How to Navigate Holiday Office Parties if You’re an Observant Jew
‘Tis the season to be…extremely stressed out about your office holiday celebrations. During this time of year, it can be difficult to figure out how to join in on the fun, handle office politics, and stay true to your Jewish observances.
What happens if your company’s party is on Shabbat? Or if everyone’s hanging a stocking on their desks? What can you eat at the big department dinner?
Take a deep breath – the holidays are a time of joy and your workplace is simply trying to encourage festivities and fun. With these tips, you can make sure no one sees you as the office Scrooge.
DILEMMA #1: The party is on Shabbat
Many companies understand that the weekend is employees’ time to spend with their families, completely off the clock. If you’re lucky, your office holiday party is during the workday or at least on a weeknight. But there are some offices that don’t want to cut into work productivity and will schedule parties for Friday nights or Saturday afternoons.
If this happens to you, gauge whether attendance is mandatory. Often, it won’t be, and you won’t be the only person skipping the fun. Let your boss and close colleagues know that you will not be able to attend because of Shabbat but you look forward to hearing about the fun on Monday morning.
Sure, it’s a bummer to miss social time with your colleagues, but if you make an exception for a Friday night celebration, the next time you skip out of work at 3 p.m. on a Friday when there’s a deadline, your boss will remind you that you’ve compromised before. If you really have FOMO, try to find another way to celebrate with your team. Maybe you can organize a lunch or bring in Hanukkah sufganiyot (donuts) for everyone to try.
If attendance is mandatory, ask to speak to your direct supervisor and explain the situation. Your boss should know you observe Shabbat so your inability to attend shouldn’t come as a surprise. If your boss is generally cool about your observance, this situation won’t be any different and he or she will either give you a hall pass or talk to HR for you.
But if you regularly butt heads with your boss over your Shabbat observance, you may encounter similar disdain when you explain you’ll be missing the party. Stand your ground. A party is supposed to be celebratory, not uncomfortable, and if you get the sense (or even are told!) you won’t be afforded future opportunities because “you’re not being a good teammate” consider that the new year is a good time to look for a new job. Seriously! Who wants to work in an environment where “fun” is so policed it gets in the way of your first amendment protections?
DILEMMA #2: You’re expected to participate in Christmas rituals
For a lot of people, Christmas has become an American holiday, not a religious one. Your colleagues may not realize that you’re uncomfortable hanging a stocking from your desk or adding an ornament to the lobby Christmas tree.
If you choose to swallow your discomfort with the rituals and write it off as just another annoying thing you must do at your job, no judgement here. It may not be worth stirring the pot for something like stuffing a stocking. Sometimes, you just need a break from being the hard-to-deal-with frum Jew.
But if you’re truly uncomfortable, consider that one of the mitzvoth of Chanukah is “Pirsum HaNes” or publicizing the miracle. Offer to bring an electric menorah to keep on your desk instead of a stocking, and if gift-giving is involved, buy stocking stuffers for your colleagues but ask them to give you gifts outside of the stocking instead.
DILEMMA #3: You can’t eat anything at the department dinner
Some smaller companies, or small teams in a larger company, will opt for a dinner out instead of a larger party. While you may be able to convince your boss that a kosher restaurant is just as good as a non-kosher one, chances are the reservation will be made somewhere you can’t eat.
Try not to take it personally. Your boss may not have a big budget or wants to go somewhere close to the office. Maybe he or she has a specific place in mind. Let your boss know you won’t be eating but that you’re happy to attend.
You can eat a late lunch or early dinner at your desk and make sure you have some food ready for when you get home. Then, when you’re out, order a drink or two and don’t consume more alcohol than appropriate for your professional setting. You’ll likely have to talk to your colleagues about why you can’t anything at the restaurant – they may try to parse the menu looking for things that don’t sound unkosher (“Not even French fries?” “What about the salad?” “It’s a nice place, I’m sure they can make something kosher off the menu!”).
Have a stock answer prepared. I like, “Kosher laws are really complicated and include all the utensils and ovens, and it’s a whole to-do. I’m more than happy with my drink and the company. What are you thinking of ordering?”
This usually closes the door to more questions and assures your colleagues that you’re not mad at them for indulging. I even like to pick cool sounding dishes off the menu and suggest them. Turns out I’m not half bad at ordering seafood I don’t know a darn thing about!
The holidays can be just another time you stick out like a sore thumb at your office, and it’s easy to let that mar the celebrations. But try not to get stressed out – the whole point of office festivities is for everyone to let their hair down and have a great experience. In a good work environment, your boss wants that for you, too.
Cindy Kaplan is a writer and entrepreneur living in Los Angeles. Her work has been featured on Yahoo!, Defy Media, VEVO, and other digital outlets and film festivals. She co-founded Hollywood Resumes, a resume-writing service that focuses on job applicants trying to break into the entertainment industry. She loves all animals, from puppies to okapis.