Shaindy Finer* and I have been working together in a retail store for the past 15 years. We’re good friends as well as coworkers, and we take care of each other. Whenever I need to take off for a doctor’s appointment or child’s graduation from kindergarten, she mans the cash registers, and if she’s running late, I make sure to cover for her.
Our boss, Mr. Bronstein, runs the store with an iron fist, and woe to the cashier who falls out of favor with the management! While our wages are nothing to write home about, he pays on time, with alternating days off for Chol Hamoed and the standard number of sick days per year.
There are 17 employees in the store, from managers to salespeople, and we are all kept on a tight leash. We are given exactly 30 minutes for lunch, no more and no less, and we’re permitted to help ourselves to one prepared lunch from the refrigerated display case. Heaven help anyone who exceeds his lunch break by five minutes or takes one snack too many.
Why do I keep working in a place where the atmosphere is so authoritarian? For one thing, the hours are decent. I work from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., which means that I can be home in time for my children. For another, I actually have fun since I’m a very social person. I love chatting with my regular customers as I ring up their orders. I also enjoy the hustle and bustle of the store, as well as the fact that I don’t have to tax my brain to figure out spreadsheets or call up delinquent clients for money. Instead of being trapped in a narrow cubicle like many people I know, I’m out and about, filling in for the order girl, helping the manager decide on an eye-catching display for seasonal items, or pricing confections in the bakery department. Almost before I know it, my shift is over.
I know that working in a store isn’t for everyone, but it works for me, and for Shaindy as well. Her turbulent marriage ended a number of years ago, and she has custody of her three daughters, so my coworkers and I try to help her out as much as we can, although mostly with emotional support since we are all struggling financially.
Shaindy is a sweetheart who is perpetually upbeat and rarely complains about her difficult life. I knew it was a struggle for her to provide her daughters with the basics and pay her bills, but she never let on. Instead, she volunteered for overtime shifts and worked on weekends to earn some extra cash. Proud to a fault, she would have been horrified to be the object of pity and would never have accepted tzedakah.
Over the years, Shaindy’s daughters grew into lovely young women. The eldest, Ruchy, was a real catch, beautiful and talented. She had a good job in a print house and earned a respectable wage as a graphic designer. Shidduchim were an uphill battle, though.
When Ruchy was 23, she was introduced to Moishy Katz, a young man from a similar background. Shaindy filled me in on the details as the shidduch grew more serious. She was beyond thrilled since Moishy was a wonderful young man, compassionate and caring. As Shaindy continued to confide in me, I shared in her anticipation and joy.