7 Tishrei 5781 / Friday, September 25, 2020 | Torah Reading: Ha'azinu
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What's an Old Lady Doing Here?    

What's an Old Lady Doing Here?

During those months of job searching, it seemed to me that nothing was moving. However, behind the scenes, Hashem was moving worlds to bring me the perfect job.


“You've got three months.” 


My company had not been doing well for several years, and the end of its decline was nowhere in sight. As a result, it was downsizing by not replacing employees who left and by sending older people into early retirement. After almost 13 years with the company, I was called in by Human Resources and given the bombshell announcement. At 66, I could identify with King David's pain in Psalm 71: 


Do not cast me off in time of old age, when my strength fails — forsake me not. (Psalms, 71:9) 


David's passionate words express the feelings of all those who have reached advanced age. This psalm is their special prayer - a fervent request that their venerable years be blessed with dignity and grace, a prayer that meaningful accomplishments will crown a lifetime of achievement.  (Tehillim. ArtScroll Tenach Series, 1995, p. 877) 


I spent the last 30 years working in the Israeli hi-tech sector. As a career-oriented professional, growing my career was top priority. Only in the last decade did I begin to look for “meaningful accomplishments [that] will crown a lifetime of achievement.” I examined my profession in relation to my mission as a Jew. How does the hi-tech environment and workplace affect me? Does my work environment foster my emuna? Do my company's business practices support Torah values, or at least not negate them? How does my employment build the Jewish people and contribute to its national mission? 


And even until old age and gray hair, Oh G-d, forsake me not. (Psalms, 71:18) 


HR's announcement left me self-conscious of wrinkles, gray hair, and sagging skin. I struggled with the embarrassment of working with peers who knew that I was being sent out. I felt a burning need to show that I could still function at a high level and be as productive as the younger employees. To me, being needed is as important as a paycheck – it gives me life. Rather than capping my achievements with “dignity and grace,” age had become a liability and something shameful. 


During the three months until my dismissal, I needed to decide which direction to take. Some retirees fill their time with hobbies, travel, luncheons, Torah classes, and Pilates exercises. That was not how I wanted to cap the final phase of my life. My choices were to find another job in the hi-tech industry, or to make a new career of involvement in chesed. Both paths had benefits and drawbacks. 


I spent many hours in personal prayer trying to determine which path to take. Unfortunately, there was no “Aha!” moment of insight that resolved the “what do I do next?” question. Begging Hashem to lead me in the right direction at the right time, I set my dismissal date from the company as the cut-off date for a decision. By that date, I needed income either from a new salaried job or from retirement pension funds. 


Meanwhile, I was going to interviews, sending out my resume, fielding phone calls, and combing through numerous job lists. Nothing seemed to move except time. 


Over many sessions of hitbodedut, I described to Hashem each of my chessed contributions and how a retirement income would severely impact them. Since my company was fond of showing how it enthusiastically supports the community, I gave HR a detailed account of my chesed contributions for critical community needs. My hope was that they would show compassion for vulnerable populations and grant a severance package that would enable me to continue my level of contributions, at least for a while. HR responded that my support of critical community needs “is not a compelling business case” for a severance package. 


You who have done great things, O G-d, Who is like You? (Psalms, 71:19) 


Fortunately, Hashem did consider chesed contributions to be a “compelling business case,” even if HR did not. A week after my request was denied, I was contacted by a former company manager who had moved to a startup company. She was keen to bring me to her team. From the job description, it was a perfect match. Since the manager knew me and my work, there was no need to send a resume or have any interviews. Within 20 minutes on the phone, I had a job! Amazing - I had made herculean efforts for over 2½ months to find employment. Now Hashem, with no effort on my part, plopped a dream job into my lap! 


Looking back on the situation with eyes of emuna, Hashem's compassion and guidance shines through. He removed me from an unfulfilling work situation. Had I not been booted out, I would have soldiered on indefinitely at a job that was no longer in my best interest. 


The hardest test was to wait patiently for Hashem's timetable. During those months of job searching, it seemed to me that nothing was moving. However, behind the scenes, Hashem was moving worlds to bring me the perfect job. 


Another difficult test was to redefine my identity in terms of my mission to the Jewish people, rather than in terms of a career-oriented profession. This reshaped sense of mission set my focus beyond my personal life and its goals. My “golden years” are not for kicking off my shoes, putting my feet up, and enjoying a relaxed life. 


On the contrary! It is about filling my days by contributing my talents and energies to the Jewish people. The last part of my life will be spent working both in a high-tech job and in chesed. The job enables me to contribute financially to community needs, and chesed enables me to contribute hands-on talent to vulnerable populations in Jewish society. 


May my venerable years be blessed with dignity and grace, and may meaningful accomplishments crown my lifetime of achievements. Amen.  


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