplace that consists of just herself and whoever happens to be sitting in the passenger seat at any given moment.

This is a new thing for her…a very new thing.  For almost two decades my wife was a cog in the vast machine that is organized Jewish life in Los Angeles. To be clear, my use of the term “cog” is not meant to disparage my wife or her contribution to Jewish Los Angeles.  Indeed, I would argue that over the past two decades she has played a critical role in a number of organizations—they literally could not have functioned without her or someone like her.  Rather, I think the term reflects how, over time, she came to see herself and the way that she, and perhaps countless others, became a kind of a large, faceless bureaucracy that made organized Jewish life possible in the third largest Jewish community in America.

I bet I know what you’re thinking. My non-Jewish readers are likely struggling to understand the concept of organized Jewish life, while my Jewish readers are certain that there is nothing organized about any Jewish institution—and they may be right.  Nevertheless, the Jewish community of Los Angeles is made up of a host of synagogues, schools, community centers, Israel programs, social justice organizations, philanthropic endeavors, and one vast, centralized collection, or federation if you will, that attempts (and fails) to oversee, or at least assist, them all in their diverse and important work.  Again, because of their vast reach and spotty history of employee relations, I dare not mention that last organization by name, but those in the know can guess the institution that I refer to.

For a number of years, Amy was one of the many employees who made these organizations run. She managed the comings and goings of a small synagogue in the San Fernando Valley, followed by a number of years as an administrative assistant in Jewish educational and philanthropic organizations.  Ultimately, she served as a Human Resources professional at one of the largest Jewish organizations in town (no, not the Council of the Worldwide Zionist Conspiracy—though their benefits package is quite good).  And for a while, her work and her consistent move up the ranks—which she accomplished while being a wonderful, supportive mother, the primary earner in our home at times, and while completing a long-delayed BA degree—seemed to be tolerable to her, if not always satisfying.  She got the Jewish holidays off. She helped a range of people address their personal and professional needs, and as a family we spent a fair amount of time invested in the broader Jewish community (which included my studies in American Jewish history, my daughter’s attendance at a large Jewish summer camp nearby, and a host of other professional and personal connections to Jewish LA). There were certainly very good moments in her professional life and very bad moments too, but they seemed to be no better or worse than any other average Jane’s satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their workplace.

But eventually, things changed.  Over approximately two years, Amy’s sense of professional satisfaction and above all her health and well-being deteriorated—sometimes gradually and sometimes with shocking rapidity.  Those who have read my work before know that over two years ago Amy suffered a brutal, devastating bout of pancreatitis that laid her up for much of the summer of 2015.  In some ways, she never recovered fully from that illness.  At the very least, the few communal, local, state, and national systems in place to support her recovery failed, and my wife—who by the time all was said and done experienced terrible mental anguish and physical suffering—was forced back into the workforce well before she had the strength or physical and mental wherewithal to engage with it.  On her return, she found a work environment, and perhaps a national culture of work, that had little patience, and even far less sympathy, for her condition and constitution.  The hardheartedness of her workplace and utter lack of sympathy for her health and well-being ultimately led to another, terrible physical deterioration, a lengthy and desperately needed enrollment in our state’s disability system, and, finally, a change in the way she earned money.

I think that I would like to rededicate my blog, which has become rather moribund over the past year, to contemplating and exploring how Amy’s life changes came to be, and how the changing health (both physical and mental) of one or more of family members can shake the family unit’s sense of calm, happiness, and stability to its core.  We are undertaking a new path—Amy, Emma, and me.  And I don’t know where it will lead or if it is sustainable.  If there is one thing that I have learned since my cancer scare, which took place almost four years ago, is that I cannot predict the future at all.  We do our best.  We plan for what we allow ourselves to believe the future might bring. We budget our money best as we can, visit our doctors, try to maintain robust physical and mental health, invest in school, or retirement, or some other such thing, but we simply cannot predict where our hopes, and dreams, and plans will lead.  We do, however, know something about the past.  Indeed, that is the primary reason that I became an historian, not because I wanted to use the past to predict or prevent the future, or even to make sense of the present, but because I have found that the past is the only moment in time that we have the vision and the leisure to review, reflect upon, and, to some extent understand.  So, now that my family seems to be shifting our future direction, I think that I would like to look to the past a little bit to understand how that came to be.  I would like to see what lessons I can learn about our systems of work, finance, and healthcare, the often inexplicable way that family binds us in good times and bad, and, above all, the very tenuous nature of human health and well-being.

A few logistical notes before I sign off.  I think that I will still call this blog Limbo.  It just feels right.  I think that as long as we live we are always between states (e.g., health and sickness, wealth and poverty, mental stability and instability, etc.) and in many ways, I have found great satisfaction in using the written word to contemplate that sense of in-betweenness.  So Limbo it is!  Also, I am not going to make a big deal about this blog. I am not going to post it on Facebook or talk about it a lot, like I used to.  Those who are already connected to my blog will likely get some kind of update from WordPress.  Those who are not connected, that’s fine.  In some sense, I am writing just to hear myself think (I know how contradictory that statement is, but it feels true).  I appreciate an audience (a lot, actually) but I do not require one, and I actually feel a little sleazy about the way that I used to promote my blog to the public. If people want to read my blog, great.  If they want to share it…that is their choice and not the result of me hawking the latest edition. If it just sits there in the ether unread, well…at least I said my piece. Also, I have no idea how often I can update my posts….so likely better to just keep this to myself and see who shows up for the party.  Finally, I encourage those who do read this blog to respond to it.  I have always hoped that the great promise of blogging would be the way that it can facilitate an exchange between the author and the reader.  Sadly, I have not been able to create fully the kind of exchange that I seek (at least not with any consistency) but maybe things will be different this time.  So please respond.  Just don’t be mean.  Life is too short for such nonsense.

As always….stay tuned!