Sunday, December 20, 2009

What's Wrong With OJT?

Imagine starting a new job. You walk in one day on at the office. Everyone knows where their office is, where the men's room is, where the coffee room is, the water cooler, their phone extension, the short cuts, the password to the copier, etc. Someone from human resources or your new boss will meet you shortly after you arrive. You are given 5 seconds or 5 minutes or 5 hours or more of orientation. You still forget a lot of stuff and can't find the men's room without asking.

Do you get mad at everyone there because you are new and don't know as much as them?

OK, you have a right to expect someone to answer your questions.

And some thoughtful person may walk over and offer to walk you to the conference room where the staff meeting is about to be held (you didn't even get a chance to read the announcement, so you knew nothing about it). Thank goodness, someone was thoughtful! Everyone was in a hurry so they would not be late and you could have walked in late or not at all. You could have been terribly embarrassed. Those SOBs!

Welcome to the real world. Nobody owes you a job. Some people will take a minute and fill you in. On some occasions, someone will virtually hold your hand. You are grateful to that person. Do you resent everyone else that did not do so? If so, whose problem is that?

You got a basic education to read and write and interact with people. Now it's time for OJT - on-the-job training. You take that OJT seriously and learn to get along at work. You don't blame and resent and despise the employees of your new employer and you don't hate the company. You chalk it up to the fact that you are new and have a lot to learn. If you don't, you will quickly find yourself unemployed.

Secular people thrown into a world of Jews that pray every day should learn from that example. 

I am not religious from birth. That means that at some point in my life, I had to make an effort to learn stuff. I have an awful lot to learn. Some people spend time in a yeshivah or seminary and some, for whatever reason, decided to get OJT. That's me, the OJT guy. And I am still learning.

I don't know everybody's prayerbook. When I walk into someone else's shul (synagogue), I know I might not know what page we are on - I'll have to figure it out. I either have to ask or rough it. Some thoughtful person may notice that I am lost and come over and tell me what page we are on and whether to stand or sit. Great. And if they were in the middle of a prayer and did not notice my travail? Then I just have to patiently find a way to find out. Should I resent everyone else in the shul that is trying to do their job (praying) and didn't notice me struggling?

Shiva for Mom threw people together in one living room for a week, all mourning for my mom. Members of the community came at various times, on schedule for morning and afternoon prayers. People that do that normally go to synagogue to pray. They were kind enough to some to the shiva house to be sure there was a minyan of 10 men so that I and others could pray and say kaddish. But they also have a "job" to do: say their prayers. And they have to be at work by a certain time, or be home for supper.

Some of the people thrown together in Mom's living room know their way around a prayer book well enough to figure out where the group is in its prayers, even if the supplied prayer books were not the same ones they were used to. Great.

Some of the people are new. They need help. Someone should help them.

But if the newbees need to learn the job, is everyone present obligated to get to "work" late for the benefit of the newbee?

And is the newbee right to resent the whole congregation, or for that matter, all people of a particular branch of Judaism for not doing so?

I was reminded during my shiva is that unfortunately, we Jews are a very divided people over things that should not divide us. Some Jews were blessed by being observant from birth, that is, "frum from birth" or "FFB." Some of us made the effort over many years of OJT to be able to walk into just about any synagogue anywhere and figure out what is going on. So, wonderful, we manage to find our place in the prayerbook and get the job done.

Yet we are deeply resented because we, as a class, have failed to hold the hands of all the newbees. Or rather, we have failed to read their minds so that we could tell when an offer of help would be considered "pushy."

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