Rumors

When looking at stories on social media, one can see how damaging fake news can be to those the stories are about,  The   only purpose of a rumor is to do another damage or harm.  It is a non physical form of violence.  Once out there, it can not be taken back.  I wondered what the laws of Judaism said about rumors and false information.  I did some research into the subject and found some interesting information.

One of the 613 Mitzvot or laws in the Torah states not to carry tales, Lev 19:16.  It has been said that disparaging speech kills three; the person who speaks it, the person who hears it, and the person about whom it is told, as found on the website Judaism 101.  This includes gossip and slander.  Judaism forbids causing any deception or embarrassment through speech.  It is forbidden even if  the statement is true.  In order to understand this law from the Torah I wondered what the defiinition of speech is and if non-verbal forms of communication are considered speech.  According to the website businessdictionary.com, the definition of non-verbal communication is:  1. Behavior and elements of speech aside from the words themselves that transmit meaning. Non-verbal communication includes pitch, speed, tone and volume of voice, gestures and facial expressions, body posture, stance, and proximity to the listener, eye movements and contact, and dress and appearance.  Just because one is communicating in a non verbal way does not mean it is not speech.

If we are to put this definition into context with what is going on in the world around us today, it would imply that using appearance, gestures, facial expressions, body posture stance and proximity to the listener, if used to demean or cause a person personal or financial harm,  is forbidden in Judaism, even if the statement is true.  That would make cyberbullying, fake stories on social media, using ones clothing or appearance to demean another are serious sins.

There are circumstances however when tale-bearing is allowed.  It is not commiting a sin if one is using speech to tell a story of another when it is a form of testimony.  This can be interpreted as meaning if one is telling a story to defend oneself or another regarding legal matters or other instances when such speech is necessary.

Today almost everyone has access of some sort to the internet.  Many people have social media accounts.  Unfortunately some use these sights as a means of harming some in their community by spreading false rumors and tales.  Our society has become dog eat dog, or in other words I need to be ahead of everyone else.  This has become so consuming to the young generation that they are willing to through people sunder the bus so to speak in order to get ahead.

If this trend continues our society will be in serious trouble.  Rumors affect the stock market, can ruin relationships, cause people to lose or not be able to obtain jobs.  Rumors have a negative rippling effect and can cause an increase in poverty, homelessness and an unstable society and economy.

Before you follow the trend and post a rumor on Facebook or where clothing intented to annoy or embarass another, think about what that says about the kind of person you are, how you are affecting others and the look at the big picture about how that is affecting our society at large.

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The Healing Power of Ritual

According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, the definition of ritual is a set of actions or words performed in a regular way, often as part of a religious ceremony.  The power ritual actions and words can act as a means of healing. The act of keeping kosher and observing Shabbat can be the beginning of small weekly and daily rituals.

Although a ritual is performed regularly and often, it is different from an addiction or habit.  Unlike an addiction or habit, spiritual ritual has a positive affect that one can benefit from, rather than have a need or desire to stop.  Even a small tiny action performed once a week can have enormous benefits.

Many Jews observe a ritual at every meal by eating Kosher.  Simply put eating Kosher is abiding by the dietary laws in the Torah.  Jews do not eat pork or other foods listed as forbidden. We also do not eat meat and dairy together as the Torah states, “a kid shall not boil in its mother’s milk.”  At every meal we are reminded of the dietary laws in the Torah by the foods we choose to eat or not eat. Eating kosher exemplifies self discipline and brings one spiritually closer to God.

Observing Shabbat is another practice that Jews perform and take seriously.  The benefits of observing Shabbat are many. Attending service on Friday night and Saturday morning bring observant Jews together as a community.  No matter how one”s week was, what is going on in ones life either positive or negative, it can be comforting to know in a world of uncertainty where you will be spending your Friday night and Saturday morning and who you will be spending it with.

Each branch of Judaism has a different service although many of the same prayers are said.  Each week depending on what service is being held, the same prayers will be said and will be said in the same order.  This gives Shabbat a structure on which to build.

On Shabbat the Torah states that one is to refrain from doing work.  In American society this can be hard to accomplish as electronics keep us tied to all of the obligations and urgencies of our daily lives.  It may seem impossible to take a day to just relax, spend time with one’s family and to be offline. Once you start doing this as part of a Shabbat ritual it is amazingly rewarding.  At first your friends and family may push back wondering why you did not return their call or text. After some time they will know and come to accept that you are observing Shabbat and they will have to wait.

These are two small steps in observing Jewish ritual.  Performing these actions and words every day or week can keep one grounded as we experience life’s challenges and rewards.  There are only benefits, spiritual enlightenment and a feeling of being closer to God. I invite you to try it.

 

The One Thing I Did Right in Life

I never wanted to be divorced.  I have had people ask me to marry them, but I knew it would not last.  I never tried to force someone to marry be by getting pregnant or ultimatums.  I have not met the person who is right for me yet.

Even more than divorce, I never wanted to be a single mom.  I felt it would not be good for me and even more so for the children.  None of my partners have been father material so I never made them one.

I feel that children do better growing up in a stable home with two parents.  However I know one can not always predict if a relationship will work out and I have the utmost respect for women who are raising children on their own.  It can not be easy.  I feel good knowing I did not bring children into this world who would end up with difficulties because of a failed marriage or relationship.  I have been responsible in that aspect of my life.  I take relationships seriously, but I would have taken parenthood even more seriously.  So while my life my be in upheaval at the current moment, the one thing I did right was to judge whether or not my partners were parent material and I did not become a single parent.

Me Too

I am one of the many women who have experienced harassment only to have my complaints thrown to the wayside.  The man who harassed me was a member of my synagogue.  He and his wife invited me to stay with them for a while as they knew I did not have a place to stay.  I was excited that members of my synagogue would be so kind.  I was in the process of conversion and I was hoping to learn how a Jewish household was run, how to prepare Jewish food and celebrate holidays.  I thought I might be able to help them out as well as their house and yard were big.

The first few weeks I was there they were away on a cruise and I watched their dog.  Upon their return they became different people than the ones I had met at synagogue.  They had always been friendly and kind.  Now that I was living with them they suddenly changed.  They began taunting me with things they found out about me.  Nothing bad, but these were things that only my landlord who had sent me into homelessness would know.  I realized they must somehow know her, probably through the senior services office she had worked at.  A friend invited me out for a drink on my birthday and I was treated as though I was a minor, even though I was 54 at the time.  I was told I wore children’s clothing, they insinuated that my ex’s family only pretended to like me, and on and on and on.  It got worse instead of better.  I knew through experience not to over react and leave, as I had no where to go.  They knew this, and it was winter in Seattle.  I bit my tongue at all of their verbal abuse and weathered out the winter.

The abuse was not only at home.  He was active in the same political groups that I was and tried to sway their opinion of me for the worse rather than the better.  This had an impact on my employment as the people involved in the political groups were also my employers.  At Torah study they mocked me and carried on theatrics to make me look bad.  I had no idea why they were doing these things to me and I was very hurt by it.

I moved out of their house and their abuse continued at political functions and at synagogue.  I decided I could no longer be a door mat.  I went to a demonstration at a Macy’s store by employees.  I decided to join them as I had once worked their and agreed with their objections.  While I was in the picket line he showed up and eventually walked up to me.  I told him in a calm tone of voice, “I am going to ask you nicely to leave me alone.”  He tried to say something and I repeated my words.  He walked off and I hoped he would respect my wishes.

Instead of respecting my wishes, his abuse became worse.  The theatrics at synagogue continued, and he and his wife constantly insinuated that I needed to be made homeless.  The only reason I could think of that they acted this way was my former landlord. A convention was held in Seattle over a weekend.  He tried to approach me, and I reminded him I had asked him to leave me alone.  At one of the sessions he sat across the room from me, which I found acceptable.  He them moved to a seat next to the woman I was sitting with.  I reported this to the convention staff, yet he continued to harass me. At a meeting of the King County Labor Council he signed that he was going to take my seat away from me, which he was successful at doing.  He took away my career at the union.

I take my time spent worshipping and studying Torah at synagogue very seriously.  Having someone like him constantly harassing me was devastating, especially after what happened with the union.  I complained to the synagogue staff about his behavior.  nothing was done and the behavior continued.  He sometimes acted like a small boy pestering a playmate and he often had a grin on his face.  The continued harassment began to take a toll and was causing depression.  Instead of being a victim I decided to take action.  I tried to serve him with a restraining order.  The police said they were unable to find his house.  I went to court anyway and the judge did not do anything.

I finally moved away from Seattle, for many reasons, that being one of them.  I am still dismayed at all he was able to  do to try and destroy me.  I spoke up and complained about what he was doing to me, something I would not have done in the past.  No one would help me, they continued to support him and treated me like I was a pain in the ass.  Members of my synagogue signed that they were going to make me homeless.  Retaliation for speaking out.

I have not in my past accused a man of harassment.  It took a lot of courage to speak up and to try and do something about someone who was not only harassing me, but trying to destroy my character and good name and was successful at it.  I spoke the truth and was treated as a nuisance.

I am glad the women of Hollywood have been more successful than I at calling out bad behavior and that action is being taken.  Nothing makes one feel so small as to have the courage to speak up and then to be ignored.  It is time that we stop ignoring those who speak up.  I was not sexually abused, but harassment is harassment.  I think in horror about those who are sexually abused and ignored.  It is an ill our society needs to fix as it leaves permanent scars.

Let 2018 Be the Year the US Tackles its Homeless Crisis. (part 1)

The United States has a homeless crisis. In the year 2000 it was estimated that nearly 3.5 million people were homeless and each year the numbers increase. In order to address this problem the way that non-profit agencies are structured needs to change.  States need to decriminalize the state of being homeless as giving tickets and locking people up in jail does not fix the problem and rent control needs to be implemented.

After a long term relationship ended I was living in Denver and found myself in the situation of being homeless after not being able to pay the rent on my apartment.  It was the first time I had to use social services and it was an eye opener into the world of poverty and homelessness.  I never imagined I would end up in that situation having a master’s degree and a lot of work experience.  But there I was and in that experience I learned a lot.

The first service I signed up for was food stamps.  I was surprised that when one uses food stamps they are not allowed to purchase hot food.  Apparently our government does not feel that the poor should be allowed to eat a warm meal, however one can buy a gallon of icecream.  In Denver in order to be on food stamps one has to volunteer at a non-profit agency for a certain number of hours per month.  I had no problem with that as I already volunteered at a food bank.  However as I learned more about homelessness and the non-profit agencies serving them, the issue of volunteers has a downside which I will discuss later.

I volunteered at a food bank a couple of times a week.  I served as a social worker in an office where I would see people before they got their food with any other services they may be in need of.  I was in a unique position because I tried a lot of the services before recommending them to others.  That is when I learned the horrible truth about non-profits set up to serve the homeless.  I went to several agencies that promised help online or a pamphlet I had received.  I would make an appointment with the agency and show up to the appointment on time or walk in depending on the agency.  A volunteer, many of whom were food stamp recipients, would hand me a sheet of paper with the names, addresses and phone numbers of other agencies that would be able to help me.  I would take the piece of paper to other agencies where I was greeted by a volunteer, again a food stamp recipient and handed another sheet of paper with names, addresses and phone numbers of other agencies who would be able to help me.

The only help most of the agencies gave me was to hand me a sheet of paper referring me to another agency, but I never actually received any help.  I saw that most of these agencies were staffed with food stamp recipients and not social workers with master’s degrees on that subject.  Actually most of the agencies I went to did not do much.  I do know however from my master’s degree in management that non-profit agencies receive funding from the United States government and that funding is based upon the number of people served.  Each time I went in and was given a sheet of paper with names and numbers of other agencies, that particular agency could mark me down as a person being served.  The executives of these agencies were being paid salaries while the agencies themselves were staffed with food stamp recipients.  The executives were being paid for doing nothing, and our government was paying them to do nothing.  There is no incentive to get people off the street and back on their feet if employees of social service agencies are paid based on the number of people served.  If they actually were successful at their job, they would lose their job.  The homeless are sent around in circles from agency to agency and receive almost no help.  

In Seattle I volunteered at my synagogue’s homeless shelter for women.  I would drive a van downtown to pick them up at a shelter there to bring them back to the synagogue where they would spend the night.  When I would enter the shelter downtown often the staff would be screaming at the top of their lungs at the homeless women.  One time the police were there for some reason and one of them looked at me and said, “Oh my God!”  The staff at places that serve the homeless need to be educated and trained and not to view their job as disciplinarians.  The homeless are people not animals and should be treated as such.  If the police are appalled you know it is bad.

If we restructure the way non-profits are funded there may be more incentive for these non-profits to serve the poor and homeless and help them get back on their feet and into housing.  The people who serve the homeless need to be qualified social workers and not food stamp recipients who have no interest in helping the clients at a non-profit.  Until this happens the number of homeless in cities all across the United States will continue to grow.  We need to hold the agencies helping the homeless accountable for the services they are providing and to make sure their clients are not just given a piece of paper referring them to another agency, but that their agency actually does provide the help and services they advertise themselves as providing.

We as citizens, both wealthy and poor, need to demand from our government that the structure of non-profit organizations be changed.  The wealthy do not want to see the homeless living on their streets and the homeless want homes, not pieces of paper referring them to another agency.  Let 2018 be the year that the United States tackles its homeless crisis and becomes a model for other countries.