How to Keep a Full-Time Job as an Orthodox Jewess
For six days, we work. And on the seventh, we rest. Simple enough, right?
Not really. In 2018, the world is always “on” and the work almost never stops. Having a full-time job as an observant Jew can be tough when you are expected to be online 24-7. Shabbat notwithstanding, there are holidays, fast days, kosher laws and a myriad of other practices that impact a Jewess’s career. Luckily, there are a few strategies for making working full-time easier.
Getting the job
Let’s start at the beginning: getting the job. A lot of job applicants stress about how to bring up their Shabbat observance in an interview. My rule of thumb is that if the job technically does not require weekend work (for example, it’s a not shift job with mandatory weekends or the job posting does not expressly indicate the role’s need for weekend availability), there’s no reason to bring up your religious needs in an interview.
In this way, it’s the same as disclosing a medical condition that requires more time out of the office or upcoming vacation plans that can’t be rebooked. Wait until there’s a job offer on the table and then mention your observance to your future employer, outlining the reasonable accommodations that can be made, and legally must be made.
Some prospective employees find it helpful to print a calendar with the Shabbat times and explain that staying a full day on Friday is only an issue for a few months and that they can make up the lost time by coming in earlier or staying later another day. You can also provide references from past jobs where you were able to make your observance work. Some employers unfamiliar with the practice or skeptical of it just need a little reassurance that it is feasible.
Working hard at all times
Once you get the job, you may need to work twice as hard as your colleagues, especially around the holidays and short Fridays. I make it a practice to check my work email first thing Saturday night or after Yom Tov to make sure I didn’t miss anything and respond to any email, even if it can wait until Monday morning.
Especially at the beginning of your career or when you’re gunning for a promotion, make sure you put in the extra hours you promised and sometimes more. Even if you’re only missing two hours of work time, your boss and colleagues may feel like those two hours are more valuable because of the face time, so you may need to go above and beyond to work three to four additional hours. Set clear boundaries for your Shabbat and holiday observance, too. When you make the exception to work just the one time, your boss and colleagues will think you can make the exception again.
To be brutally honest, non-Jewish employers are often more accommodating than non-observant Jews, since some non-observant Jews may feel judged for not observing. If you suspect this is happening, there’s very little you can do about it. You can express your lack of judgement, and that may work, but you may just have to go along with it, or if it makes you really uncomfortable, look for another job.
If you’re being discriminated against and can prove it, that’s a different story, but if your boss is just a little bit harder on you or makes uncomfortable jokes, until there’s a very specific new “Times Up!” movement, unfortunately, there’s very little you can do about the situation.
I’ve found, though, that sharing Shabbat with your colleagues can be a helpful way for them to understand why you’re absent on Friday evenings. If you’re comfortable, you can invite colleagues to Shabbat dinner. Be clear that it’s not a kiruv or converting exercise, but rather, an opportunity to share a meal together, happy hour style, but more formally. Besides, everyone loves challah.
Dealing with non-kosher food
Speaking of sharing a meal: there’s little that is more awkward than the business lunch or company dinner where you can’t order because there’s nothing kosher. While many people choose to eat vegan or order cold salads while out with their colleagues, you do not need to compromise your kashrut practice if you don’t want to.
If the lunch is casual, bring your own food. Most restaurants are understanding of people’s dietary restrictions. If that makes you uncomfortable, you don’t need to order anything. Eat at your desk before or after and find a light way to explain that you’re not hungry. I tend to turn to humor and switch the conversation back to work. I’ve also found a fun game in picking “dream dishes” off the menu and suggesting them to my dining partners. This way, I have something to do when everyone’s mulling over the menu and show that I’m enjoying myself despite my lack of food. Plus, I get some great inspiration for foods I can cook kosher versions of when I’m back home!
If you travel for work, you may not have the “desk” to eat at. In those instances, I always bring my lunch to the restaurants my team is dining at and explain to my boss and colleagues what my needs are so they can stand up for me if the restaurant gives me trouble. Though, and I can’t stress this enough, I have never had a restaurant stop me from eating my own food, and I have been eating out with colleagues for almost a decade.
Once, I made my own nachos to bring to a Mexican restaurant, and the waitress asked me for my recipe and complimented my food over the venue’s! For dinner, sneak away to your hotel room and eat there. There’s usually a time everyone goes back to unwind, shower, and change for dinner. You’ll just need to add grabbing a quick bite to that list. Use your expense budget to buy groceries for the trip and cover your ubers to and from the supermarket. If you travel often, consider investing in a vacuum sealer, a Pack-It lunch bag, and the Magic Cook — the first two keep your food fresh and the second allows you to cook hot food without a stove.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made delicious pasta in a hotel room. This also works for family vacations, but if you travel regularly for work, consider asking your company to cover the expenses. It’s much more cost-effective than those fancy dinners out everyone else gets!
Be careful at conferences where a “kosher meal” is ordered for you. If you can take the lead on the ordering, that would be the best option, as I’ve staffed conferences where the event organizers forgot the kosher meal and suggested cooking something that looked kosher and throwing some plastic wrap over it. Make sure you see a seal with hashgacha on your food. You can also skip the meal, ask for a reduced attendance fee for the event, and eat in your hotel room, per the above.
Observing various Jewish rituals at work
There can be other Jewish rituals that come up when you’re working full-time. if you’re a mikvah-attending Jewess, you may find it hard to do your mikvah preparations and bedikot if you’re stuck at the office. Try your best to do what you can before work if you can’t duck out early, and keep a sense of humor about you as you find a way to check the cloths in the light of the communal bathroom. While that’s a private concern, there are other rituals that may pop up that your colleagues will get a whiff of.
For instance, shiva, G-d forbid, may exceed your company’s bereavement policy, or you may have a big meeting on Tisha B’Av and get questions about your casual footwear and lack of brushed teeth. Generally, if your colleagues have questions about different Jewish rituals, don’t brush them off. If they are truly curious, explain it to them. If your colleagues see you as informed and passionate about your practices, they’ll be more understanding of why the rituals are important to you despite the limits they put on your work life. You may even discover some aspects of their religions or beliefs that help you build common ground.
Succeeding professionally while frum
While it may seem daunting to hold down a full-time job and maintain an observant lifestyle — especially if it’s your first job, you’re headed back to work after an extended break, or you’re taking your first job outside of the Jewish community — plenty of people do it. Some industries might be easier than others, either because of their hours or the number of Jews in the profession (think teaching, law, medicine, therapy, non-profit).
But if your dream job is another sector, there’s no reason to worry. You can pave your own path. I’ve been the first observant Jew the companies I’ve worked for have ever employed. It gives me great joy to know I’m helping pave the way for future generations. They will have bosses who worked alongside me and know that balancing an observant lifestyle with a full-tIme job is totally doable.
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.