Friday, March 18, 2005

Working for Susan Perlman

The day really began when I heard the automatic garage opener announce Ms Perlman's arrival at the office. I didn't know if it was the sound of the opener or my stomach churning that I heard loudest. Within seconds of her arrival through the executory back door the tone of the day would be set, whether it would be hell or purgatory. Although I had been her assistant a long time, every day was unpredictable. Initially I had hope that with enough practice the days would smooth out and her verbal reprimands and dressing downs would become rarer, but that hope waned with time. What held me together was the believe that my work for her was a ministry. I knew the maze of her filing cabinets, how many little toy mice inhabited her office spaces, the titles of the books on her shelves and the details of providing food to the hungry senior staff at the council meetings. I knew what to do if a "reporter" called (frequently they were phonies) and when the deadlines were to submit evangelistic ads to magazines or to make changes in the art for Issues. But if anything went wrong, it was as if I had walked in off the street for my first day of work. It could be a long distance call from a branch leader, and if I didn't think to ask a question Ms Perlman wanted answered, a long critical review of my career ensued, ending with me calling the branch back at my own expense to ask the vital question. What hurt most was her telling me off in front of other staff. Respite came when I left for personal reasons. But my trials didn't matter because I know there's a crown awaiting me in the world to come with a stone in it inscribed "I received this in the house of my friends."


Anonymous said...

I watched Susan Perlman chew up and spit out so many assitants in just 5 years, I couldn't keep up.

I had people I loved and cared about take jobs with her. I tried to tell them they really needed to make sure it was GOD instructing them to work for her. I told them how many people she'd gone through, warned them about her verbal abuse, often in front of everyone else in the Jews for Jesus executive offices.

Those people never listened to my warnings. They always said GOD told them to work for Perlman.

They all got chewed up and spit out. A couple of them are quite damaged and in counseling to this day, because of those experiences!

Anonymous said...

I never worked for this woman. I did, however, want to do something nice and Christian for her, so I offered to pick her up at San Francisco Airport, no more than 20 minutes from her office. (But that 20 minutes would save Ms. Perlman's assistant close to an hour of work time.) When Ms. Perlman arrived, she asked what I was doing there, and instead of expressing gratitude, she grilled me, "Did you bring my mail?"
I was flabbergasted!
She stormed off in a fit of annoyance when I said no, that I hadn't taken the time to drop by her office and thought this might be considered as a nice thing I was doing. I followed her to the parking garage, just waiting to see if she had somehow divined where I had parked.
Trying to be friends with this woman was, for me, a modern equivalent of flaggelation: a way to measure one's spiritual growth. As one grew in their relationship with Jesus, the more one could take of Perlman and her disrespect.
To me, the most unfortunate aspect of Perlman's and other top executive's behavior was that the Gentiles who worked for and around them thought that they represented all of Jewish people's behavior that Jews are culturally mean and disrespectful. Shame on these executives who thought of themselves as executives and worthy of entitlements first and foremost, and not as Christians. Mark 10:35-45 turned on its head.

Anonymous said...

A call to measured comments.

Again, we need to avoid being one dimensional in portraying people. I knew Susan in the earliest days, a winsome, earnest, hardworking girl from New York who waited tables to pay expenses while JFJ was getting born. Those of us who were founders considered her to be our sister. . .and, speaking for myself, I still do.

Susan lost her father at a young age, and Moishe was her surrogate father. . .and he honorably played that role. She is a person who invented her position as Media Director and invented herself as First Assistant to the Executive Director. She has always worked very hard, and has been married to the work of JFJ for thirty years.

The only leadership model she had was her surrogate "daddy" Moishe, and she has picked up from him a management by anger philosophy. I imagine she is also, like many of us, a fundamentally insecure person who secretly wonders if she hasn't risen higher than her talents deserve and her wits can support.

Of course she cannot allow herself to display this insecurity. Instead, she covers it over with a persona of strength and forcefulness, which habitually for her involves a shrilly dominating and demanding demeanor with her subordinates.

Unfortunate? Yes. Abusive? Undoubtedly. But there is a person in there, and not far below the surface there is still that little girl who lost her daddy at too young an age, who is still trying to make it in the world without the strength and support he would have provided, and whom some of us still regard as our beloved sister Susan, warts and all.

Let's not dehumanize people. It ill commends our stance.

Anonymous said...

Miss Perlman is more than capable of handling the truth about her behavior. There are examples in Scripture where Christians were warned about the behaviors of other people, and to many of us who observed her behavior, warnings are in order.
If one wishes to excuse her behavior on account of her childhood tragedies, no one is going to argue against the Jewish principle of giving a person the benefit of the doubt. Rattlesnakes are poisonous through no fault of their own, and are created by God, we just do best to tread carefully and if we spot one on a trail, warn those behind us.

Anonymous said...

Lest we be characterized of being one dimensional, I can say that I observed Miss Perlman be on most excellent and charming behavior when in the company of those who were outside JfJ, who were potential supporters, or who would make great networking contacts.
Somewhere in Miss Perlman's psychodynamics maybe she "saves" her reprobate behavior for someone who doesn't have anything to offer.

It is refreshing and informative to hear from someone who knew Miss Perlman and others from the days prior to the founding of this organization. Perhaps this person can reflect upon how Miss Perlman and others changed when granted much power in this organization. Then, and only then, might it be appropriate to bring in childhood experiences to explain away abusive behavior.

Anonymous said...

Last night on Law and Order Criminal Intent the story line concerned a "secret number" of Americans imprisoned as potential terrorists. The prisoners were unaccounted for, kept off the prisons roll book. A guard was killed and the motive was he was prepared to talk about the abuse the prisoners suffered.
In the course of the show, reference was made to a Stanford psychological study were some Stanford students were put in the role of prisoners and some as guards. The fascinating result of the study was that these otherwise equal students became monsters when they were given unbridled power.
Just as the prisoners in the tv show were not given a voice, many within Jews for Jesus are not given a voice. The advent of blogging is providing many people who have been abused (not just those in JfJ) to talk about their abuse and to name the names of the abusers.
One can choose to protect the character of any abuser, and be hurt or even outraged at the truth. One can have a similar response to the Catholic priests who are finally being held accountable for the abuse they heaped upon the powerless. But those who would seek to protect the abusers are in the minority.
While there are risks to one's soul in telling the truth, there is ample evidence in Scripture where people are warned and hypocrites exposed: sometimes in general, sometimes by specific name. I personally feel the pain of the people who are posting the accounts of their hurts, and would characterize attempts which take aim at the abused as protecting the abuser.
To those of you who have been abused: you are being heard and you are being prayed for. Please do not allow yourselves to suffer more guilt by those who care more about the character of abusers rather than you.

Anonymous said...

Getting back to Susan Perlman..

Susan was the only person I ever saw that talked back to Moishe. He seemed to like her talking back to him.

Anonymous said...

I remember Moishe defending Susan's inappropriate treatment of employees.

He was saying something "cute" like, "Susan isn't mean, but she can be dour."

As if some semantics would make the situation better.

Hmmm. On second thought, that explains "you're not tired, you're bored!"

Anonymous said...

Perhaps relevent on this thread is Susan Perlman as the "Power behind the throne:" The reason David can't change things.

Anonymous said...

I think MR and Susan's relationship was more than "daughter/daddy"....

Anonymous said...

Susan could be very kind, giving beautiful art work to people for their weddings, bar-mitzvah's, etc.

But she could also be very unkind to her assistants, as I saw many times.

I'm not sure why a culture of "mean-ness" was encouraged in Jews for Jesus, but she sure is a good example of it.

Anonymous said...

Let's face it..if someone was defining the term hypocrisy, Susan would serve as a great example. She could be ever so sweet to those "outside" but to those who worked "under" her (which was everyone--she used the title "Associate Excecutive Director" and "First Assistant to the Executive Director") she was ruthless.

Anonymous said...

For years, Susan was the biggest stumbling block in my spiritual growth. I was angry with myself and thought there was something wrong with ME, that I disliked her so much. I prayed and prayed that God would change my heart.

I would watch her put on her "outside face" and show such fake charm to people on the "outside" that it made me nauseous that anyone would fall for it. But when the doors to "Executory" closed, she became a different person.

I remember several of Susan's assistants dissolving into tears because of the way she had treated them.

I remember her screaming at her assistant when her desk was not clean enough.

I remember her demanding that her pregnant assistant wax her car after filling it up with gas for her.

I remember her assistant making her coffee decaf, hoping it would somehow make her act nicer towards people who worked for her.

I remember her prowling back and forth outside Moishe's office when he spent too much time with another of the senior leaders, asking every ten minutes, "Is HE still in there?"

I remember when Moishe's wife would phone the office, Susan would ask, "Why is SHE calling again?" Yet to Ceil's face, Susan was as sweet as honey.

I remember Susan waking Moishe from his afternoon naps (he said only she knew how to properly wake him) and staying behind closed doors with him for a half hour or more, and Moishe admonishing us never to open the office door when she was in there because they were having private meetings.

I remember Moishe leaving the office early every Wednesday for his "night out," and Susan following close behind.

I remember the frequent business trips they took together.

I remember a provocative photo of Susan's face hanging inside Moishe's private office bathroom, just across from the toilet.

I am not making this up.

It was only when I left JFJ that I realized that maybe the problem wasn't so much my lack of spirituality, but rather spiritual discernment that made me feel that something was so very wrong.