On Joy and Unemployment

How I Enjoyed Unemployment

Sue Tourkin-Komet JobMob 2007 Guest Blogging Contest Winner Sue Tourkin-Komet takes you back to her thoughts in 1992 when she was between jobs in Israel.

Have a Sense of Humor

With a title like that, I might make a few friends or at worst a few enemies, Chas va Chalila, G-d forbid.

However, as I am officially unemployed, and I do add up to being but one of the statistics of the 250,000 (or more, in 1992) unemployed persons in the State of Israel, I certainly am qualified and sincere in being able to portray the joys of being unemployed.

This is not to say that it's all been joyful or fun;no way.

This is not to say that I want to remain this way forever;no way.

But I am a firm believer that when any significant change occurs in life, such as giving birth or getting married or getting divorced or preparing one's beloved child for surgery (which I did for nine operations in the course of her ages 5 – 15 years) or, even losing one's “steady” and “safe” job, it pays to have a sense of humor, a sense of perspective, and a sense of “this too shall pass.”

It might not pay money to have a sense of humor, but it will pay something towards mental health and balance. And the truth is, by the time this is typed and published, I still hope for and seek a job and a good contract and a new income, but until that will happen I'm going to discover and reveal the joys of unemployment.

First, a bit of history, which might reveal why now I can even allow myself to enjoy being unemployed.

Flashback

From ages 15 to young 20-something in the United States, I had legitimate paying jobs, above and beyond domestic paid babysitting jobs, for which I paid out Social Security taxes, four quarterly seasons a year. To my utter amazement, despite my Aliyah beginning at age 19 at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, with return visits to the U.S.A., during which I held temporary jobs there, and always paid my legal American Social Security taxes, I have earned 50% of my “rights” towards American Social Security Benefits, despite my making Aliyah at age 19! Not a bad record, to say the least!

And here, in Israel, the real land of my residence and employment, I've worked for some two decades, part-time or full-time, and always at serious and responsible jobs. Including thankless and high-risk jobs as a social worker or interviewer of Holocaust survivors, always at poverty-level salaries, to put it politely. I've always paid out my Bituach Leumi (Israeli National Social Insurance) percentages, computed to the last cent or agurah by law, for two and more decades, so, if Bituach Leumi is now paying me for the grand total of 138 days of reduced and artificial Unemployment Benefits income, well, ladies and gentlemen, I've earned that artificial income.

And, being that I am not a quitter, but was truly laid-off due to our current recession, who's to call me a lazy lady?

This may sound high-falutin' and grandiose, but the Hebrew terms for unemployment and unemployment monies have such a nasty ring to them (d'mei avtala which a crude translation could render “blood money for the lazy”) that just by pronouncing those words I feel as if I am using four-letter curse words, which shouldn't feel that way, but does leave a bad taste in one's mouth.

But, wait, I'm supposed to be reporting on the joys of unemployment. I promise to hastily get around to what I have promised. However, again, I am a firm believer that one cannot truly reveal joys unless one first admits to the supposed non-joys of unemployment.

The Non-Enjoyments

Yes, the non-joys are there:

  • Less income
  • Insecurity
  • Having job interviews and not getting immediately hired-on-the-spot (which I was used to and must have become spoiled by the past many years of instantly being hired and told to start work as of “yesterday”!)
  • Standing in line with other unemployed persons, and so forth.
  • There's the stated and the unstated cynicism.
  • The rarely voiced, but sometimes-voiced question of “Will I make yeridah?” (“Will I leave Israel?”) because of joblessness. And, it's not me asking myself that risky question, but the rare friend who asks me it.

So, where after all is the joy? Examples abound, day by day, and I shall try to pinpoint them.

Take a Vacation Before the Job Search

For example, when my job of the last 8 – 9 years was terminating due to lay-offs because of necessary streamlining at the Jewish Agency (and I was the LAST ONE to be let go, and had carried the work-load of my “disappeared” fellow office mates for a long time) I took a full month of leftover annual paid vacation here in Israel.

For all that time I had not taken annual vacation in Israel, as I had saved it up and used it up to reside for a few months in Budapest to do physical therapy there, 5 days a week, 6-7 hours a day, with my daughter;out of maternal necessity for her well-being. Not exactly an annual vacation, doing hundreds of hours of intensive physical therapy, getting black and blue marks all over my body, with my unused vacation time from a job in Jerusalem. And no time to do sightseeing in Budapest, nor time to buy a single postcard; nor write a single postcard;and I am a passionate writer!

When I was finally taking my long overdue paid leave here in Israel, I didn't truly rest, as I didn't know how to truly rest (until I slowly learned more about resting, as the months went by). I did go on a 4-day, 4-night strenuous hike during that August in the Western Galilee with the (Israeli) Nature Protection Society. We mountain-climbed, spelunked in subterranean caves, did marine biology, and just about hung from cliffs. It was aching and hurtful and painful and beautiful, and my just knowing that if, G-d forbid, I would fall off of a cliff, it would be more my problem and not my employer's problem, because they no longer needed my services, and this gave me a whole new perspective towards my mountain-climbing. I was more liberated!

Have Happy Holidays

The next stage in my unemployment was September, which of course totally overlapped with our annual time intensive period of pre-Rosh HaShanna, Yom Kippur, Succot, and Simchat Torah. It was a true joy, for probably the first time in two decades, that I could “enter” the Chagim (Holy Days), worry about the Chagim, prepare for the Chagim, pray on the Chagim, and just make it through the Chagim, and yes, enjoy the Chagim, without having to do the annual balancing act of running to work, working hard, racing home (always at the mercy of public buses) and then when feeling like a shmatta (rag) enter and observe the great Chagim! It was Freedom from Bondage!

Bear in mind that during that same September of Chagim I was also doing the unpleasant balancing act of beginning to register for my unemployment benefits, and it required a lot of bureaucracy and time consumption to say the least, so all the Chagim were not a total picnic. No way. However, it didn't feel that the Chagim were on my employer's time. It was on my time and it all became more personalized and internalized. And–when I didn't have a steady job any more, it made my annual prayers for peace, health, and yes, parnassa tova (good livelihood) all the more poignant.

Nothing like improving one's prayers when one is unemployed. That too is a source of joy, believe it or not.

Let the Government Help

By the third month of my unemployment, the unemployment monies starting cropping up into my bank account, by the good graces of Bituach Leumi, and gave not only economic relief, but some joy! The wheels of bureaucracy had done their turning, and my turn had come. The time came to finally begin to sleep late! But sleeping late is a relative term, to say the least. For some persons it might mean to sleep until 11:00 a.m. or sleep the whole day, but for me, to begin to sleep until 7:00 a.m. was and still is a real mechiyeh (joy) (instead of the many years of getting up at 5:45 a.m. to get my handicapped daughter and myself out the door). And lately, since the Big Snow (of '92), and contracting bronchitis and my taking a week's series of antibiotics, to sleep until 8:00 a.m. is a real joy (probably the last time I did that was as an infant, some 40 years ago).

Put a Positive Spin on Your Situation

Then there came the inevitable slip-of-the-tongue, which opened doors for me. It might not have opened employer's doors, but it opened the door of my neshama (soul). (And isn't my neshama just about as important as anything else?) My famous slip-of-the-tongue was to accidentally tell some friend that I was on sabbatical, forgetting to use the dirty word of being unemployed. Being that I am not a teacher, and have never been on any such sabbatical, neither domestically nor abroad, thus, the word “sabbatical” was delicious on my tongue and almost made me delirious with joy and happiness. So I decided, once-in-awhile, to use the term “sabbatical” instead of “unemployment,” and it elicited in me, and in any dialogue, a much better frame of reference. A good antidote when unemployed is to change one's terminology in a rosy direction, and presto / pronto, a new self-image (at least for some of the remaining 138 days of unemployment benefits).

How was I brilliantly using or not using my newfound free time? To say I was reading more was not true, because I had always managed to do a lot of reading when fully employed;at home, after work. So that was not a big deal.

To say I sat down at my sewing machine and did some projects was not true, because I had somehow always managed to do plenty of sewing when fully employed, probably as a form of domestic occupational therapy.

To say I suddenly wrote more poetry would be a lie, because I only write poems when they “come” at me, and they weren't coming “at” me.

To say I started to do sponja (floor-washing) more often would be a lie, because it just doesn't turn me on like some of my neighbors who get high on doing sponja three times a day, like the equivalent of Shacharit, Mincha, and Ma'ariv. Oh, but I did do some more house-cleaning, which wore off after about a week, but at least it made me feel like I was doing something more heroic: more housework! (Almost as exciting as mountain climbing!)

Savor Time For Yourself

So what was I to do with my Freedom? I started swimming (indoors) 3 – 4 times a week, improved my style, my speed, my muscles, my breathing, and that did feel heroic!

It became a high and a fix! And it was morning hours, instead of being in the salt mines! Besides all the warm water in the shower, used sparingly; because of Israel's Water Crisis ; and the hair dryers (even though I have a good one at home) belonging to the public. And;I could go to a brit milah (circumcision) in the morning hours, without having to beg permission from a boss to attend such an event, which is after all, a mitzvah. And I could visit a friend in her “protective pregnancy” in the morning, in the hospital, instead of my being in the trenches! And suddenly I had many simchas (joyous occasions) to attend, and could go out 3 – 4 nights a week, and even if it was tiring, I could sleep late the next day, even if that meant until 7:00 a.m. and not 6:00 a.m. And one day I let my daughter play hooky with me and we went down to the Dead Sea to be with relatives from abroad.

Avoid All Naysayers

But something almost burst my bubble;and not at the Dead Sea.

A beloved friend, who remains a beloved friend, asked me on the telephone one night, in a sweet and caring and concerned Voice, with no barbs and no sarcasm, she voiced, “But Sue, don't you need a job to have some MEANING IN LIFE? Don't you need a job to feel you're doing something WORTHWHILE? Don't you need a FRAMEWORK FOR YOUR DAILY STRUCTURE?” (These capital letters are mine, as well were in her Voice.)

I could barely answer her. I had no clever words to offer. I almost felt chastised. I felt stung. I remembered those childhood bee-stings in Maryland and those mosquitoes on the Chesapeake Bay, almost as big as hummingbirds, to quote James Michener, and I felt as if those animal insects had immigrated to Israel and had stung me! And my friend had asked it out of concern and out of love and out of worry for me.

I decided to give it some thought, as well as to give it a good night's sleep (it was night time after all) and lo and behold, to my surprise and pleasure, I discovered the next day and the next day and the next day, and the next week and the next month, that “NO!”; I did not need a job to give my life meaning! I did not need a job to give me structure! I did not need a job to give me a daily framework! That discovery in and of itself was worth the pain of her question. Yes, I could stand to have a job for better and “permanent” income. Yes, I could stand to have a job to make my small contribution to Society. But for meaning and for structure! No. There is meaning and structure even when you are unemployed if you (or I) have inner-meaning and inner-structure. My meaning and structure doesn't, at age 40-plus, have to be externalized. It is truly a joy, to discover, and to thrive on, that there is inner meaning, inner music, inner richness, even when “Big Brother” isn't footing the bill. That is the real joy of my being unemployed now, to feel my very own real life and real soul, alive and well, outside of any job.A version of this article originally appeared in Horizons magazine.

About the Author

Aside from winning guest blogging contests, Sue Tourkin-Komet is also an established writer, a permanent swimmer, a licensed social worker, a part-time artist & a veteran matchmaker — and all that since 1971.

Sue can be reached at yaffasue [at] netvision.net.il.

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About the Author Jacob Share

Job Search Expert, Professional Blogger, Creative Thinker, Community Builder with a sense of humor. I like to help people.

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