Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Powerful Women

This morning I participated in a meeting of a group of women.  It is a group of 

women formed originally on Facebook.  The group was formed to allow the women in the group to enjoy morning and afternoon chats with friends around a nice, warm cup of coffee.  (The idea being that we are each enjoying a cup of coffee while we are chatting on Facebook!).

This meeting was to take the virtual concept out of the group and to make it into reality.  We would all be able to meet one another face to face and get a better sense of with whom we were interacting online.  It was a success!

We are all English speaking olim, some who have been living in Israel for many years, others  (myself) who have been here just over a year, various ages, from various places in the US, and different backgrounds.  We are all religious Zionist Jews.  The one thing that did come out, that I found rather interesting, is that many of us, if not most of us, write. We write either professionally, or for fun.  It should not actually be all that surprising, since after all, the main (only?) mode of communication on Facebook is TYPING (the modern day form of writing – I no longer do longhand writing – due to lack of practice it has been rendered ILLEGIBLE!). 

Each woman in turn introduced herself to the group and told her “life story” – or at least the salient points of her life, those which were apparently important enough to her to warrant sharing with the group.   I learned so much this morning. 

Several “salient points” were drilled home in this meeting to me. Most are concepts which I have already formed and this morning’s meeting simply lent more credence to those concepts. 

Everyone has a story.  For many years I have often believed in the “first impression is a lasting impression” credo.  There is truth to it, and it has guided my choices in dress and appearance, in particular for job interviews or first dates.  It still guides me somewhat.  However, I no longer use it to judge OTHERS.  These days, I (try) to make no judgments about other individuals until I have heard their story.  I must have become pretty good at listening, or at getting others to open up to me, because these days I seem to COLLECT stories.  I can point to nearly every person I know and say, “that person has a story.  It is sad”, or “it is amazing”, or “it is inspiring”, or “it is laughable”.  And, knowing these stories, each person is very real to me, very dear to me, and I am able to thus empathize and to CARE. 

Miracles do happen.  But we cannot just sit back and ask for a miracle.  We have to do our part, our hishtadlus.  Then, Hashem will shower miracles on us. 

Hashgacha Pratis, closely related to miracles is evident in nearly every facet of our lives.  One of the participants in the meeting described a particularly amazing piece of Hashgacha Pratis which she experienced.   I too, have had NUMEROUS amazing experiences of Hashgacha Pratis in my life.  There are no coincidences, unless by coincidence one means “an act of G-d”! (My list of Hashgacha Pratis can be a blog entry in itself (or several!)). 

The last concept that I felt was strongly supported by this meeting is the concept of “powerful women”. Let me explain:

Back in the 80’s and 90’s I had my own business.  It was a “woman owned” 
business which was a “thing” back then.  I remember I surrounded myself with other women who either owned businesses or held positions of power – whether in business, politics, or in civic organizations. 

I would attend meetings with these women and always came away from these 
meetings feeling rejuvenated, alive, energetic, powerful, and just plain happy.  I felt validated both as a woman and as an individual.

After I sold my business and I returned to frumkeit, all of that kind of changed.  Maybe it was because I was not in the right place at the right time, I was not exposed to women, and the kind of women I call “women’s women”.  I think I might have thought they did not exist in the frum world. 

I joined the sisterhood at my parent’s shul.  Every year the sisterhood would put on a performance – a “musical” in honor of the kallot and banot mitzvah. The performance used well known songs from well known musicals, only we changed the words to suit our needs.  I had a lot of fun doing that.  I also designed props and d├ęcor for the annual dinner for Chessed of New Square.  I worked exclusively with women in that effort.  But it was not the same.  It was enjoyable but very limited and limiting.

When I married Barry I felt like I had something to prove.  I needed to prove that I could manage a kosher home – keep it organized, clean, cook healthy and delicious meals, and work full time as well.  I would be a great mother, a great wife, and involved in our community.  And, I DID all those things.  Initially, I worked as the registrar for the Bnei Akiva Mach Hach B’Aretz program, I was involved in our shul, I chauffeured the kids to and from after school programs, and I cooked healthy meals for dinner (we sat down as a family at the dinner table every day!).  As far as the cleaning goes, I hired a cleaning woman.  I loved my job.  Even when I left Bnei Akiva and went to work for American Friends of Shalva I continued with all aforementioned activities and I enjoyed my work.  

But in the last two years before Barry died, something changed for me.  I no longer was enjoying the job.  I felt like I was burnt out, I was listless, I had no energy and I had no relationship with G-d.  Something was wrong, and I knew it.  I remember spending some time looking for what I was missing – trying to daven with more kavanah, reading books that were supposed to be inspirational, wanting to sign up for some shiurim (only all the shiurim which I really wanted to sign up for were in the middle of my work day!).  

None of this helped.  I went to my doctor to be tested for I do not know what but nothing showed up. He gave me a Vitamin B shot.  It did not really help much.  By the time Barry died I felt wrung out.  (A year after his death I would be even more wrung out from the litigation to which I was unwillingly subjected.) 

Not once during my marriage to Barry was I able to find and be part of a group of “women’s women”.   It certainly did not exist within the religious community in Teaneck.  Most of the women in my age group, in my community, or rather in my shul, did not work. They stayed home. They raised their kids. They fixed up their houses. They remodeled their kitchens.  They cooked fabulous (and costly) meals.  They went shopping at Riverside Square Mall which is the opposite of a discount mall.   I felt I had to compete with these women.  The difference was, I worked.   I never felt like I really fit in. 

After Barry died, and I moved to Baltimore, I encountered a completely different group of people.  There, I was accepted – immediately and without needing to prove to anyone who or what I was!  There, I met several women, “women’s women”, with whom I struck up close friendships.  It so happens that several of those women made aliyah and so I am thus able to continue my close friendship with them without geography in the way!

Since making aliyah I have been growing my network of friends, acquaintances, co-workers, colleagues and even family, by leaps and bounds.  Through this network I was invited to join a special group of women.  Meeting some of them this morning awakened in me some of the spirit and energy that I find being with other women opens up. 

It was my birthday recently and I invited a group of women to help me celebrate at a restaurant one evening.  There were ten of us at that celebration.  Near the end of the evening one woman remarked to me that “all the women here are ‘powerful’ women”!  That is how I felt at the meeting this morning:  we are all ‘powerful’ women.

Thank you all for being there with me.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Facebook and Linked In, Useful Social Media

Usually when I meet a new person with whom I wish to stay in touch I will ask for their email address, and I will ask if they are on Facebook or Linked In.  Responses to these requests/questions will run along the lines of “I will give you my phone number” or “I hardly use my email” or “Facebook?  I have no time for Facebook” or “Linked In?  What is that?”.

These responses are a cause for anguish for me.  Let me explain.

Remember the big “networking” fad of the eighties?   I do.  Huge “networking fairs” were organized.  I was invited to many at the time – I had my own business and it was a “thing” to be a female business owner.  I went to ONE such event.  Only one.  Why?  Because it was a NOISY affair.  I was in a room with some 100 or more participants, everyone was talking, and I simply could not hear what was being said to me.  Due to my hearing impairment I could not network.  I remember despairing of the ability to be even more successful than I already was.  It was a bit of a blow to my self esteem.  I considered myself rather socially adept despite the disability.  But in that environment – forget it.  And so I considered myself a lousy networker.   That is factor one in my explanation.  Read on.  You will get the point eventually.

 Growing up I used the phone with the same ease as a hearing person.  I was a regular chatterbox, talking to my friends on the phone as a teenager.  I used the phone both socially and professionally.  I had no hesitation when faced with having to pick up the phone and place a call.  Then, in the mid-90’s all that changed.  No, my hearing had not changed.  But technology did.  Cordless, wireless, digital, cellular technologies invaded the telecommunications industry.   Phones were no longer all analog. In fact, analog phones were going the way of dinosaurs.   Hearing aid technology was also changing.  HA’s were also using the same technologies as telecommunications.  BUT – the changes were not occurring in tandem or with any kind of cooperation.  Thus compatibility between hearing aids and telephones, which were 100% between analog phones and analog aids, dropped to nearly nil.  Since then, it has gotten better, but nowhere near the previous 100% rate.   Not only that.  Clarity of sound in analog technology is far better than in digital technology.   The result of all this was that I lost the ability to use the phone with ease.  I became MORE disabled as a result of technological advances, not less disabled!  That is factor two in my explanation. 

Along with the technological advances in telecommunications came the internet explosion.  Back in 1995 the internet was still raw, the wild west of the technoworld.  But I recognized in it the possibility of replacement – I realized that instant messaging and email could replace for me somewhat what I lost in using the phone.  It was then that I began using email and IM as a replacement.  Of course, it was a limited replacement – many people still did not have email, and were not using Instant Messaging (IM).  However, over the years, the usage of email and IM has grown exponentially.  Now, nearly everyone I know has an email address, and most people use IM some of the time.  

Then along came Linked In and Facebook.  I joined Linked In first, since in the beginning Facebook was not open to everyone.  I did not see any immediate benefit to joining Linked In but I stuck with it.  As soon as Facebook opened up to me, I joined.  Facebook gave me an immediate benefit. Suddenly, I was better able to network socially.  All the stuff I missed in social interactions, the subtleties such as “overhearing” someone say this or that, was right there in front of me, in print, in black and white!  As Facebook improved over time, and as I grew my social network on Facebook, my social ability also grew.  It was quite amazing and gratifying for me! After all these years of struggling socially, I suddenly felt as if I had finally “come into my own”.  In the meantime, I was also quietly growing my Linked In network, and fine tuning my professional profile on Linked In.  I was not finding it particularly useful and so long gaps of time would go by between the times I would check in on my Linked In profile or network.

After moving to Israel, and spending some time fine tuning my Linked In profile further, I found that suddenly, I was receiving more invitations to connect on Linked In and also was invited to interview for jobs or invited to consult.  It was quite amazing how Linked In has done so much work for me since I am living in Israel. 

Much of this is all thanks to Hashem’s Hashgacha Pratis – but it is said that He helps those who help themselves.  I do my hishtadlus, and then He helps me along. 

But I digress.  Back to my introductory paragraph, wherein which I describe encountering people who tell me they do not use Facebook or Linked In.  Not only that they tell me they do not use those services, but many of them tell me this with a disparaging tone, and say they “don’t have time for that kind of stuff” and seem to indicate to me that Facebook in particular is a “waste of time”. 

What I have attempted to do with this little essay of mine is to explain to my readers why Facebook, for ME is NOT a waste of time, and how Facebook (and Linked In) have improved my life, both socially and professionally. 

Both have provided me with a network of friends, family, acquaintances, co-workers, employers or potential employers, and professional relationships.  Those networks have allowed me to read and learn about what is going on in the world, in my neighborhood, in my town, in my country, in other countries, amongst my friends and family.  Those networks have allowed me post questions, requests, and information that may be beneficial to those who read my posts.  Those networks have provided the ability for conversational discourse on an infinite number of topics. While I know that the printed word cannot always adequately convey the sense or context of a person’s emotions that the human voice can,  it is still a great substitute for someone like myself. 

There are those who state that these new social media are loaded with lies, lashon hora, and have great potential be hurtful.   They are correct.  But that has been true of all media, for MILLENIUM.  The big difference is, I will acknowledge, is that social media is immediate, explosive (exponential growth or propagation of posts), and far more easily exploited.  But just as one does not throw out the baby with the bathwater, we should not dismiss the positive benefits of social media.  I believe Facebook and Linked In have been extremely beneficial, not only to me and others like me, but to all who use them.