Friday, April 22, 2011

'Are You There God? It's Me, Jobless'

Shira Hirschman Weiss

Last Thursday, the Labor Department released data stating that the number of new unemployment applications is at its lowest since July 2008. While this indicates the economy is picking up speed, the news can either be a beacon of hope or salt rubbed into wounds for the presently unemployed. Faith is in a precarious perch for the religious and jobless. While some become despondent from repeated rejection and thwarted efforts, others cling to faith and turn fervently to prayer.

Deirdre McEachern is a career coach who says she sees clients "whose faith has been enhanced and re-affirmed by the job hunt." One of those clients, Jennifer Bindhammer, was a flight attendant with United in September 2011. "She came to me in early 2002 re-evaluating her life," explains McEachern. "We worked together for several months and in the process she reconnected strongly with her personal faith. Once she deciphered her life purpose, she felt as if God was opening doors for her -- helpful coincidences kept appearing -- like the sign she spotted on a subway platform advertising an MBA program." This literal and figurative 'sign' led the flight attendant to pursue her MBA.

In the process of contemplating the switch to a corporate profession, Bindhammer -- no stranger to the friendly skies -- turned to the heavens. "I enjoyed flying and I enjoyed my job, she writes in a testimonial, "It just wasn't the challenge that I wanted it to be, and realized that I needed to be challenged. When I thought about changing careers, I prayed about it -- I actively prayed."
Bindhammer followed her passion, received her MBA and kept praying. She is now working with an international air transport consultancy that focuses on aviation. 

While the former flight attendant's faith was reaffirmed, Fiona (not her real name) reflects on how she sunk into a deep depression when she was laid off from a Public Relations start-up during the late 90s "dot bomb" era. She stopped praying and began spending Friday nights at local bars instead of the synagogue. She could have benefitted from an organization like Project Ezrah, had it been around at the time. The North Jersey based organization was founded in 2001 to aid members of the Jewish community (and now helps Jews and non-Jews alike) who were suffering from the hardships of unemployment.

Rabbi Yossie Stern, Executive Director of Project Ezrah, has seen individuals like Fiona who have been turned off to the synagogue experience, who are angry with God, and who are depressed about their situation to the point of losing faith. His organization has put together programs to help those who feel despondent. Notably, it developed initiatives to professionally retrain unemployed baby boomers.

"When your brother is impoverished, you have to be able to empower him to be self sufficient," he explains, "The highest form of charity is being able to afford someone a job, to help him achieve the same sense of self-esteem and quality of life that you have." His organization provides a wide range of services including a popular job board, career counseling services, financial counseling, mental health counseling, job training, and "in the box and out of the box services. We try to provide it all," Stern says. There is also a LinkedIn group that includes seminars on how to use social networking to find a career and much more. "We empower people to network, which is the best way to find employment." 

Fiona eventually found her way back to a public relations career and to the synagogue, but admits that she felt at odds with her faith when things were uncertain: "I didn't feel it was God's fault," she explains, "It was related to a sudden, dark depression, which came about from my unemployment." And which, she admits, also may have been related to the fact that she was in a bad relationship at the time. "When life is unstable, it contributes to the instability of unemployment." Rabbi Stern stresses that it is critical that spouses be encouraging and not place blame due to unemployment. He emphasizes that a support system and building of confidence is essential to one's job hunt.

While Fiona received counseling for her depression, she realized she needed to make significant efforts to find a new job. "The Hebrew word Hishtadlut kept flashing through my head," she says. Hishtadlut means that one must make their own efforts. It relates to the universal concept of "God only helps those who help themselves."

Read the rest of the Huffington Post article

No comments:

Post a Comment