Oy at the Office: Obstacles and Opportunities That Come With Being the Token Jew

It’s not every day that individuals walk around the office openly declaring themselves a Catholic, a Protestant or an Atheist. But what if you were a practicing Jew? The token Jew? Does that deserve a declaration?
In my opinion, yes. When appropriate.
Sure, it’s easier to say ‘no thanks’ to pepperoni pizza at your lunch meeting under the guise of vegetarianism. And maybe you’d rather brush off the vacation questions by conjuring up a trip to the Dells instead of talking about your fast day at shul. But to me, those feel like opportunities lost.
When I find myself in those situations, I openly talk about my Judaism. I’ll mention that I keep the basic laws of Kashrut or that I took a vacation day to observe Yom Kippur. Sure, these statements are often met by a quizzical look. And sometimes that look progress into a slew of questions. But that’s the best part.
As the token Jew, you have the power to educate.
My coworkers are intelligent, considerate individuals. If they are ignorant, it is due to lack of exposure, not an objection to learning. I am proud to say that my openness has lead to challenging discussions about religion in the modern world, Judaism as a culture, and even the Holocaust.
One coworker, who has also become a good friend and mentor, became so intrigued with Judaism that I invited her and her husband over to my family’s house for Shabbos dinner. The evening was filled with questions, explanations and discussion. And at the end I think we all felt richer for having shared the experience.
Yes, being the only Jew in the office makes you different. But we are fortunate to be part of a generation of Jews that is allowed to be. Being forthright with your Judaism and working to promote an environment that is open to diversity is a benefit to everyone. And you won’t have to pretend to love the reindeer ornament you got for Secret Santa.

How do you handle your Judaism in the workplace? Are you open about it at certain times or with certain individuals? Has it benefited or hindered you in any way?

(Photo: Victor1558)