Answering the Question: “So…What Do You Do?”
By Abigail S. Fisher
I will soon be attending a reunion of my high school class (never mind how many years!). As usual, in these types of situations, I expect to hear that ever-present question, “So, what do you do?” Somehow our employment, career, job, what have you, has become a significant area of small talk. Our society values it so highly, that it is really a defining part of who we are. When I chose to embrace the good fortune of a husband who can support our family, and to stay “at home,” I struggled mightily with my identity. What do I do? Who am I?
I will tell you straight out. I work –a lot –but I do not get paid. I am, as was my mom before me, a “professional volunteer.” I spend my time trying to make the world a better place. I fight for social justice, for peace, for women’s rights, for religious pluralism around the world, at home and in Israel and anywhere else I can. I work to help my synagogue and other synagogue communities in their efforts educating our children, and building strong, vibrant Jewish communities. I work to ensure the future of Reform Judaism. Where do I do this? Women of Reform Judaism.
Is my work less valuable because it is unpaid? If Tikkun Olam, the repair of the world, is one of our highest values, why does society tell me that what I do is less valuable than someone who makes more than I? Our society places far too high a value on money and “upwardly mobile” status to value volunteers as much as we ought (and don’t even ask me what I think about how highly we do or don’t value teachers). It is high time we value what we DO as what we DO not by whom we are employed or how much we get paid.
So –when I’m asked what I do, I will reply-“I am the regional head of a multi-national group that works for social justice, women’s rights, religious pluralism, and the future of Reform Judaism.” I don’t need to say I’m unpaid.
That’s my answer—what’s yours?
Abigail S. Fisher is president of WRJ’s Northeast District.