I am a social worker

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Tzav 5771 – translated by R. Blumberg]

[At present, there is a nationwide strike of social workers in Israel]

I am a social worker. And I am proud of it. With all due humility, I am proud. It is hard work, but I love it. Already as a young girl I wanted to work in this field, because I love to help people. It's my nature. Therefore, even though it's hard for me, I go on. I come home burdened with all the troubles I heard during the day, and I am drawn into those troubles. Sometimes I succeed in helping, and sometimes not. Sometimes people yell at me because I don't give them the money they demand. They think I'm an inconsumable gold mine. Sometimes they just yell at me and insult me for the heck of it, because their lives are hard, and they use me as a punching bag. Sometimes they even threaten to beat me or kill me. And I go on, because I love them, because I love to help. I work hours upon hours, even without compensation, because I can’t abandon people suffering hardships. I use my own car and I pay all my own expenses except gas. It's just something I have to do.

It hurts me that I receive a minuscule salary of 4000 shekels a month for full-time work. I have girlfriends who earn even less -- 3500 shekels -- and even less than that too. My boss, who has many degrees, a high government ranking, and various pay increments, barely earns 6000 shekels. It hurts me.

I’m treating a girl who wants to kill herself. I'm treating drug addicts, dozens of them. My caseload is full to the point of exhaustion. I'm collapsing. I run around from morning till night. Sometimes I don't have time to eat anything but a quick sandwich, and I've got a stomachache besides my other pains, because my clients lash out violently at me, but I go on. Sometimes I pour out my troubles to my mother about my minuscule salary, and then she smiles at me: What's the problem? Go to a social worker!

I hug women. I hug them fiercely. Sometimes I weep with them. Sometimes, after I've consoled them, and they stop crying, I keep on crying. But sometimes I'm up against a brick wall, until a girl agrees to open up before me, and that’s harder for me than weeping. Thus, I have no tears left to cry over the fact that I earn so little.

God forbid, I'm not jealous of my younger sister who is in occupational therapist working full-time at 26 hours a week, while I work 40 hours. I'm just sad. Sometimes I don't sleep at night. I'm afraid that a murder will take place or some other tragedy with the responsibility falling on my narrow shoulders.

So you see why I don't have the strength to fight over my salary. By the way, when I said I received 4000 shekels before taxes, that isn't precise. Welfare pays part of that because I otherwise wouldn’t earn enough. In other words, I myself am a social case who receives welfare money. That is really insulting! After all, I do my job properly. I studied hard, and I have very respectable degrees. That means that even if they raise my salary it will still stay the same – it’s just that the welfare money will be cancelled. That will certainly add to my self-respect, but it won't add to my pocket.

Sometimes I think heretical thoughts about quitting and finding other work. But my heart breaks over those broken families, the drug addicts and the abused people. I toil so hard and I don't always see results. Intellectually, I know that that isn't right, and that every kind word has a result, but I don't feel it. What are you going to do? I'm human also... I want satisfaction. I want to see results with my own eyes. And all this toil in exchange for such as a small remuneration. That's aggravating. But I go on, for how are all of my sad clients to blame?

Yes! I have decided to devote myself to the weak, the poverty-stricken. They are people too. But in our country, they have forgotten that I too am human. I’ve got the feeling that they’re taking advantage of me. And it's not just a feeling. It's the truth. Certainly they're taking advantage of me. And I, with my good heart, agree to an unbearable burden and a salary of 4000 shekels before deductions.

So that's it. I love my job so much! It's my mission. I don't know how I've got the courage to strike. I surprise myself. Sometimes I remember all those people who need me and miss me and my heart breaks. But good and wise people are encouraging me, "Keep up the strike!" and, "Good for you! Why did you wait so long, you goodhearted people." Don't think money is all that interests me in life. It’s just not pleasant for me that my parents have to help me. And also I'm getting worn down. It's a lucky thing that I'm a bit of a social worker for myself, constantly teaching myself to be optimistic and to see the good, the cup that is half full, and not to sink into sorrowful thoughts. That's my comfort: that compared to those families in distress that I deal with, I'm in good shape. All the same, it's no consolation.

With all of my optimism, I hope the day never comes when I break down. With all the best intentions, my family is growing, and we need an income, and as I already said, I don't enjoy taking from my parents. But I know I will keep on going, because what will happen to all the battered and abused women, rape victims, the victims of harassment and suffering -- and all the others, and all the others still? Enough! I've got to stop digging away at myself with all of these thoughts! The more I think, the more torn I am.

And altogether, this is a strange strike, which doesn't apply to emergency cases. Every day I've got an emergency case, sometimes in mid-meal, or in mid-sleep, or while I'm with my family.... I'm going crazy from the workload. So I am insulted that my work is not appreciated. Yes, I am truly insulted. It hurts me to the core. The issue is both the money and the insults. It's so hard for me to strike. I'm really not that way. It tears me up inside, and yet I go on striking.

Just don’t get me wrong. I'm a woman, and my entire talk so far has been about female social workers, but obviously there are male social workers too, and they are wonderful, really wonderful. They deserve so much admiration for having entered our field... Oops. I didn't really mean that. Certainly this is everybody's field.

And in conclusion, a drop of consolation: My daughter, 16 years old, told me: "Mom, when I grow up, I want to be a social worker like you..."