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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Mixing work with Yiddishkeit

(I am finding myself burning out on writing articles about Israel, not so much out of anger as out of frustration at the current Israeli government. So I decided it is time to break the format for a while.)

Last Friday a vendor wanting to sell me services told me on the phone, "Shabbat Shalom" - and informed me that he was Jewish too.

This was not the first time this has happened to me - another vendor tirelessly brings up his Jewish bona-fides to me during every phone call, mentioning how he went to a yeshiva when he was younger, or how kosher pizza does not taste the same as non-kosher, or asking about what schools my kids go to.

Now, I have no problem talking about Yiddishkeit with people who ask me questions at work. One co-worker hilariously keeps trying to find some sort of unanswerable theoretical question ("So what if you are on a spaceship traveling close to the speed of light....") But when vendors use Judaism to foster a false sense of camaraderie, and indeed try to use their own Jewishness as a lever to get me to buy their products or services, I get completely turned off.

On a somewhat related note, I once worked at a place where the director of that location was frum. He is a brilliant person, and quite funny, and I knew him socially before he was moved into that position. But he had no qualms about showing obvious favoritism towards me - in front of all the layers of management in between. He would pepper his speech to me with Yiddishisms that no one else could possibly understand. One memorable time he saw me while talking to my boss, told my boss to wait because he had something important to show me, rummaged through his email for ten minutes (my boss eventually excused himself) and finally found what he was looking for - a Jewish joke that someone emailed him.

Any way you look at it, his actions were rude, even though I was the beneficiary. And I am indebted to him because on a single occasion, I got stuck in a political situation where my immediate manager put roadblocks in the way of me transferring to another location and this director helped me out. But I was always uncomfortable with his behavior towards me around the rest of the workers - essentially showing contempt for them.

When I am at work, as much as possible, I want to be treated like everyone else, and I do not want my religion to single me out for good or bad. My department's administrative assistant always goes out of her way to get me kosher food during any department or location event, and I am very appreciative - but I do not ask for it nor do I expect it. I generally do not mention that I keep kosher when I need to go to all-day vendor-sponsored seminars that include lunch (unless their registration form asks about special diets explicitly); I will pack my own or eat fruit/yogurt/whatever I can.

My desire not to mix work with religion also extends to possible kiruv. I am not a pro-active kiruv person; I will happily discuss anything but I will not bring up the topic of Judaism first. The interesting question is whether I should initiate anything if working with someone who is not frum or off the derech. (One acquaintance at work grew up a chosid and then one day, I am told, he showed up with his beard shaved, his hair dyed blonde, and now he plays with a jazz band at night and the only indication of his roots is that he never changed his very Jewish name.) Should I engage him in conversation? I am uncomfortable even considering it because I try so hard to keep the topics separate.

I would be interested in hearing what other people think.