Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Whatever Works

No, I haven't seen Woody Allen's new mixed-review flick. Though I do have two AMC Theater passes languishing in my desk drawer if anyone wants to make a date of it. In this case, I've been pondering if taking the "whatever works" attitude should apply to all areas of our lives.

The other day, I asked an especially spiritual friend of mine to send out some positive energy to help me find my dream job. I've been working hard to harness the power of the law of attraction, so I too have been envisioning myself in my new office, working with my new colleagues, buying new Mad Men-inspired outfits, etc. I even petitioned the cashier at Trader Joe's with the septum piercing to help me out by focusing on those good vibes and helping me claim my fantastic job.

Though I've expressed some skepticism over The Secret in the past - I simply cannot believe that those poor people on the Taconic Parkway last Sunday manifested themselves into a head-on collision with a woman so out of it she didn't know she was driving the wrong way on a one-way highway. However, in this challenging job market, you've got to pull out all the stops. Allah, Buddha, Vishnu I love you all.

Or do I? When I asked my friend to help me out by thinking positively, she offered to guide me in a shamanistic journey. Now, I like to think of myself as being open-minded, but it truly gave me pause to consider the idea of participating in this ritual. Could I participate in it? Was it against my religion? Did I care if it was?

Ultimately, I decided to decline the offer and I didn't even have to ask my rabbi about it. Just as I wouldn't be comfortable going to Mass and taking communion in order to obtain grace in God's eyes, I don't think it's OK for me to do so in a more "New Age" context either. It's interesting how we look at non-Judeo Christian religions with a more tolerant eye. Why is that?

If my friend finds meaning in her shamanistic practice, or someone else finds comfort in lighting a candle and saying a novena and other says tehillim (psalms) - I think that's fantastic and I sincerely thank them for seeking Divine intervention on my behalf. I hope I can someday return the favor and under happy conditions.

Rarely am I presented with situations that truly force me to examine my beliefs, especially on issues of idol worship or monotheism. Usually, I'm just worried if I can eat the potato skins or if they have bacon on them. Maybe the plus side to all this is that I got a nice distraction from the immediate concerns of my job search and instead got to dwell on deep dogmatic issues for a change. In the meantime, I'm going to go burn some sage... that's still OK, right?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Of Kidneys, Politics and Shame

Mired so deeply in what I hope are the final stages of my job hunt, it's admittedly been difficult to gather my thoughts together on various events of my life and the world around me. Diligent readers will note I completely failed to describe my trip to Montreal at the beginning of July. It's not that it was a lousy trip - actually we had a pretty great time butchering the French language, exploring the sights, working on our tans and loving Jazz Fest.

I've got a few other blog-orific ideas up my sleeve that I'm hoping to tackle before I take off for Costa Rica in early August. For now, I just wanted to offer a few reflections on the staggering FBI round-up that went down in New Jersey yesterday.

The story is pretty much lead news on every major media outlet so I'll let you take your pick of the Star Ledger, New York Times, CNN, etc. What I do want to highlight is this fantastic story from WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show about medical anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes who tipped the FBI off to the despicable illegal organ trafficking perpetrated by Levy Itzhak Rosenbaum of Brooklyn. Listen here and be both proud of the power of journalism and shamed by the power of human greed.

I also can't possibly ignore the utterly shameful connection of the Jewish community, and the Orthodox enclaves of Brooklyn and Deal, NJ, to this story. As if the Jews needed worse press and the rumor mills needed further fodder for their hate-filled ideas that Jews run the international banking system.

Since its so repugnant, I'm just going to resort to an old Yid tactic and make a joke...If it's true that the Jews run the banks and ostensibly,the world, then why is it that I'm still job hunting after 3 1/2 months!?

For an angle on the story from those inside the Orthodox world, I'll recommend Vos iz Neias. Normally, I wouldn't direct people to a source pretty beyond my own frame of reference or politics, but in this story which such clear villians, I think it's safe.

I'm off to a much-needed Shabbat island of relaxation in the Outer Boroughs, but I'm eager to see how these stories pan out and how far-reaching the corruption will go. With any luck, the one silver lining will be quality reporting, interviewing and research that goes to the heart of high-caliber investigative journalism... and maybe a few friends' jobs saved.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I'm a Hustler, Baby

I just want you to know.

No for real. I have become quite the hustler in the past 2 1/2 months (and don't worry Mom, it's all legal unless you count circumventing the IRS). Just this month, I've earned enough money from my side business, Amalgamated Missel Concierge Services, to pay for my upcoming flight to Costa Rica. It's also helping take some of the pressure off my bills.

Beyond being sufficiently scrappy to launch a personal services business using former donors as my largest client base, I've also put my gumption to work on various forms of public transit. Last week, I introduced myself to someone whose career in Jewish communal service spans more than 50 years while riding home from the City on the Midtown Direct line. He told me about the trip to a post-World War II orphans' home in France where he met Elie Wiesel and was inspired to work for the Jewish community. I discretely passed him my business card and dropped a few key names. Though his organization doesn't have any current jobs, their HR director now has my name and resume.

And as some of my closest friends heard, the creme-de-la-creme of self-aggrandizement came on Tuesday when I met a NJ-based reporter for the local NPR affiliate, WNYC, on the train. I overheard him leaving a voice mail for someone on the platform and watched him take a seat a few rows ahead of me. As the train pulled into Penn Station, I stood up and when he did the same, I put out my hand and told him what a fan I am.

We talked and walked over to the 1 Train and rode together, chatting all the way. I clearly mentioned my unemployed status, my journalism degree, previously-submitted application for a development job at WNYC and thrust my business card into his hand. I jumped off at 14th Street and figured I would go on their website when I got home to dig up his email address.

No need. When I stepped off the train at 11 p.m. back in Morristown, I heard, "Hey!" and saw my new best friend there on the platform. He told me he'd already sent me a few emails, one of which detailed WNYC's purchase of a local classical music station and the possibility of an expanded workforce. The next morning, I sent him my resume and cover letter.

For now, I'm just asking for all the positive energy in the universe to help me out here... and for a little more moxie.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Haveil Havalim Courtesy of How to Be An Israeli

My friend Maya at How to Be Israeli took on the Herculean task of this week's Haveil Havalim. Be sure to check it out here.

There's great links to all kinds of blogs and some fantastic pictures including this one from Israel the Beautiful.

Enjoy and have a great week!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Halfway There

Hard to believe but today marks the halfway point in my 30 By 30 quest. You can read the original post here, but I figured now was as good a time as any to take a step back and do a little pontificating on being 29 1/2.

There's the obvious fear currently compounded by my joblessness, but there's also a tremendous sense for reflection. This may be because of the excessive free time alone with my thoughts that has come along as a sometimes malevolent side kick of unemployment, but I think it also comes with reaching a milestone that our society has elevated as a great marker of adulthood.

More on all that when January 8, 2010 actually arrives. For now, I'd just like to scribble (or type) a few notes on my various accomplishments or procrastinations of the past 6 months.

1. Travel to a new place below the Mason Dixon Line (March 14, 2009)
I wrote quite a bit about my trip to New Orleans before and after the experience. Going to the Crescent City made a considerable impact on me in ways that I probably am still discovering and it also crystallized everything from my relationship with an old roommate to an entire semester of graduate studies. All this while nursing a broken heart!

Who knows when I'll have another chance to visit either New Orleans or anywhere else in the South? For now, I'm really glad it was where I kicked off an incredibly busy year of travel since the city's raucous nature and laid back attitude were clearly what I needed to get out of a funk and to tackle my own challenges.

11. Find a synagogue I enjoy for the high holidays
This one's black which means I haven't begun to work on it and if you read my post from Monday you'll have a better understanding as to why. For now it's easy to delay finding a spiritual home in a house of worship because I've already found the local options unsatisfactory and I have no idea where I'm headed geographically. The scary truth is Rosh Hashanah is only 2 1/2 months away and my ability to cross this off my list largely depends on some elements that are out of my control for a little while longer.

14. Make coffee tasty enough for others to drink/enjoy (Feb. 15, 2009)
People who know me are instantly acquainted with my boundless energy and I often remind them that I eschew caffiene for fear of how wired I'd be. I'm fine in the mornings without anything but an orange juice spritzer and food, but others complained of the absence of stronger fuel.

Finally, I bought non-instant coffee and dedicated myself to mastering the French press that had been sitting neglected on the countertops of at least three apartments. It took a few experiments with the water to tablespoons of coffee ratio, but I eventually figured it out. Now I joyfully push down on the filter and even imbibe a cup or two when no one else is home.

19. Earn $100 from Google AdSense ($25 as of late May)
I just checked on my balance today and I'm up to $29.01. It means I need to do some more clicking and so do you! Come on, I'm unemployed. Help a hustler out!

27. Get a new job - back on like Donkey Kong because I got laid off.
30. Master the art of doing nothing (I'm pretty sure this will be the hardest item on the list)
I put these two together from their original "Life" category because the immediacy of one has unmistakably proven just how hard the other will be to ever accomplish. Most people get laid off and take a few weeks to relax, travel or at least sleep in. Not me. I launched a side business within days of getting notice and to date have earned nearly $800.

While I do manage to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night, it's often preceeded by me running around like crazy for 15-16 hours between errands, job applications, coffee dates, blogging, networking events, project for my Concierge Service business, working out, gardening, dancing, cooking, get the picture.

There are times I toy with the idea of simply putting #30 out of my mind and just embracing my frenetic nature for what it is. Then I stop long enough to realize how tired I am and recommit. Out of all my endeavors, it is ironically the art of doing nothing that eludes me most and where I need the most help.

Unemployment has helped me learn to prioritize and to allow myself to periodically say no, but it has also given me a host of new responsibilities for which I am accountable to no one but myself. It's freeing and frightening all at the same time. Here's hoping I'm able to overcome both the fear and to eliminate the cause by the time I do turn 30.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Letter to the Editor

I know I've been terribly remiss about posting lately, and I really do want to write a thorough recounting of my recent adventures in Montreal and new plans to hit Costa Rica next month with some girlfriends. However, I have three job interviews this week and a few clients for my side business, so this will simply have to do.

Here's a letter I wrote to the editor of the New Jersey Jewish News that was actually published in their July 2 edition. Would love to get everyone's feedback on both the original article and my commentary. Cheers!

As I read Johanna Ginsberg's article this week, "Synagogues Make Do in Hard Times," I couldn't help but wonder if perhaps there is a silver lining for our houses of worship in this economic miasma. Just flip through the Community section of the New Jersey Jewish News and you'll see synagogues offering concerts, drumming circles, support groups (including one for overeaters which just strikes me as ironic to take place in a shul) and lectures of all varieties.

While I'm sure the congregations arrange these programs in order to attract potential and current members, one has to ask how it fits into their core missions to create Jewish spaces for the community when so many people in said communities cannot afford to participate. With the suburbanization of the American Jewish population in the 1950s, synagogues morphed from small places to pray with a minyan into seemingly holistic paragons of Jewish life. All your needs - literally from cradle to grave - could me met at the synagogue.

That model certainly worked for some, but the presense of the Havurah movement in the 1960s and today's proliferation of small congregations like Kehillat Hadar on the Upper West Side, indicate that a certain authenticity and closeness may have been missing all along.

Maybe the lesson for synagogues from this economic crisis is to not be afraid of small. To welcome intimacy, closeness and friendliness. Don't be afraid to scale back programs to a bare-bones, but high-caliber and high-touch community of worship. As someone who has shul hopped and has yet to find a spiritual home after three years in this community, I would much rather have an option to join a basic congregation for $100 than to pay $1000 for all the bells and whistles I will likely never use.

Much of the Jewish communal world has been caught up in competition with secular institutions and has forgotten the added value they can potentially bring when they stop trying to be something they are not. As the congregations in the article and others in MetroWest and around the country struggle with declining dues and swirling debts, I hope some will be bold and take this as an opportunity to reimagine what the American synagogue can and should be. Who knows, you may even attract some new members?