Everything has its season
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FIRST PERSON

Everything has its season

A look back at the turns of a life

Tzivia Bieler with her four young children in 1981. From left, they’re Shmuel, Debra, Lara, and Dena.
Tzivia Bieler with her four young children in 1981. From left, they’re Shmuel, Debra, Lara, and Dena.

“Everything has its season,” wrote King Solomon in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), “and there is a time for everything under the heaven.” I find that a comforting mantra for us humans as we move through the seasons of our lives — lives that I believe often are shaped by five influences: who raised us, personal and societal events, the “growing up” process, opportunities, and faith in God. And voila — through every season and life’s stages, you take a good hard look in the mirror and hopefully you are pleased with what you see.

Clearly, as the seasons of life change, we must learn to adapt. The challenge is to embrace the different seasons and all that each one offers.

When I was 6 years old and my dad had his first heart attack, my mom began to work with him in his grocery store. She left the house early in the morning and never returned before 7 or 8 at night. I missed her. That reality framed my views of motherhood. And so, as I raised my four young children through the 1970s and 1980s, being the woman who worked “in” the home was, for me, the priority.

I was only half paying attention to the powerful movement in the United States whose beginnings coincided with my early parenting years — the women’s movement. At the heart of the movement was the idea that women were searching for equal rights and opportunities and greater personal freedom. In “The Feminine Mystique,” Betty Friedan wrote that women were dissatisfied with the housewife/mother role but could not voice their feelings. The probably was true for many women, but not for all. I would hope that when Friedan and women like Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzug and others spoke about personal freedoms, they included my right to be able to choose my own path in the right season.

My personal choice may have been different from theirs, but I believe it was as important as the choices of the professional women who demanded equal jobs and equal pay.

I admit that I despised the word “housewife.” Who invented such a ridiculous term? And I’m not sure “homemaker” is that much better. Perhaps we could not be defined through one word; in fact, I am certain that we could not be defined with any one word. Even in those early years, when I looked in the mirror I saw a complex human being.

I saw a wife who was the trusted helpmate and confidante to her husband; the mother who believed that her children ultimately would become her greatest accomplishment; the homework helper who was indispensable in helping with lessons in and out of the classroom; the efficient woman who ran the home, earned money through a small in-house business, and still found time to be the president of the Parents’ Association.

How fortunate I was to be able to make this choice. I felt without a doubt that the blessing of this season was a precious gift. I loved my life.

But the season changed dramatically after about 24 years of marriage. My husband was struggling to start up a new company and months passed without a paycheck. In time it became clear that with the season changing and the winds blowing, I needed to redefine myself and expand. I needed a full-time job out of the home, while still thriving in the home.

I confess that the thought terrified me.

But the seasons change. They do not look for permission from mortals. So I gathered myself together, prepared a resume, went for an interview at a worldwide Jewish humanitarian organization, and within a few days, I was offered the position of secretary (the world still used that word in 1991 without anyone being offended) to the office administrator at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The reflection in my mirror showed panic, surprise, and determination, all rolled into one.

I stepped into the job on July 8, 1991. I had no idea that King Solomon was right on the mark. This new and different season, while frightening and challenging at first, ultimately would be fruitful and exceptionally beautiful. God once again had handed me one of the very best gifts of my entire life.

Truthfully, the job most definitely demanded an adjustment. But everyone I met those first few weeks was friendly and helpful; it didn’t matter what position they had or what their background was. There seemed to be a common bond: we were partners in making a difference in the lives of global Jewish communities. I admit that during those first few months my work often was menial, simple, sometimes a bit boring. Hey, sometimes work inside the home also was menial, simple, and a bit boring. But within a very short time, both my boss and other senior professionals recognized that I was pretty good at writing, editing, organization, quiet diplomacy, and the good old-fashioned task of thinking. (Forgive my sounding immodest; I am just telling it like it was!)

Eight months after I began working there, the executive assistant to the executive vice president announced that she was leaving. My boss and others recommended that I replace her. I stepped into my new role, nine months after starting the job.

The rest of the story is, as they say, history — my history that is. In time, I ultimately was promoted to director of the executive office, managing the offices of the president and the CEO of this global organization. I moved from a small square office with no windows or walking space to a beautiful office with windows overlooking one of the city’s main avenues. I worked hard, savored relationships with board members and colleagues, valued contacts with Jewish communal leaders everywhere, and felt honored to be part of a lofty mission every single day.

When my close friend occasionally would call me at work, she would begin by humming the song “Let the River Run” by Carly Simon — the theme song to “Working Girl.” And when my children asked if I would stop working if I could do so, my response was a resounding no.

I loved my job.

When I retired, almost 27 years later, I stepped away with a great deal of pride and joy and security and personal fulfillment. All the five influences of my life — my upbringing, changes in my inner and outer worlds, “growing up,” new opportunities, and faith in God — had guided me well. Yes, “everything has its season,” and I have loved all of mine.

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