Authentic Self and the Assimilated Jew, Part 4: Why Am I Telling You This?

Totally Unrelated PSA

Before I get into the meat of the post, I feel compelled to share a PSA: This past Shabbat was awesome! Fun Shabbat dinner with friends, for which I successfully invented new recipes that were shockingly good, (yes, really!) and I chanted the long and beautiful Haftarah this week, and I killed it – it was one of the best Haftarah readings I’ve ever done, and someone who joined on Zoom who lives multiple time zones away and hardly knows me emailed me after Shabbat to tell me how beautiful my reading was.

I mention this because I feel like I complain about Shabbat a lot, and I want to share that it really isn’t that I’m stuck doing something every week that is sheer drudgery. Sometimes, Shabbat is really awesome. That is my PSA.

Wow, didn’t think I’d find myself this cheerful and non-whiny on a Monday (this is the literal opposite of a “The Monday Peeve” post, but miracles do happen.

Alright, PSA and positivity over. Back to the regularly scheduled program of invented problems…


Recently, a very senior coworker who does not live in my geographic area was going to be in my geographic area.

Stock photo to represent Very Senior Coworker (who incidentally, looks nothing like this). Photo by Andrea Piacquadio:

Very Senior Coworker wanted to meet up with me in person for dinner and drinks and to talk about work. I was really excited.

It would be amazing to meet in person after all these Zoom meetings! Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

We started making plans.

Very Senior Coworker: How about Friday night?

I couldn’t blame Very Senior Coworker for asking about Friday night. I’d never said anything about keeping Shabbat, and I’d been answering work emails well after candlelighting.

But inwardly, I winced.

Technically, I could meet on Friday night with minimal Shabbat compromises – it was possible to buy public transit tickets before Shabbat and take public transit to get to the non-kosher-by-default restaurant (keep in mind that I have always eaten at non-kosher restaurants, so even this didn’t feel like a horrific violation in the way it would have for most Shabbat-observant Jews) so I wouldn’t have to drive on Shabbat. There was no question that Very Senior Coworker would be paying for the meal, so I wouldn’t need to carry money or credit cards on Shabbat. If I wanted to, I could travel before Shabbat and stay over nearby in a hotel until Saturday night; this idea was fraught with its own logistical issues, but it was feasible if I wanted to do it. Honestly, I’d done similar workarounds for other Shabbat events, like weddings of secular family members and non-Jewish friends.

And maybe if Friday night was the only night that Very Senior Coworker would be available to meet, I would have done it.

But something about this made me uncomfortable.

So uncomfortable as it was to push back on Very Senior Coworker at my still-pretty-new job, I said,

JYP: Any chance you could do a weeknight instead of a Friday night?

Very Senior Coworker: Hmmm, let me check.

I waited.

Very Senior Coworker: I can do Thursday night.

JYP: Perfect!

Shabbat crisis (and by “crisis”, I mean, “completely avoidable situation of pointless mental agony if I’d just decided what I wanted to do about Shabbat and been open at work in the first place“) averted!

Solving problems (that were never really major problems in the first place) warms my heart. Photo by George Bakos on Unsplash

But another question arose:

Very Senior Coworker: Great, you pick the restaurant and make the reservation for Thursday night. I eat everything, so anywhere is good.

Ah, fuck. A new invented problem to agonize over. Photo by Игорь Альшин:

I could pick a non-kosher restaurant. I eat dairy, vegetarian, and non-shellfish fish at non-kosher restaurants.

But what if Very Senior Coworker wanted to split an appetizer? Did I really want to explain what I eat and why? Then there was the fact that my favorite non-kosher eating establishments were either:

  1. fast-casual lunch places, or
  2. shady karaoke bars with a limited selection of crappy appetizers

Neither would be appropriate for dinner & drinks with a Very Senior Coworker.

I could pick a kosher restaurant. But what if the ambiance, menu, food quality, bar selection, and/or pricing didn’t align with Very Senior Coworker’s expectations? Did I really want to have to explain what kosher meant? Did I really want Very Senior Coworker’s lasting impression of me to be, “JYP seems like a weird religious person“? (Deep down, was I a weird religious person?)

So in addition to agonizing over normal things like what to wear, I also agonized over the restaurant decision…

Self-portrait of me agonizing over what to wear to business dinner & drinks, and also over how much of my Jewish identity to share. Image by naobim from Pixabay


  1. The agonizing makes total sense to me, as does the avoidance of discussion religion with coworkers. I do only because I’ve been there so long and am comfortable in our small group. Let us know what happens!

    I’m happy you had a fab shabbat 💙

    Liked by 1 person

      • Oh I totally get it! Today, I wanted to send a text message to a friend of mine who just got engaged, and I *feel* like I remember typing the message and hitting send, but I don’t see this text on my phone at all. Maybe I accidentally messaged someone else a mazal tov who didn’t get engaged?? Oops. Well, it’s a mystery!


    • That could be a big part of this. Job #1 it felt really natural to be this open with coworkers, but I was 1) so new to the work world that I naively assumed all of my coworkers wanted to hear the details of my life (I cringe looking back), and 2) I was there a long time, longer than I spent at any other job I’ve held since, so maybe I really did have that comfort level built up. It’s so weird feeling out the culture at a new job.

      Thanks! It was nice to have such a great Shabbat!


  2. You were in a real pickle over that. Do you like pickles? With all the non-religious women who are vegetarian, vegan, etc. these days, If you chose a non-kosher restaurant and went for veggie things you would come across as a normal woman I would think.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fair point. But all those women love talking about whatever diet they’re on – and the last thing I wanted to do in this context was draw attention to my eating preferences and have a discussion about them. Also, I’m picky even in my preferences for vegetarian/vegan food. I hate avocado. I eat eggplant only under duress. You know what the vegetarian/vegan option is at most places? Eggplant and avocado. I’d almost rather eat a plate. Not so appropriate for a business dinner, you know?

      I actually don’t care for pickles either. Do you?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Since I rarely go to restaurants, I just did a poll of our vegan and vegetarian staff members. Out here avocados are simply a part of New Mexican food, so never a stand-alone item on vegan menus. They said black bean burgers, various tofu offerings, mushroom dishes, and a variety of plant-based meat offerings are the most common. They said eggplant is rarely on the menu. Definitely a regional difference going on here. Good homemade dill pickles are good. Sweet pickles are not good. I rarely eat pickles.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I should have clarified – it’s not that restaurant will only serve you a slice of avocado and soggy eggplant if you ask for a vegetarian option here. It’s more that avocado and eggplant tend to get featured heavily in vegetarian/vegan options here.

          Hmm, I do rather like black bean burgers, tofu, mushrooms, fake meat… Maybe I should have suggested to Very Senior Coworker that we fly out for some New Mexican food. I’m kidding. It’s possible to get all that stuff here and a flight to New Mexico is not in the budget. Gotta appear budget-conscious and make a good impression.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. A classic problem. I wish you luck–not in solving the problem, because all you’re going to get is a work-around for this particular incident, and you probably don’t need “luck” for that. This problem probably has no real solution. I guess the luck comes down to who you alienate and who you don’t.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agonizing over business dinner etiquette and unspoken norms when dining with a Very Senior Person is definitely a classic problem! If I weren’t agonizing over the restaurant choice, I’d be agonizing over what shoes to wear. Mind you, we’re seated and no one’s looking at my shoes. Anyway, there’s no real solution because there’s arguably no real problem either. I’ve got the option to pick pretty much anywhere I want for dinner on the company dime! There are so many worse problems…


  4. I can understand Kosher restaurants not always being up to the standard level one would expect when entertaining a non-Jewish Senior Coworker. Both my husband and I have faced this issue and just took them to our yacht club where there is a decent non-kosher restaurant serving simple “Old Florida” fare, but the ambiance makes everything fantastic. We are allowed to bring our kosher food with us, if we want to eat with them. NOBODY has ever thought of us as “weird religious people”! On the contrary, we have always been respected for practicing our religious preferences openly, just as we respect Catholics showing up at a business meeting with soot on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday or refraining from eating meat during Lent.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. He seems flexible and amenable to change. No problem changing the day to Thursday and he gave you carte blanche to pick the restaurant, with the helpful heads-up that he’s not a picky eater. Pick what works best for you. As for sharing food/splitting plates…just do what I do. I’m Joey on Friends…”Joey doesn’t share food!”

    Liked by 1 person

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