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Turning Tides: Taken to Account

Leah Gebber

Every job — whether as a street cleaner or a banker or a farmer — can be done in a way that builds society or destroys it

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

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I f I look like a bank teller, there’s a good reason for that. A bobbed sheitel, a cream silk blouse tucked into a black or beige pencil skirt. In the winter, I add a cashmere sweater or jacket. There are no fringes. No frills. No embroidery. Plain, straight lines. Simple. Classic.

This reflects the person I am and the reason behind my journey from a sleek hairstyle to a bobbed sheitel. I did not turn to a Torah lifestyle because I’m a particularly spiritual person. My head is not in the clouds, it’s firmly on my shoulders. I don’t look at other people and see souls, whether lost or found. I see people, navigating through the minutiae of life’s demands.

In short, I am a bank teller.

In my job, though, I do more than simply disburse money and track account movements. I also deal with simple mortgages and loans. In doing so, I become exposed to the chareidi community.

This is what I see: A couple comes in, they could be in their early forties or late fifties. He wears a hat and black jacket, often a long one down to his knees. She wears a wig: sometimes short, sometimes a little longer.

“What do you do?” I ask them.

I’m never surprised by their answers. He’s a teacher or a rabbi or maybe he just learns. Within the teacher category, there are a whole set of answers I needed to learn, for it’s important to understand another’s culture. He might say, “I’m a ram.” Or maybe he’s a meishiv or mashgiach katan or rosh chaburah.

 

Over time, I learned the distinction between these terms. And this is important, I believe. After all, a teacher of high school math wouldn’t like to be confused with a helper in a preschool, and an educational advisor wouldn’t want to be considered a remedial reading teacher. It’s part of the respect I’ve always shown the religious community. My colleagues may dismiss these titles as annoying terms, but I view them as the vocabulary I must learn in order to understand my clientele.

Back to our couple. They’ll ask me about remortgaging their home, or perhaps they’ll be taking out a large loan or a second mortgage. Usually, this is because they’re marrying off a child. Occasionally, it’s because of medical expenses.

Before this can be approved, I must go through their accounts, and make sure everything is in order. I must check that their monthly account balances and that they’ll have the means to pay off the loan. There’s nothing I hate more than to hear my colleagues phone customers and dangle loans in front of them. “Have you checked that they have the means to pay it back?” I ask them.

They shrug. Obviously, they haven’t thought about this, or they don’t care. Which infuriates me, because I believe that every job — whether as a street cleaner or a banker or a farmer — can be done in a way that builds society or that destroys it.

Again and again, when researching chareidi couples’ bank accounts, I find the following: The monthly income is low. But everything balances. There are no impulse buys. Most of their monthly income, I see, goes to simple things: grocery bills, electricity, gas, water. Occasionally, they buy a large appliance or piece of furniture, and this is often paid off in monthly installments. Their clothing expenses are not large. Entertainment is nonexistent. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 570)

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