Authentic Self and the Assimilated Jew, Part 2: A Tale of Three More Workplaces

Job #3

Job #3 was even more accommodating of Shabbat observance. Even pre-COVID, Job #3 had a stated policy that everyone was allowed to work one day a week from home. I did tell my boss and my direct report (neither of whom were Jewish, but both of whom had met other observant Jews before) about keeping Shabbat, but it was basically unnecessary because I just worked from home on Fridays and working after Shabbat on a Friday would never be expected anyway.

I still dressed very modestly, but Boss and Direct Report were the kind of men who didn’t notice how I dressed anyway. I still ate at non-kosher restaurants, but it turned out that Boss and Direct Report both really liked a kosher restaurant near the office, so for team birthday/holiday lunches, we went to the kosher restaurant.

The Irony

Strangely, I felt less inclined to talk openly about my Jewish observance at Job #3. Maybe because Job #3 was so accommodating it seemed unnecessary. Maybe because the people I worked with were people who just did not seem to care in my life outside work. Don’t get me wrong – they weren’t callous people or anything. They just didn’t seem to have much interest in socializing about things unrelated to work. Maybe I realized that no one found weekends consisting of nothing but Shabbat observance and Torah reading to be particularly interesting.

This was my weekend, and no one seemed interested in hearing about it. Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Maybe because I was getting older and noticing that when I started talking about religious observance outside work, people would ask if I had kids, and then look confused when I said I didn’t. Not that one can’t be religious, not-that-young, and not have kids. But I kept getting the impression that whoever I was talking to was looking at me like I was defective.

While I was at Job #3, “being your authentic self at work” became more of a stated goal. I can’t remember if it came up in a management context (Job #3 had all of us take the Gallup Clifton Strengths assessment and attend a bunch of leadership classes about maximizing your individual strengths at work), a DE&I context (I worked at Job #3 when DE&I issues in the workplace started getting a lot more attention) or something else entirely. But it had the odd effect of me not wanting to be my authentic self to work, and instead, to share less about myself.

The Job Interview

While at Job #3, an industry colleague recommended me for an interview at their company. One of the people I interviewed with was head of a department with whom I would work cross-functionally. I asked my interviewer a question about how our teams could best work together.

Interviewer: I’m really bothered when another team lead says, ‘Oh, my team can’t stay after 5 PM on Friday to work on this.’ I get the need for work-life balance and I get that it’s the weekend. But that means that my team will need to work late to get this work completed. What about my team’s weekend? How come my team’s weekend isn’t equally important?

I nodded along in sympathy and understanding, although technically, I was doing this myself for my own Shabbat observance.

But Interviewer had a point. Every Shabbat-observant person I knew thought it was no problem to have their non-Jewish coworkers or bosses cover for them for Shabbat. And yes, sometimes those Shomer Shabbat colleagues would cover for their non-Jewish coworkers other times, but I didn’t work in a job where coverage on Sundays or Christmas would ever be expected, so this was something of a false equivalency. And yes, in a perfect world, non-Jewish coworkers would never incur additional work as a result of having observant Jewish coworkers. But let’s be honest – we don’t live in a perfect world.

I wouldn’t call Interviewer’s comment the turning point that forever changed my opinion on workplace accommodations for Shabbat. But it was a comment that stuck with me and made me think. Photo by Yosep Surahman on Unsplash

I didn’t get the job; the company restructured and decided they didn’t need the role that I was interviewing for anymore.

Job #4

Sometime later, I got Job #4 instead. When I joined Job #4, it was fully remote. Job #4 was into wellness and work-life balance, and long hours/working outside normal hours was not a normal part of the culture. I joined in May and, realizing that I might not need to disclose Shabbat observance any time soon (if at all), decided not to. I was senior enough and the workload and work culture were such that I could just block my calendar when I needed to on Fridays.

Job #4 was super-into the whole “authentic self at work” thing. And again, I felt compelled in the opposite direction not to share about myself. There were a couple of secular Jews at Job #4; I let them believe that I was equally secular.

By this point, I wasn’t 100% keeping Shabbat in anymore anyway. There were a couple instances where I had to work after Shabbat had started. At first, I felt weird and uncomfortable about it. My industry is small – what if someone from my earlier jobs noticed and thought I was a fraud? In fact, a few people I knew from Jobs #2 and #3 got hired at Job #4. But no one paid that much attention.

Maybe there’s a life lesson here: No one cares about your authentic self at work as much as you think they do. Image by Leandro De Carvalho from Pixabay

Job #5

I didn’t say anything to Job #5 about Shabbat observance. I started Job #5 in the summer when signing off early for Shabbat wouldn’t have been necessary, even if I was actually keeping Shabbat and by this point, I really wasn’t. Unlike Job #4, Job #5 expected some work on Shabbat, a price I didn’t entirely love, but that by definition, I ultimately didn’t mind paying, as evidenced by the fact that I have been paying it.

I’ve been working on Friday evenings/nights; I can’t exactly claim to mind if I chose to keep doing it…Photo by Bich Tran:

I took time off for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (I technically didn’t have enough PTO accrued since I’d just started – HR found me a workaround in the system). I didn’t even bother taking off for Sukkot/Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah – I didn’t have enough PTO, and I didn’t have any plans to look forward to for those holidays, (Sukkot sucks when you don’t have a sukkah because you live in a shitty apartment instead of a house, Yom Tov sucks when your marriage is fraught and extra time at home together to do nothing but argue isn’t desirable, and Simchat Torah sucks when you don’t have children). No one else at Job #5 was Jewish or knew much about Judaism, so no one was going to see this as inconsistent.

That summer, it was hot as hell in our apartment and the air conditioner was so loud, I couldn’t bear the noise of putting it on, so I suffered the heat instead; I started joining Zoom calls for work in sleeveless tops; I didn’t see the point of being uncomfortable in my own apartment for no good reason.

Work from home outfit. The super-modest work attire didn’t make sense anymore. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio:


  1. Interesting to learn more about your evolution (devolution?). I’ve always been authentic at work, except about dating. I never said one word about dating all those years and I’m really glad I didn’t now that it’s over. But everything else was out there and nothing bad resulted… then again I’m in a very small firm, not a corporation. I’m very lucky 🍀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think I approach this kind of stuff from the “labor” point of view, maybe because I was a union member for most of my working life. (Just the one protracted job at ma bell.) When companies want/need its employees to work extra hours, it is to solve a problem that could also be solved by hiring more people. That is a burden on a company, of course, since it results in too many people during slow times. My company (I was told) aimed for a balance where we all worked about 10% overtime. We were paid time-and-a-half for that. That seemed fair enough, but then there was that clause the union could never remove from our contracts: “needs of the business” which over-rode many items. I never thought it was unfair for one employee to ask for a concession during these “needs of the business” extra hours, since it was not reasonable to ask someone to always be ready and willing to drop everything and go to work. Working late once in awhile was bad enough, but do-able. I say all this realizing that non-union employees were kind of on their own and had to make the decision which company they were willing to work for given the various work cultures. I was not envious of their work lives.
    To my point (finally,) we had a few people who were active in their churches and so never worked their share of Sundays, and the culture was also benevolent enough to consider the poor guy who had his kid that weekend, or who booked a room somewhere for a hunting trip, or whatever.
    I will bitch about the smokers, who felt they deserved a break every hour to smoke a cigarette, when the rest of us got one 15 minute break in the morning, and one in the afternoon.
    Sorry long comment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A fair point. If you build positive relationships with your coworkers, don’t take advantage of your coworkers, and return the favor, it builds enough goodwill over time that people don’t mind covering for you. In my industry, someone is always covering for someone on vacation or on parental leave anyway. It made me think because who doesn’t want to leave early on Friday, and this would be Friday coverage every week, similar to the guys in your case who never worked on Sundays. Arguably, it is fair to ask. Maybe it was just because this would have been starting over in a new workplace and having to build up that goodwill from scratch again, but something about the Interviewer’s comment just made me think.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The exceptions work precisely because they are exceptions, and infrequent. Fair is fair. Sounds like your interviewer was trying to find out if you were sufficiently malleable to make a “good” employee. It’s a tough call–you’re trading your time and loyalty for money. I guess it depends on your bargaining position. In my case, I seldom had any bargaining position at all to speak of. I frequently felt like I was being paid primarily for my willingness to submit to the working conditions. Willingness I had, and it turns out it was marketable. I’m no martyr. We were all in the same boat.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I realize that this is not your main point but … the idea of taking one’s ‘authentic self’ to work is such a bogus notion. It’s a bit like declaring that one’s “lived experience’ trumps reality.
    The whole DEI industry is stuffed with nonsensical notions and has little if anything to do with respect, tolerance, and difference.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Having worked for a few different companies aiming for the kind of trendy work culture that embraces DE&I, my feeling is that while some DE&I stated goals are noble and some workplace DE&I initiatives are worthwhile and promote a positive, tolerant work culture, a lot of them were counterproductive.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t know about the authentic self thing. I don’t think I know how to be anyone else. But maybe that just means I’m not very private. I also haven’t had a career – just a series of lowly admin roles. I think the whole “team” aspect of work environments is something that has to be negotiated within individual teams. I remember when the university I worked at made a space for people of Islamic faith to go and pray and there was a lot of talk about all the time taken on Fridays for prayer. But as Roy (above) pointed out, smokers have taken time out ever since they got kicked out of smoking in offices and although it is bitched about a little, nobody can be bothered to actually make a song and dance about it. I guess it’s all about give and take. If somebody is generally helpful, useful, hard-working, pulling the load, then they’ll be forgiven for a lot. My good friend wanted to continue working while she had cancer treatment. She said she had to go and have naps in the afternoon but her colleagues were fine with that because a/ they knew the reason and b/ they knew she gives 110% most of the time. I’ve just started working again after a long period of not working and I’m still figuring out where I fit in the team. I only do 15 hours a week but at the moment I feel some pressure to make sure those 15 hours really count. But I hope that as I get to know the team better and as they get to know me better, I”ll feel more comfortable with where I fit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting to hear about your experience. You’re right – arguably an accommodation to leave early on Fridays in the winter for Shabbat shouldn’t feel any different than accommodating another religious practice (eg. providing prayer space and time for Muslims on Fridays), or any other accommodation made for a coworker with health needs, like working a part-time schedule, or like your friend with the naps. The goodwill you build with your coworkers is a huge part of it.

      The whole “authentic self” messaging is very strange. It might be more of an American concept, and only at workplaces who aim for a particular type of trendy work culture.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. In the end, most people do not pay close attention to their co-workers’ off-duty lives. If we are fortunate enough to find employment with empathetic management, the ability to blend personal authenticity with work culture is a big morale boost. I never counted on this happening though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I suspect there is a lot of individual variation – some people become quite close with their coworkers and socialize a lot outside of work, and some people not so much. Some people keep in touch with coworkers even after they no longer work together and others not so much. But you’re right that probably most people are not going to be able to remember the nuances of a former coworker’s off-duty activities.

      I also think you bring up a good point about morale. As much as I feel odd about sharing a lot of my authentic self at work, it would also feel uncomfortable to feel like I couldn’t say anything at all about myself.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. The company I work for make a HUUUGGE deal out of the bringing your authentic self to work but they seem to have a pretty narrow conception of what type of authentic self is acceptable. I’d go down the tubes pretty quickly if I brought my opinions with me, so I settle for bringing my bad attitude and PMS.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly! The workplace “bring your authentic self” to work is limited to a very specific type of authentic self – the workplace does not want your PMS, unpopular political opinions, childhood trauma, breakup drama, or anything else that might be authentic.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.