25 Kislev 5778 / Wednesday, December 13, 2017 | Torah Reading: Mikeitz
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Second-hand Souls

It's important to remember that needy people are often in turmoil and not thinking clearly. It can feel humiliating to need used clothing, a financial loan or free meals...


Many years ago my good friend Shoshana opened a used clothing gemach (thrift shop) where I often help out. I find great clothes for me and my family and meet lots of new people. Seeing customers find clothes they really like and can easily afford makes me happy. Plus it's rewarding to take part in a community service.


The hard part of the job is the sheer amount of clothing that comes in, most of which is in really bad shape. It seems that many people have a hard time throwing old clothes (old anything) away.


Maybe they feel guilty throwing used clothing in the garbage, maybe they don't realize the stuff is worn out, maybe they think that others are so poor they will buy stained or torn clothing (they won't) or maybe they are just too lazy to sort out the good from the bad. We get all kinds of useless items like chipped dishes, broken toys and shoes with no mate. What are people thinking? Nobody wants anyone's expired Ritalin or books with missing pages! Once we got live bullets and had to call the police.


It's very annoying because no matter how often we instruct people to only bring “like new” items, at least half do not. People will insist that the bags they drop off are filled with “really good stuff” (just ignore the bleach stains and the shirts with no buttons). We spend hours sorting clothes for recycling and throwing away junk.


Then there is the challenge of acting nice even when the customers aren't so.


It's hard to pick up after people who throw clothes on the floor despite signs asking them not to. Some mothers bring in screaming babies or children who drip ice cream and throw shoes at each other. People speak loudly on their cellphones and it's no fun telling them, “Please talk outside.”


Some customers argue or whine about prices that are already low. I have caught people stealing (once it was my phone) and removing the price tags from brand new clothing.


Now I get it that while some people come to the gemach to find bargains, most people come because they can't afford to shop in a regular store. I remember those days of being short on money so when people act obnoxious I try to be understanding, figuring they are under enough strain as it is. And frankly, several of the regulars are simply not normal. You would have to be mean not to cut them some slack.


Besides, I have my own character traits to work on and this is another one of those golden opportunities.


God is trying to teach me about myself. That's how it is with learning from God. You have to open your mind and see the parallels in your own life.


So I take it like this: How many of my worn out habits do I cling to instead of tossing them out once and for all? (Like wasting time reading foolishness). And do other people really need what even I don't want (like sugary desserts or my own humble opinion)?


How often do I hear God's instructions and choose to ignore? Am I ever too lazy to sort through my emotions and keep only the best?


On a more material level, how many times have I gone shopping for clothes and left a mess for the salesgirl to deal with? Be honest!


Do I ever whine to God or demand something for free? In what ways do I steal people's time or their money? And truthfully, how normal am I?


Lastly, if you can't handle people, get out of the gemach. Working with the public is never easy. People often take advantage of organizations for the needy as well as the people that run them. It's just the way it is.


It's important to remember that needy people are often in turmoil and not thinking clearly. It can feel humiliating to need used clothing, a financial loan or free meals. It's not easy to be on the receiving end, most of us prefer to be the benevolent givers. Most of us would prefer to be shopping at Zara.


By working in the gemach I learn to be more patient. And if I see I'm becoming grouchy, I know I need a time out. I go have a coffee and remind myself that I'm not just dealing in recycled clothing, I'm also dealing with recycled souls, including yours truly. Just like second hand clothes, we all have another chance to be useful, to make someone happy, to fill a need.


And finally I imagine Hashem's Holy Soul gemach up there in heaven. Those used souls may not have been dropped off in perfect condition but they were good enough to be chosen again.



* * *

Rebbitzen Yehudit Channen began her career as a Crisis Intervention Counselor in Silver Spring, Md. in the seventies. After moving to Israel, she worked as a marital mediator and social skills instructor for kids. Following the death of a son, Rebbitzen Channen became a certified bereavement counselor and worked with young mothers who had suffered loss. Most recently she worked at the Melabev Center for the memory-impaired, as an activity director and group facilitator for families coping with Dementia.  The Rebbitzen has written for numerous magazines and newspapers and recently led an interactive creative writing course called Connective Writing. Yehudit Channen is the wife of Rabbi Don Channen, Rosh Yeshiva of Keter HaTorah.  They are blessed to have nine children and many grandchildren and live in Ramat Beit Shemesh. Today, Rebbitzen Yehudit Channen is a certified Emuna Therapist for Breslev Israel. You can set up an appointment with her by contacting staff@breslev.co.il

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