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.

Why I Choose to Follow the Laws of Kashrut

When I began my conversion to Judaism one of the first things the rabbi had me do was to eat Kosher.  He said it was not necessary but he wanted me to give it a try and see what I thought.  At first I had to read every label and think about everything I ate.  Over time however eating Kosher became an everyday norm.

Why do Jews eat Kosher?

Jews follow the dietary laws described in the Torah.  The laws of Kashrut are mentioned three times in the Torah, making them important.  The Torah states which foods are permitted and which are not.  The rabbis interpret the phrase, “A kid shall not be boiled in its mother’s milk,” as meat and dairy should not be eaten together.

Is There an Easy Way to Keep Kosher?

An easy way to begin eating kosher is to follow a vegan diet.  Vegan diets exclude meat and dairy, therefor making it easier to follow without having to think too much about it.  One does have to think about what things are cooked with and cooked on when eating out if planning to follow a kosher diet.  For example grills that vegetables are cooked on may also be used to cook meat or prohibited items.  Cooking meals at home guarantees you know where your food is cooked and what it is cooked with.  Allowed items can be added if you so choose.

How Does Eating Kosher Add to my Jewish Experience?

Eating kosher for me reminds me of my beliefs every time I sit down to a meal.  It is something I think about on a daily basis, not only on Shabbat.  It makes me think about everything I eat.  It is one of the things that makes me a Jew.

The only thing I miss since I began keeping kosher is pepperoni pizza, but that is a very small price to pay for finding where I belong.

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 Cadillac Hotel

The Cadillac Hotel in Venice Beach, California was built in 1912.  It sits along the boardwalk with an incredible view of the beach.  Located on Dudley Avenue, it also houses a bicycle rental shop and Titanic, a shop with giant robots sells hats and other items.  Reportedly the Cadillac Hotel was a popular destination for Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Charlie Chaplin.