Authentic Self and the Assimilated Jew, Part 1: A Tale of Two Workplaces

Job #1

In 2010, I made the formal decision to become Shomer Shabbat. At the time, it was early in my career, and I was working an entry-level job. My work hours were a regular 8 AM – 4 PM and there was no expectation that I’d ever have to stay late or work off hours. My boss knew how to do my job. I had a ten-minute commute.

Prior to formally requesting an accommodation to leave earlier on Fridays, I made a point of changing to a more modest style of dress at work. High-necked long-sleeved shirts. Knee-length skirts. I feared that if my coworkers saw my collarbone, they would doubt my religious sincerity (spoiler: they never noticed that level of detail), and my request to leave earlier on Fridays to prepare for Shabbat would get rejected.

Self portrait of me at work. Photo by cottonbro studio:

In fact, my request almost did get rejected, but not because I didn’t look the part. It was because I requested to leave two hours early on Friday during the winter. My boss’s boss, my boss’s boss’s boss, and HR were all Jewish (and secular) and said something to the effect of, actually, JYP, you can prepare for Shabbat on Thursday night and you live ten minutes away – there’s no reason you need to leave two hours early. But they did let me leave 30 minutes early on those winter Fridays. My Shomer Shabbat friends were horrified and accused my employer of religious discrimination, but in the end, it worked out fine. Honestly, 30 minutes early wound up being sufficient time for me, and I ultimately felt as though my employer was accommodating.

There are other reasons why I later left that job, but religious discrimination was not one of them. No one seemed put off by my taking time off for Yom Tov or my leaving early on winter Fridays or my modest dress. I talked openly with my coworkers about my Shabbat plans for the weekend and about the Jewish holidays. “Being your authentic self at work” wasn’t a trendy concept at that time the way it is now, but this workplace easily met today’s definition of a place where I could be my authentic self at work.

The Irony

The irony was that the religious persona I shared at work was arguably not my “authentic self”. I appeared Orthodox in my work attire, but I was really never Orthodox in practice or philosophy at that time. I still ate at non-kosher restaurants (granted, I did that at work too). Outside of work, I still wore pants, sleeveless shirts, hell, even V-neck tops that showed some cleavage sometimes. In fact, I had come to divide my wardrobe such that the most modest clothes I saved for the office and the less modest/more revealing clothes I saved for Shabbat/weekends.

Self portrait of me on the weekend outside work. Photo by Ilaria Tartara:

Job #2

Being your authentic self at work” still wasn’t a trendy thing yet when I was at Job #2. But Job #2 was more accommodating, which is impressive because Job #2 was very different – I was the only person who knew how to do my job, the work culture was much more everyone working around the clock and being available at all times.

I don’t even remember having the “I’m Shomer Shabbat” conversation, and yet somehow, I was able to leave 1.5-2 hours early on Fridays in the winter. The CEO even personally apologized to me the year that the annual holiday party had to be scheduled on a Friday night such that I’d have to miss it. When I had a business trip, they let me book my return flight after Shabbat. I continued wearing super modest clothes and speaking openly about Shabbat plans and Yom Tov the same way people normally talk about weekend and holiday plans. No one thought this was weird.

It felt normal to talk about this. Photo by cottonbro studio:

One of the teams I worked with cross-functionally made a point of routing work to me earlier on Fridays so that I’d have time to complete my section before I had to leave because of Shabbat.

The Irony

Once again, I still wasn’t as religious as I appeared to be. Same office super-modest vs. Shabbat/weekend less-modest dress code. Same non-kosher restaurants. While employed at Job #2, I took two vacations during which, unbeknownst to my coworkers, I didn’t keep Shabbat in full.

Not that this is really any of their business or negates all the other weeks when I did keep Shabbat, but still.


  1. I didn’t know that being your authentic self at work was a thing now! I’m not sure what I would do about that…

    And I wouldn’t describe you as an “assimilated Jew” even if you aren’t fully shomer Shabbat any more. But thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I found this fascinating. For a time, I worked in an environment that was in several ways the total opposite of yours. Let’s call it a construction garage full of modestly educated but hard-working, God fearing white men (I’m trying to be kind) but who still had the same sort of problems. It’s possible we had too much authenticity. “It’s deer season opening and I got the most seniority, so I’m takin’ off the whole week,” or, in the case of a bad thunderstorm causing multiple outages requiring everyone to report to work the following Saturday and Sunday, “Me and my brother booked a motel room down to the Lake of the Ozarks to go huntin’ and the room is non-refundable,” or “I’m not comin’ in Saturday ’cause I got my kid this weekend!” If you had your kid that weekend, that was sort of sacrosanct. These are the same people who said, “Yeah! I’ll come in on Thanksgiving! We’re goin’ to my mother-in-laws and I been tryin’ to get out of it anyway!”

    Liked by 1 person

    • “It’s possible we had too much authenticity. ” – You know, I’ve definitely had this thought at some of my workplaces too. Like one of my jobs was at a female-dominated workplace, and when one of the SVPs was having her baby, her BFF at work was sharing minute-by-minute updates of how dilated her cervix was during a meeting. I mean, I felt like that was taking “authenticity” to an extreme and unnecessary place. I think it’s not just the construction garages, although that’s fascinating to hear about your work culture. I feel like there’s something admirable about having one’s kid being sacrosanct.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, those guys were and are easy to make fun of, (me, among them,) but it’s true, there is a certain kind of honor and respect among them that make you think about human evolution and how we managed to work and hunt cooperatively and survive all these millennia. Needless to say, the large corporation we were working for took full advantage of this deeply inherent sociological trait in a variety of ways. You could probably guess, and it’s the same in almost every other workplace.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m looking forward to making my way through this series! I don’t work Sundays, I do go to Mass without fail but I can’t really say I observe the keeping the day holy unfortunately, so it’s not like I can use that for my excuse, but there’s no point in my being there on Sundays and I want to spend the day with my husband. I figure, I make barely above minimum wage after eleven years so I should get some little perk instead. I feel guilty because most employees work Sundays (retail y’all) but some people do have an accommodation. We have someone who is Jewish and takes off Friday night, a few Sunday people, and someone who takes off Saturday (I forget which one that is–Seventh Day Adventist maybe?). So I would encourage anyone else who wants it to get an accommodation. If everyone did that though we wouldn’t be able to operate. So I don’t know.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m curious – what else would “keeping the day holy” entail in your context? On the one hand, while I understand the rabbinic process that got us to what modern day Shabbat observance looks like, I’m always curious as to how other religions approached defining “not working” and “observing the Sabbath and keeping it holy”. Not working and going to Mass certainly sounds like it would fit the bill to me but what do I know. I am happy for you that you were able to get Sundays off in retail – that does sound like a rare perk!

      The series is supposed to have a Part 5 and Part 6, but I got distracted and haven’t gotten to writing them yet (I know what I want to say, but just getting them actually written and posted…)


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