(Not) working nine to five in the Jewish community

By Abe Appelbaum, July 2, 2012
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In the last meeting that I had with my director before leaving for holiday, I was given my bonus and told that I was "flying". Reassured by this news, my wife and I loaded the family on to an aeroplane for our highly anticipated Pesach trip to Israel.

Two weeks later, mildly sun-blushed and with renewed energy, I walked into the office, raring to go. When I arrived, I picked up on a coldness that unnerved me. My wife told me that I must be imagining this supposed and unusual atmosphere.

On day two of being back, I had my first meeting with my director since leaving for holiday. It was to be a "post-holiday catch-up". I have since learnt that in the corporate world a "post-holiday catch-up" can actually mean "we're sorry but you no longer have your job". Clearly, when he said that I was flying he must have meant flying away from the company.

I have spent recent weeks reacquainting myself with my CV and meeting various recruitment agents - most of whom appear to get on quite well without feeling the need to actually concern themselves with placing potential candidates. A particular highlight in my first week off was the announcement that the country is yet again in recession. The hype surrounding this was bound to rustle up positivity in the boardrooms and set the powers-that-be into an employment frenzy.

Joblessness remains one of the last taboos

CVs went off, calls were made and meetings were met. Then the wait began.

In my career, managing property portfolios, I have witnessed first-hand the difficulties faced by families who are suddenly hit with a P45. So how are we handling it now that the bills are still around but the job that paid for them is not?

General life in the Jewish suburbs of London is very expensive, from the increased costs of petrol to utilities, insurance, and the rising price of the weekly Ocado delivery that we all love to moan about at dinner parties.

In addition, there are the costs associated with living an active Jewish life, which can often be the final straw in these cash-strapped times. There is the butcher's bill; the baker's bill; the kosher grocer's bill; the shul fees; the voluntary contributions to the school and finally, just in case this list becomes all-encompassing, burial fees.

In these unprecedented times I have found myself in good company and, in my experience, there no longer appears to be a stigma attached to having lost a job.

Still, it remains one of the last taboos; a topic that is circumnavigated, like miscarriage and illness. I have found that only once I am open about my experience do people begin to talk about theirs. It appears that almost everyone has a direct relationship with someone who has been a victim of job cuts.

I have loved being able to do the school run and spend quality time with the kids at times other than the "suicide hour" just before bed time. My sons, on the other hand, are over the novelty. They tell me that "mummy must take us to school" and "it's not a treat when you do it all the time". What I have noticed during my now-regular visits to the playground is that the mothers who I see daily assume that I'm supposed to be at work. One joked to me "day off; unemployed?" while another commented: "I didn't realise that you were so rich that you don't have to go to work any more."

Luckily, I have an appetite for the ridiculous and have been able to laugh off these potentially embarrassing insights. I can see how it could leave other people reaching for the vodka and paracetamol, though.

I am hopeful for the future. This surprise time away from the office has given me the opportunity to do what I have always wanted to and try to set up on my own. I have become aware of the amazing facilities and advice that the Jewish community has to offer. Particularly impressive is TrainE-TraidE, an organisation which offers career and training advice as well as support for fledgling businesses.

Despite the stress, the joys of daily life go on as normal. So we've been dealing with a hit and run in the Brent Cross car park, a suddenly-squinting six-year-old and a baby who will not sleep.

After many hours of deep conversation, my wife and I have found reasons for our current situation in everything from the state of the economy to bad karma from a particularly hostile former au pair. We have come to the conclusion that this is just how it is… and it's going to be good.

Abe Appelbaum is a pseudonym

    Last updated: 4:33pm, July 2 2012