Religion & Beliefs

Black, Gay, And Jewish: On The Occupy Movement

As Jews we’re obligated to work for justice, we’re obligated to repair the world. That’s why I support the Occupy movement. Read More

By / October 27, 2011
Jewcy loves trees! Please don't print!

I guess you could call my folks upper middle class.  I grew up in a Victorian mansion in Ohio, I only stepped foot in public schools to cheer at basketball games, we went on family vacations to places like Hawaii and my parents took vacations to Europe.  I didn’t want for anything, but we weren’t rolling around in hundred dollar bills.  My dad is an insurance agent so, I know that when the time comes that he leaves this world my family will be supported.  My parents gave me everything that I needed, when they didn’t buy me the things that I wanted I got a job.  I started working at age 15.

I support Occupy Wall Street.  I’m not a smelly hippie or a trust fund kid.  I’m just an average American woman.  I am thirty-two years old.  I attended a private university before transferring to a state university.  I live in a brownstone and I own a cat.  Since loosing my full time job in June I’ve struggled to make ends meet.  Going from an income of around $50,000 to surviving in Brooklyn on unemployment was a huge blow. I get $1200 in unemployment monthly and my rent is $1000.  On average my electric bill is about $50, my cell phone bill is $100, my gas bill is around $25.  Add to that Fresh Direct bi-weekly around $100, monthly subway $100, student loan payments ($53,000 in total) $350 a month-you do the math.

When I lost my job I had to take an inventory of my meager savings and reached out to family for help.  I’m on a payment plan with Con Edison that I can’t actually make payments toward.  My T-mobile bill is so passed due that I’ve been without phone service for over two weeks.  Which means that if you want to get a hold of me, or if I needed to call for help I cannot.  I cracked my tooth in July and it’s starting to hurt.  Without insurance I’m not sure when I’ll see a dentist.  In both September and October I paid my rent 15 days late-and every time I come home I hope that the lights will be on, that I can cook another meal of beans and rice on my gas stove.  My story is not unique.

Between the day I got fired and the time I started my current temporary employment I went on 75 interviews, I sent out an average of 12 resumes daily, and went into countless retail stores looking for a job.  Navigating the unemployment system in New York City was a slap of reality- I took it as a sign to reassess my life.  I will admit to spending my money frivolously on clothing and booze.  I will admit to not saving as I should have.  I will admit to giving into the New York lifestyle of eating out and going to bars.  I’d planned on getting out of the retail and fashion business to work with Jewish non-profits, I just didn’t plan on getting fired.  Does this mean that I deserve to be in the position that I’m in right now?  I think not.

Because of the amount of money I made and the amount of unemployment I receive I don’t qualify for food stamps.  If I don’t qualify for food stamps, what about a single mother with mouths to feed? It seems askew that only 1% of the population controls the money in our country.  It seems askew that people go hungry within our boarders.  It seems askew that college educated young adults cannot find jobs.  It seems askew that the unemployment rate stays the same in NYC and rise in other cities..  It seems askew that Americans go without health care.  It seems askew that the democracy that we live in is only actually beneficial to a few rather than all.  This is not the America that I learned about in school.  How is it that the most “powerful” and “richest” country in the world cannot support its citizens?

Lazy, leech, drain, waste of tax dollars, poor, dirty, uneducated are ways I used to think about the people on unemployment and on food stamps-until I became one of “those people”.  As Jews we’re obligated to work for justice, we’re obligated to repair the world.  Heschel is famously quoted by saying that when he marched with Dr. Martin Luther King he was “praying with his feet.”  My plan was to build up my savings while I interviewed for a position with a non-profit.  I’d put my words into actions and help those people who needed help the most.  Turns out, I’m one of those people who need help the most!

People who oppose Occupy Wall Street seem to think that the protesters are lazy, that if they just left Zuccotti park and found jobs that the problems would be fixed.  People think that the protesters are unorganized, that they need structure, that they don’t know what they’re even protesting.  When, in fact, if you took the time to go down there, attend a GA, went to any one of  carefully scheduled meetings you would see what they’re protesting and you’d realize what they want-the ability for us all to live the American dream.  I’m putting words into the occupier’s mouths, that’s just what I want.