Yesterday I went to volunteering for the first time in over a month. I missed a lot of sessions due to having to work on Tuesdays as a result of bank holidays falling on Mondays as well as a result of the wedding. After the volunteering session, there was a lunch for volunteers as a thank you from the organisation that runs the food bank. The paid staff we work with came, which I expected, but also the CEO of the whole organisation, which I did not expect. It’s a very big organisation and the food bank is just a part of it; indeed, even all the volunteering taken together is just a part of it, albeit a big part.
The CEO asked us all to say how we ended up volunteering. I was interested to see that so many people started because they were made unemployed during COVID. It was a bit of a relief to see it wasn’t just me! Of course, as most of these people are twenty or more years older than me, they saw unemployment as early retirement, which obviously wasn’t an option for me, but it’s interesting that I needn’t have been so ashamed of being unemployed when I started volunteering.
I did find the lunch a bit nerve-wracking, as there were a number of people there I didn’t know, and I didn’t actually say much, but I did feel accepted, even more so when I stayed afterwards for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) on site and a couple of the rabbis present spoke to me. I think the paid staff said that the volunteers are a core part of the team even though we aren’t paid and one of the volunteers said the paid staff do spend a lot of time helping us in a hands-on way; they don’t treat us as menial workers that to whom they are superior by virtue of being paid.
It’s strange that we speak so much nowadays about wanting to “be seen” in the fiction we consume. I could probably write an ssay about that outlook and the problems with it, but I did feel seen here. Interestingly, I do not find feeling seen to be a wholly pleasurable or satisfactory experience. It is good to have one’s good work acknowledged and be thanked and praised, but, perhaps from social anxiety and low self-esteem, I feel discomfort whenever this happens, perhaps a feeling of not deserving praise, but perhaps just a feeling of awkwardness at being the centre of attention, of wanting to be invisible (the opposite of being seen).
At Minchah I ran into an old Oxford peer of mine who works for the organisation. I run into him every couple of years. He’s a nice person, but usually I feel awkward at not being “good enough” since leaving Oxford, but this time I made myself have a proper chat with him, and enjoyed it. E asked me if I would like to renew the friendship with him properly and I think I would, if I ever get the opportunity.
Flat-hunting news: E and I are edging closer to making an offer for the flat we liked. We saw a couple more flats today and really did not like them. It made us more certain that the first flat we saw really was excellent, not just better than everything else we’ve seen, but extremely good in its own right. I spoke a little bit about it in therapy today. I didn’t really come to any new conclusions there, but I realised that I was talking enthusiastically about it, not reluctantly as a “least worst” option, but somewhere where I think E and I could be happy despite the building work. The slight worry is, having found the planning documents online, we fear that further building work may follow one day, but as E and I both said, you could move anywhere and end up living with building work, either in that block of flats or even next-door, where you have no control whatsoever.
Estate agents annoy me, though. One who phoned me yesterday kept using the first person plural: “Where do we want to live?” I’m sorry, you aren’t going to be living with us! Then he asked why we were limiting our search to two specific areas. As I didn’t want to tell him everything about our religious and financial situation, I shut that down quickly, but I thought it was rude of him. Then, of course, there are those who try the hard sell, which is just annoying, but which sadly covers most of them. I guess it’s their job, but it’s still annoying.
While hanging around between flat viewings today, E and I had time for some charity shop browsing. E found me two of the three James Bond novels I don’t own! (The Ian Fleming ones, not the later books written by other writers.) She seems to be getting good at plugging gaps in my various collections. The books were Casino Royale and Diamonds are Forever, for those interested. The one I’m still looking for is The Man with the Golden Gun.
Pride Month always sparks a lot of thoughts in my head every June. I could probably write an essay about this too, but one thing I always think about is what would it take for society/businesses/media/etc. to spend even one day saying how much Jews have contributed to the world, how much Jews enrich society, how glad they are to welcome us and accept us and so on. I’m not into competitive victimhood, but I think it’s fair to say that Jews have been at least as persecuted in the Western and Middle Eastern worlds as LGBT people, yet we have contributed a huge amount, from the religious and moral structure that still underpins much of the world to a vastly disproportionate number of Nobel Prize winners and other scientific and cultural geniuses (the famous statistic is that Jews constitute about 0.2% of the world’s population, yet about 20% of all Nobel Prize winners. Even Richard Dawkins finds this weird).
It’s hard to imagine it happening, though. The reality is that most LGBT people are perfectly normal, from a secular Western point of view, and therefore “safe” to welcome, whereas welcoming Jews would raise hard questions about the counter-cultural nature of so much of Jewish life, religion, Israel and so on. But that does raise the question whether tolerance for people who are pretty much exactly like you is really tolerance? I think this about a lot of things in our society, but Pride Month makes it very obvious, at least in the UK, which is pretty tolerant of LGBT rights. I know it’s different in parts of the USA where people protest Pride Month and perhaps it is a more meaningful event there. Here it’s just an excuse for big business to portray itself as socially aware by putting some rainbow flags in the window without doing anything that might actually cost it money, like paying workers more or checking that supply chains are free from slavery.