Part 2: Orthodoxy in the Modern Business World, Wearing the badge

This is the first expanded piece on one of the 7 topics mentioned in my first post on Orthodoxy in the Modern Business World. In that first piece I suggested “We can and should feel proud of our religion and beliefs and can feel comfortable displaying it publicly.” Interestingly, this suggestion was taken by almost all commenters as referring to wearing a kippa (yarmulke). You will notice that I did not mention the word Kippa even once in this point. (Maybe it was the turbans that nobody seems to have seen, that threw people off.)

I was actually implicitly referring to many observances but I was explicitly referring to an attitude. How proud do you feel about your observances? Are you constantly running to hide them? When you need to put on tefillin in the morning and find yourself in an airport, do you wait for mincha and your quiet hotel room or do you put them on for shacharit in the airport (both are halachikly acceptable)?

Maybe I can illustrate this with a story: I was once invited to speak at a conference in Arizona on Sukkot (it is a very long story about how that came to be and why I accepted). It was before September 11 so I was able to take my Lulavwith me. Just before that holiday, I received a present from a co-worker’s father (Benji Pushett) of a beautiful, wood, hard-covered Lulav case. It was perfect for travel (looked like a case for a pool cue). I went to synagogue on Sukkotmorning in Phoenix and on coming back to my hotel in Scottsdale, I was stopped by someone I knew from the conference and asked what was in the tan “rifle”case I was carrying. I thought to myself, “Great, this is all I need; how will I explain this?” I thought through all the possible stories I could make up to weasel out of this. After thinking for a quick second about what to do, I decided to take this head on.

I said, “it is a palm branch that we use for religious service on what is called the Holiday of Sukkot.” To which my confronter responded “a lulab! I have not seen one of those since I went to synagogue around my bar mitzvah.” I could not believe my ears. First, I did not know he was Jewish. Second, the strategy of openness had worked. His next words were even more startling, “Do you mind if I make a blessing on it.” And there in the parking lot of the Phonecian Hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona we had a little Lulav reunion. From then on, I was completely sure that hiding or evasive behavior was not a good approach.

I have heard many stories, some of which will strike non-Jewish readers of the blog as strange or silly, of people covering their heads with paper to make a blessing, lest they be seen with a kippa (yarmulke). How about people stepping into a phone booth to pray and holding a phone as if they are on the phone (watch out for those phones that are out of order)? Ever hear of people washing their hands under the table? Trust me that these observances are no stranger than Catholics walking around New York City and elsewhere with blackened foreheads on Ash Wednesday or Muslims pulling prayer rugs out of their cars or backpacks in the airport (I have seen that in Phoenix).

I kind of think of religious practice or dress in the workplace in the context of the Nike commercial. Just do it. As I have said, it is no more or less strange than Catholic ash and you may have a positive impact on someone else and it important to be proud of your heritage. If that does not work for you, here is a different frame of thought: I find that most people respect you for your practices and beliefs. For the others, there are some who may stand near you in an airport or elsewhere but you will never see again and for those that you see often, well, they will need to get used to it anyway.

[Originally published on 7th July 2006 by MIchael Eisenberg]