In My Own Words: An ode to plumbers, electricians, etc.

By Rabbi Rachel Esserman

My first thought was that winter is definitely coming. That happened after seeing that the emergency message boards on Routes 17 and 81 had a new message. No, they weren’t warning me about an upcoming storm. Instead, they were trying to entice workers to apply for a position with the New York State Department of Transportation plowing snow. I’m guessing they need workers to replace those who retired during the height of the pandemic or left for other positions. 

Now, driving a snow plow might not sound exciting or thrilling (well, except if you’re a fan of the Weather Channel show about trucks and cars being rescued during major snowstorms), but it’s extremely important work. Just think about how essential those snow plows were after the recent storm in the Buffalo area. (For those who have short memories, the city received up to six feet of snow.) In fact, we have had a few doozies ourselves over the past few years, and it’s vital to our area to get our roads plowed so emergency vehicles can respond when needed. Those who work in hospitals, nursing homes and residences for those with developmental disabilities can’t leave until their replacements arrive. I know some who spent 36-48 hours working a few years ago until the roads were cleared. Plus, workers who get paid by the hour can lose a large percentage of their income if they can’t travel to their place of employment.
The Jewish community praises intellectual abilities, but hands-on jobs, as they are called, are what keep our communities working smoothly. This is not, by the way, to denigrate the intelligence of those who are plumbers, electricians, mechanics, construction workers and technicians of all kinds. It takes intelligence to do those jobs well. The people working in those positions are often not given enough credit not only for their ability to learn and understand their craft, but the creativity needed to do it well. 

I thought about this recently in terms of plumbing. One of my sinks started to drip: that may not sound like a big deal, but 1) it was wasting a great deal of precious water and 2) could greatly increase my water bill. Now, I wish I knew how to handle some basic plumbing, but I’ll blame that on my father, who was the son of a plumber and definitely did not want to follow in his father’s footsteps. Although I don’t know details, I do know that my father knew some basic plumbing, but never used it: in our house, my dad called a client when something went wrong with the plumbing. He was definitely not a hands-on type of person. His talent was different. As an accountant, he could add large columns of numbers in his head because he began working in the field before adding machines were common (and this was decades before calculators). 
There was a meme on Facebook recently talking about how not everyone needs an expensive college education; some people would do better at a vocational school that would gave them actual skills, rather than a degree in a less practical field. (Years ago, I used to joke that my sociology degree and 25 cents would buy me a cup of coffee. Now I would have to say my degree and $1.25 might buy me a really cheap cup of coffee.) Many plumbers, electricians, etc. make more an hour than those of us who work in non-profit organizations or in the retail market do and, if they work for the state, they get decent benefits and a pension.

Work – any type of work – should be honored if done well. The jobs many of us do not want to do are often the unpleasant, dangerous and important ones that keep our society functioning. As we approach the end of the year, we should take the time to appreciate those whose work we often take for granted.