Abraham Joshua Heschel

In his book The Prophets, Abraham Joshua Heschel stated, “The things that horrified the prophets are even now daily occurrences all over the world.  There is no society to which Amos’ words would not apply.

Hear this you who trample upon the needy, and bring the poor of the land to an end, saying:  when will the new moon be over that we may sell grain?  And the Sabbath that we may offer wheat for sale, that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great, and deal deceitfully with false balances, that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and sell the refuse of the wheat.  Amos 8:4-6.

Abraham Joshua Heschel was a spiritual leader who cared not only for his own people, but for all people the world over.  After surviving the horrors of the Holocaust he went on to become a rabbinical leader, professor, activist and author,  He believed in social action and fought for civil rights with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and protested against the Viet Nam war.  He saw many changes in his lifetime and was responsible for bringing about positive societal changes himself.

Early Life

Abraham Joshua Heschel was born in 1907 in Warsaw Poland.  He descended from preeminent European rabbis on both sides of his family.  Through the Holocaust he lost most of his family while still a young man.  His father died when he was 9.  His sister Esther was killed in a German bombing.  His mother was murdered by the Nazis and his other 2 sisters died in a concentration camp.

Heschel attended school where he studied Talmud and Kabbalah.  he then moved to Berlin and attended a university where he also taught Talmud.  In 1937 Martin Buber appointed him his succesor at the Central Organiation for Jewish Adult Education.

In 1938 while renting a room in Frankfurt, Germany he was arrested by the Gestapo and deported to Poland.  Ten months later He left Warsaw for London with the help of HUC president Julian Morgenstern.  He never returned to Poland, Germany or Austria.  He wrote,

“If I should go to Poland or Germany, every stone, every tree would remind me of contempt, hatred, murder, of children killed, mothers burned alive, of human beings asphyxiated.”

Move to the United States

Heschel moved to the United States in 1940, relocating to New York City.  He then served on the faculty of the Hebrew Union College (HUC) for 5 years.  He married Sylvia Straus, a concert pianist in Los Angeles, California.  In that same year he took a position at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the main seminary of Conservative Judaism.  He was professor of Jewish ethics and mysticism until his eath in 1972.

A Call to Social Action

Believing the teachings of the Hebrew prophets were a call for social action, Heschel worked for African American civil rights and met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr while at a conference on race and religion in Chicago.  He marched with Dr. King in Selma.  He also spoke out against the war in Viet Nam, stating in an interview on The External Light on NBC in 1972,

“How can I pray when I have on my conscience the awareness that I am co-responsible for the death of innocent peope in Vietnam?  In a free society, some are guilty, all are responsible.”

The presence of God

Abraham Joshua Heschel rose above the tragedy of the Holocaust to live a life dedicated to teaching the wisdom of the Judaism and participating in social action.  He once said,

“We are called upon to be an image of God.  You see God is absent, invisible, and the task of a human being is to represent the Divine, to be a reminder of the presence of God.”

 

 

 

 

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Who is Responsible for Homelessness?

Homelessness has become a huge problem all across the United States. Wages have not kept up with the economy, rents have skyrocketed and politicians have largely looked the other way.  Each year in our major cities the number of homeless continue to increase. It is the responsibility of each community to make changes to tackle this problem.

The number of homeless in major US cities continues to rise as rents become increasingly higher.  The cities with the most homeless, both outdoor and in shelters are New York with 76,501, Los Angeles with 55,188 and Seattle with 11,643.  Once known for its prosperity, the United States is beginning to look more like a third world country with the large number of its population without housing.  Many Americans are one paycheck away from living on the street with many major employers paying just above minimum wage, which is not a livable wage.

One of the misconceptions of homelessness is the actual definition.  One can have a roof over their head and still be considered homeless.  This can be a barrier to living in a permanent space. Communities often look to shelters as a solution.  In reality they are temporary and are often not a fix. Time in a shelter is limited and if one can not find permanent housing shelters put people back out on the street.  What shelters do is provide a place to sleep other than the street, but they are not a solution to homelessness. Communities would fare better if they came up with solutions for permanent housing.

There are many reasons people become homeless.  Many people live paycheck to paycheck and the loss of a job can result in losing ones home.  Major employers such as Amazon, Walmart and others pay low wages requiring their employees to seek public assistance.  Mental illness and drug addiction to cope with mental illness are also large factors in people becoming homeless. A major problem currently are increased rents, tenants not having rights which make it easy for landlords to evict for tenants who will pay higher rents.

Once one is homeless everything becomes more difficult in large part because of the stigma surrounding homelessness.  Employers do not want to hire people down on their luck choosing instead people who have not had this problem. Society tends to lump the homeless into one category regardless of the reasons people ended up in that situation.  The homeless are constantly on the move as police, business owners and the public force them to leave. It does not matter if you do not use drugs or alcohol, if you have employment or are genuinely trying to get back on your feet.  Being constantly forced to leave makes it nearly impossible to re establish oneself. Society complains that they do not want to see the homeless and are also the ones keeping people in that situation. Making it a lose, lose situation for everyone.

Politicians often use tackling homelessness at election time, making their constituents envision a city without the awful eyesore.  Once in office they realize the enormity of the problem and choose to focus on other things. They will enforce sweeps to clean the city up, but do little to help those in need.  Resulting in the homeless being moved from one place to another, but remaining homeless.

It is currently a crime to be homeless.  If you do not have a type of shelter in some areas the police issue tickets for being homeless.  This only raises money for the city and does nothing to curb homelessness. It results in the person not being able to afford to pay for the ticket and then spending jail time for not paying the ticket, making it harder to obtain housing as one now has a police record.

There is no easy solution to homelessness.  Communities would fare better by increasing tenant rights, making it harder to evict tenants, a huge cause of homelessness.  Large employers should be held accountable if they do not pay livable wages and constituents need to hold their politicians accountable for their promises to tackle the problem of unaffordable housing.

My Time at Amazon

After seeing a job posting for Amazon on Indeed, I applied for a job in one of their warehouses.  At the time I had no idea what I was getting myself into as I had never worked for an organization that big.  I learned a lot, both good and bad.  In the end, Amazon will not have me as a customer, let alone an employee.

After filling out several online forms, I was ready for my job at a warehouse in Bellevue, Washington.  I was to work at the first Amazon Fresh, the Amazon food delivery.  For the first two weeks of work they had me in the “chill” department.  It was a section of the warehouse kept at 38 degrees farenheit.  Amazon provided large jackets and gloves to wear while working in this section.  They also provided packaged hand warmers for extra warmth.  I started there in November in Seattle, where the weather outside pretty much matched the temperature inside.  Our schedule was for 10 hours a day.  We worked 4 days on, 3 off.  We spent the entire time walking on cement floors, which make your feet begin to ache after about 5 or 6 hours.  I was living in my van at the time and it never seemed like I could get warm.

Working and sleeping in the cold eventually made me sick.  I asked to be moved to the warmer department and was allowed to work their sometimes, but often I would be called back to chill.  Several of my coworkers found themselves sick as well.  Amazon does have a nice system where one can take a generous amount of time off if needed.  Soon after I began working we had mandatory overtime as the holiday season was upon us.  The job was so physically demanding all I could do on my days off was sleep.  I asked my younger coworkers what they did on their days off and every single one of them said, “sleep.”  My feet constantly hurt, even on my days off.  I began to swim at the gym to loosen my muscles up, which helped a little.

As the holidays drew near, it began to snow outside.  Towards the end of our shift we had to load the trucks with the totes of food which meant working in very cold conditions.  One night I worked in chill, had to load totes while it snowed outside and then sleep in my van which did not have any heat.  The wages that are paid the warehouse workers are just slightly above minimum wage, making housing a hard thing to come by.  When I could I stayed in a modest motel to be warm and safe.

At the warehouse I worked in it was very difficult to get a hold of human resources if you had a problem, as our representative was not there during our shift.  Amazon did however have a medical office for minor injuries or safety hazards.  Having served on the safety committee at my union, I decided to join the safety committee at Amazon.  The employees seem dedicated to making the workplace safe.  There are numerous hazards working in a warehouse.

Things at Amazon are always in constant change as the company is always looking for ways to improve processes.  As the weather began to warm up, temporary workers were hired to load the trucks with the totes and the regular workers no longer had to do so, eliminating having to work in the evening cold.

I made a lot of good friends at Amazon and for the most part everyone got along.  Matt was one of my supervisors and let me pick the jobs I wanted to do for the day.  He had a great sense of humor and made the job fun not only for me but for everyone around him.  His younger brother worked in the warehouse as well and they were very close.  One day my friend Camron said he wanted to walk back with me to my department.  He seemed to insist.  I agreed, but thought it was strange.  As we walked past a bulletin board I saw a notice about Matt.  He had committed suicide and there was a card to sign for the family.  I was crushed.  Having lost a lot of friends already, I dealt with it fine, but was sad.  Amazon did provide counseling for those that wanted to take advantage of that service, which I did.

During my first months at Amazon I noticed that a coworker seemed to always be on my bus.  I never took the bus at the same time each day.  Sometimes I arrived right before shift and sometimes I arrived a couple of hours early so I could eat a meal and relax before our long shift.  One day I decided to test him and I arrived 3 hours early.  He was on my bus.  I decided to complain to security.  They did not seem to take it seriously and said there was nothing they could do about things that happened away from work.  Having had a female friend murdered, I take being stalked seriously.  One morning he showed up where I was having breakfast.  At that point I went to Human Resources, but no one ever did anything.  At the time I did not contact police because the man who was stalking me was homeless and I did not want to be responsible for someone losing their job.  Had I a chance to do it over, I would call the police.  He would also taunt me during the work shift.  His harassment and stalking continued while I worked there.  I felt Amazon did not care about the safety of female employees.

Amazon announced that the warehouse would be moving and the current warehouse would close in June.  They offered a transfer to another warehouse or one could move to the new one.  I wanted to attend school in southern California, so I asked for a transfer.  I requested Los Angeles, but was offered a job in San Bernardino.  I researched the distance to LA and found that the light rail went to downtown.  I agreed to move and was promised $3,000 in relocation money.  I researched the cost of housing in the San Bernardino area and found that it was plenty to make the move.

Upon arriving in San Bernardino I checked into a motel for a few days.  I spent my time researching apartments and made a few appointments for dates that were after my first paycheck.  I could take the bus to a distance about a half a mile away from the warehouse.  It was summer in San Bernardino and some days were 110 degrees.  By the time I reached the warehouse I was ready to pass out.  I worked a few days and on the day my pay check was to go into my account, nothing was there.  I went to Human Resources and they said it would come by check to the warehouse, even though I requested it to go into my account.  My paycheck finally arrived but my relocation money was not included, as promised.  After several phone calls I was told it could take several days. I told them it was not acceptable as I had moved from out of state and was told it would be on my first paycheck.  They finally posted the money to my account, but when I checked I had only received $1600, when I had been promised $3,000.  I was told I was given half that day and would receive the rest the next day.  I was anxious to get a place to live as motels are expensive.  The next day the money did not arrive.  I called to find out what happened and they told me $1600 was all i was getting as the rest was taken out in taxes.  This left me unable to rent an apartment.  I was able to stay in the motel I started out in.  I realized money was going to be tight and the bus was expensive, so I used some of the money to buy a bicycle to make sure I could make it to work every day.

My coworkers began to harass me about not living in an apartment. I was ganged up upon on a daily basis.  The managers did as well.  I spent the first 3 weeks of employment at that warehouse in Human Resources trying to stand up for myself for all of the things that were going wrong.  Even though I had documented proof, I was always told nothing could be done.

My co workers continued to harass me on a daily basis in many shapes and forms.  I was the only Jew in the warehouse that I knew of.  I was also older than most of my coworkers, which had not been the case in Seattle. I felt like I was a walking target.  I complained to managers, but nothing was done.  I began going to HR, but nothing was done.  I began to miss work as I could not take the harassment any longer.  Then I was fired for missing too much work.  I appealed the termination.  At the meeting with the warehouse manager, he provided me a sheet of my attendance for the entire time I worked for the company.  He stated that my attendance had been great until around the  second week of August.  I told him that is when the harassment began to get really bad.  I told him I had made complaints to management and HR.  I lost my appeal.  I had one more recourse.  That was to go to the ethics committee.

The ethics committee is an outside agency that Amazon hire.  I told them my story in detail and it was determined that Amazon had wrongly terminated me.  An HR manager was to help me find a job near Venice, where I eventually moved.  I applied to openings but quickly was denied.  I kept in contact with the HR manager and he kept telling me he would see what he could do.  Losing my job had made me homeless and after a few months I realized Amazon was not going to do anything to help me and I gave up.  So Amazon has left me homeless.

Nothing about working at Amazon, not the pay, not the location, not the perks made working there worth while.  The company is so big that pursuing any legal action is pointless, leaving workers with no recourse.  My advise to those left at the warehouse would be to unionize.  As a union the employees have means to fight against things like that which was done to me in both Seattle and San Bernardino.  Without a union, Amazon will continue to pay low wages and rob their employees of their rights.

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.

What is Causing Widespread Homelessness?

In this day and age to have to rent instead of being a home owner puts you at risk for becoming homeless.  In the city of Seattle some crooked landlords are creating and adding to the problem of homelessness.  Being able to charge higher rents may be the cause.

My story begins in 2009 when I rented the basement apartment from a woman named Hla Yin Yin Waing (aka Wang Helmstetter).  I made the mistake of not insisting on a rental contract, which I will never do again.  Our verbal agreement began with an agreed upon amount for rent and the stipulation that I would pick her children up from school and watch them until she arrived home around 6PM.  That would give me the day to work on my photography business, which I was trying to start after attending fine art photography school.

 

Wang Wang

Unfortunately Wang began asking for more and more favors until I was waking the family up at 8AM, helping get the children ready for school, driving Wang downtown to her job at the senior services center and driving the children to 2 different schools.  I then had to pick them up and take them to their after school activities, come home, cook them dinner and wait for Wang to get home around 9 or 10.  It was a full day and did not leave me time to work.  All of this was done for free and she demanded rent.  At first I could pay with my unemployment money, but when that ran out I had nothing.  She demanded more and more and I felt I had to do it to keep a roof over my head.  I had never  been homeless.

I reopened my unemployment claim and began paying her rent again.  I told her I could no longer be a nanny to her children as I needed to look for work.  That is when she really got ugly.  She intentionally flooded my apartment, which began to smell from the water damage.  She told me when it happened that she was not going to help me.  it was an attempt to get me to move.  She began putting pressure on me about what I was going to do when my unemployment ran out.  She began with holding my mail, coming into my apartment when I was and was not there.  if I had a date or plans she would call me and say she was coming home late.

I finally moved to Denver to get away from her controlling behavior.  My nightmare with her did not end there.  She started a campaign of hate against me stating to people that I owed her money, that I was crazy and convinced people that I need to be held back so that others more worthy than I can fill job positions.

I have mostly been homeless since that time.  I moved back to Seattle in 2013 where I was harassed by Asians on a daily basis.  I was hit on the back of the head on the bus by an Asian man, I was ran off the road, harassed on public transportation and a bus driver refused to pick me up until I started standing in the road so he would have to stop or run me over.  My complaints to police went unnoticed.  Public transportation finally put up signs against harassment.

An elderly couple from my synagogue let me stay with them for a while.  At first I thought it was one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me. I soon learned otherwise.  They began emulating my landlord whom I believe they met through senior services where she taught classes on how to do to others what she did to me.  They knew things only she could have told them.  They tried simulating the flooding of the basement, which ended up almost getting me killed as I was going to plug in a hair dryer but at the last minute change my mind.  Had I done so I would not be here now.  I do not believe it was intentional, but the flooding was.

Hla Yin Yin Waing is now the Executive Director of a non-profit organization called the Center for Ethical Leadership.  I believe this organization conducts classes on how to do to others in Seattle what she did to me.  I know this from a Facebook post where she and her organization were recommended for just that sort of thing.

if people are being manipulated into leaving or eviction, that is causing the number of homeless to rise.  She is emulating Ang Sung Suu Kyi the leader of Myanmar who uses the same techniques to control the muslim minority there called the Rohingya, where a genocide of these people is now occurring.

If we want to end homelessness we need to stop supporting organizations that are creating homelessness.  Before you donate money to an organization be sure you know what they are actually doing.  In looking at the Center for Ethical Leadership’s website the explanation of what they do is vague.  Be sure an organization can provide concrete figures and results of what they provide.

Let us make 2018 the year we begin to end homelessness.

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.