We all know that appearances can be deceptive. A number of my peers are dedicated religious Jews, but do not wear a Kippah (skullcap) in the workplace. I respect people for making their own choices regarding standards of observance and do not cast value judgements on how people express their religious and/or cultural identity through dress. I have one friend in particular who is far more learned than myself, who chooses not to wear a kippah outside of eating, studying and praying. What is important to me is that he is comfortable with his standard.
As I was one advised, in halachic terms it is far more important to wear tzittzit under ones shirt than it is to wear a covering on one’s head.
There are not a lot of overtly Orthodox Jews in Perth, but with increasing regularity I have been encountering Jewish people with kippot in various professional settings. I did a training course not so long ago where there were three kippah bearing Jews in a room of less than 20 people. Last week I was having a discussion at a cafe and two religious Jews walked passed, pointed out to me by the people who I was with. I have been at conferences in places such as Kalgoorlie, Darwin, even the USA, where delegates and trade exhibitors have approached me, to tell me they are Jewish, or that they have Jewish ancestry, or that they are supporters of Israel. In one case a lady approached me to tell me about a Hebrew manuscript that they had found in the wall of their home. She brought it into me the next day – a bone fide mezuzah!
Then there was the seminar I was invited to. I accepted and noted that they should not pay the venue and incur overheads for catering as I would bring my own. The person responded that they had another kosher person coming and they would order in. I spent the next three weeks racking my brains as to who it would be, given the industry was not the kind that attracts a lot of Jewish people. It turned out to be a staff member from Melbourne who had been flown to Perth as part of the event.
Since day one of my professional career I have worn a Kippah in the workplace. It has never caused me insurmountable problems. I have encountered some people who may feel threatened or indifferent to me as a result of my Kippah, but I have always considered this to be their hang up, not mine. It is also very rare and occasional. For the most part I find people respect me for who I am, for my professional competency, and the people I work closely with are particularly accommodating. When I have special needs such as annual leave for chagim, finishing early on Friday in winter for Shabbat, or kosher catering, I find it so much easier to put such requests forward as I visually present myself as a Jewish person.
People also hold me to high ethical standards and expect the utmost integrity from me due to the way I present myself. There have been elements of improper conduct, even corruption that have surrounded some of my work. I have remained untouched, unapproached, and uncompromised, in no small part due to the small round of cloth that sits on my head.
The most recent workplace incident occurred last week. I was invited to accompany a senior staffer to an event hosted by the Australian Israel Chamber of Commerce. The person making the booking had enquired about kosher catering for one of the attendees. She was told (by an evidently Jewish person at the AICC) that they can’t arrange kosher, but there would be no pork or ham, so it would be OK. I shrugged it off as being expected, but was surprised by the outrage she expressed on my behalf. Her words to me were that she books for me all the time, and never has any problem with venues ordering in kosher. She wanted to know why non-Jewish people will bend over backwards to meet my kosher catering requests, but Jewish people “couldn’t give a stuff about accommodating kosher dietary requests when it concerns a member of their own tribe.”
I had no answer for her, but I find this incident to be typical of a culture shift that is being seen within the Perth Jewish community, and Jewish communities the world over. Organisations with youthful leadership that are growing will happily provide kosher dining options to their members. Some years ago it was difficult to convince Perth Jewish organisations such as Maccabi, the Maurice Zeffert Home, AUJS and others to make their activities and operations kosher. Today they willingly do so as a matter of pride.
So too, younger Jewish professionals are not ashamed of their Jewish identity. More often than not they have the confidence and the pride to be Jewish in the workplace setting. They can maintain their religious standards, discuss issues of Jewish belief, respect and be respected, and be ambassadors for Jewish values.
I too am proud to publicly identify myself as an orthodox Jew by wearing a kippah, which stays on my head when I am behind my desk, at the watercooler, in the shop, and at the annual Christmas party. It keeps me aware that I am judged as a Jew – that my actions will be seen by others as either a Kiddush Hashem or a Chillul Hashem. It is part of who I am – as a person and as an employee it defines what I stand for and the values that I uphold.
I am delighted to see that more and more young Jewish people in Perth are also entering the workforce as observant, kippah adorning Jews.