Here We Are

In 2016, I was sitting in my masters class eagerly awaiting a guest speaker that had come in to discuss Canada’s approach to foreign policy. Around that time, Canadians had swung their long-standing Conservative Harper votes to the Liberal Trudeau government.

As I sat among my peers of fellow future policy advisors in what is considered Canada’s leading academic institution, the guest speaker enthusiastically opened with the following line:

“Well now that the Harper days are finally over, there will be no more raising our hands and singing “I love Israel!” Boom. Didn’t open with discussions about Canada’s tricky relations with China or Saudi Arabia, nope. Israel. He must have been waiting the entire Harper decade to unleash that sentiment.

No one batted an eye about his anti-Israel, anti-Jewish, comment. No one but me. You know how in the movies there are these really dramatic scenes of people standing up for themselves? Well my version consisted of me leaving all my stuff and marching out in the middle of his talk which sadly looked more like I was just going to the bathroom. But I walked out, I was angry. I once read that you regret the moments you stayed silent a lot more than the things you said.

So here’s what I never said to that man. And here’s to all the emerging antisemites feeling brave in the West.

People like you have long hated us, and here we are.

But not just people. Entire civilizations have tried to erase us, and here we are.

And not just ancient civilizations, modern leaders. Smart and educated people have tried to obliterate us, and here we are.

And when all of that was happening, nations turned us away, and here we are.

The world failed us, and here we are.

Today countries despise us, and here we are.

The media censors us, and here we are.

But wait. We’re not just here. Not just existing.

We are outnumbered but far from overpowered.

We are educated. Brilliant.

We are successful. Philanthropic.

Small. But mighty.

Oh sorry, is this all too much? Are these all the very things you hate about us?

Would you like us to simmer down? Be more humble? Take off our kippas? Practice quietly? Be less successful, less brilliant, less educated? Throw away our iron dome, take off our uniforms? Put our hands down and stop singing “I love Israel?”

Maybe once upon a time one of you antisemites could have temporarily made us. Even tried to destroy us. And yet, here we are.

Here to stay.

I hope you’re okay with it, because even if you’re not, you never beat us. Nope, not once. Not ever.

Sincerely,

Sarit

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Our first weeks in Israel

We are six weeks into our move to Israel. Here are the highlights in a nutshell.

Israeli Bureaucracy

It’s everything you’ve heard about, and more. You book an appointment on a super advanced app only to arrive at a location that no longer exists. When you get to the right place, the lines can be so long that men use their time wisely and pull our their shavers to trim their beards right next to you (true story).

Finally, they set up your ID number, take your fingerprints and then throw obscure security questions at you that make you wonder what about you they don’t already know. That ID number becomes your single most important piece of information and you need it everywhere, ie., while filling up for gas and buying furniture.

National Security

A mere two weeks into our move we got a taste of Israel in a state of emergency. It was a bit scary. For a whole day we stayed in and I kept my shoes on in case of a siren. The next day, things seemed to have calmed down and we came out of our hibernation blinded by the sun. We then went to have lunch at a delectable Italian restaurant above which the day before the mighty iron dome intercepted a rocket. The restaurant was so busy, you would have never guessed. People here love to live (and eat).

Food

Amazing. The food scene is out of control and after weeks of eating out we must now go on a diet. The other day we went to a bakery where one rogallach turned into five other danishes. When the cashier asked if we wanted anything warmed up we shamefully replied, “all of it.”

Weather

Incredible. We’ve been to the beach and on a mini getaway to explore Israel’s northern wineries. We sat outside sipping wine and eating goat cheese. Meanwhile, the soup festival has begun. Apparently, it’s winter here.

Language

I’ve whipped out more Hebrew in the last few weeks than I have in years. Zvi is totally using his school-taught Hebrew and is doing great, except for the time where one government office was closed and he told the receptionist that we were told to come if it’s really “dafuk.” He meant to say “dachuf” aka urgent. What he said was more akin to the word “f*cked.”

The People

We were causally walking on Friday, when a car on the road suddenly stopped and a young woman started yelling to me. I was sure she was asking me for directions until it registered that she was asking me where I got my jacket from. Yep, she stopped traffic to find out. I yelled back “Zara!” to which she replied “from this year?!” Nope, from last year’s season, sorry. She thanked me and drove off. I couldn’t decide if she was crazy or confident. Probably a little of both, #onlyinisrael.

But I’m pretty sure I’ve figured out where Israelis get their confidence from. As kids they are swooned over by every single stranger and passerby. Israelis are especially obsessed with babies. Like obsessed. So far one cashier had me pull out my phone to video her making Ami laugh, and one worker at a car dealership claimed Ami was reaching for him (he doesn’t reach for people yet) and took him out of my arms and for a walk to peek at the cars. Our little guy has no stranger danger and went happily. After a few minutes, us Canadians politely asked for our son back.

Simply put, children here are treated like royalty. They skip all the lines, get free goodies and are adored by all. People rush out of the way when they see me coming with the stroller. Children are unequivocally the most important little beings in the country.

In summary, the last few weeks have been very eventful. Last week we were finally reunited  with our beds as our boat of furniture arrived. We’ve moved into our new place and community and are slowly settling in. I’m still pinching myself. This is real.

Till next time!

Sarit, the working yid, on mat leave, now living in Israel.

P.S. Turns out Ami looks exactly like the bamba baby.

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Why I’m Moving to Israel

When I was six years old and living in Israel I would take the public bus to school along with all the other independent little Israelis. One morning I got a late start and the thought of walking into class last made me cringe (still does). And so, as I rode the bus that day, I made a hasty but calculated decision to “miss” my stop so that I would have a valid excuse for my tardiness. Proud of my quick thinking, I watched excitedly as the bus drove right past my school. But as you can imagine, the more stations that went by the more I began to slowly regret my decision. Before I knew it, all the passengers had disembarked and I found myself alone at the back of an empty bus as it arrived at the central station.

As per a routine check at the final stop, a female soldier scoured the seats for any “suspicious” objects that may have been left behind. Low and behold, she came upon a (fake) sleeping little girl and called the driver over immediately. I pretended to wake up confused and disoriented and told them both I had fallen asleep (the cover had to stay consistent). What happened next is one of my fondest childhood memories.

The driver, excited about having a mini companion, asked if I was interested in experiencing a bus wash. (If you love a good car wash, put this on your bucket list.) Thrilled, I accepted the offer. The driver put me to work and gave me the important task of helping to roll up all the windows. One by one, we made sure they were sealed shut.

As we drove in, torrential waters and enormous buckets of soap soaked the bus. I sat with my tiny forehead pressed against the window and watched as gigantic spinning brushes scrubbed the sides at incredible speed. The thrashing sound was terrifying yet exhilarating. I was mesmerized. With our squeaky-clean bus, the driver then picked up a grape juice for me and insisted on buying me a sandwich, which I politely declined (not too shy to fake sleep, too shy to accept lunch). In the meantime, he had called my mother and said “Don’t worry, I have your daughter! I’m bringing her home.”

Yup he ditched his whole route that morning and drove me all the way home to my grateful yet perplexed mother. Needless to say, I did not make it to school that day.

Shortly after, my family moved to Canada. I’ve been here for 22 years. The first two years, I barely spoke a word, trying to digest a new language and new people. Since then, I have grown up, met my husband, got a degree and then a masters, began a career in government policy, set roots and started a family. I have so much I am grateful to Canada for. So many people that I love here – family, friends, colleagues. So much I am leaving behind.

But now, as I look at our adorable and playful son, I think to myself what it is that I truly want for him. And this is how I can sum it up:

As he grows up, I want him to sit in the sukka in the sun, not snow. I want him to feel spring in the air on Pesach, and feel Chanukah in December. I want his holidays to feel like vacation, not take vacation to observe his holidays. I want him to watch the trees bloom, not die, on tu’bshvat, I want his Jewish education to be a right, not a privilege, and I just want him to be able to eat, anytime, anywhere. I want his identity to be in sync with where he lives. I don’t just want him to be accommodated, I want him to belong.

As I look back on my six year old self, I have wondered many times how a quiet little girl was more concerned about her botched plan of having a legitimate excuse for being late to school than afraid of being alone on a public bus as it drove further away from her home.

I could only ever think of one answer: subconsciously or otherwise, I had to have known that I was going to be okay, that somehow I’d make it back to my destination, that anyone on that bus would’ve treated me like their daughter the way that bus driver had.

Today, I recognize that this confidence in the people around me didn’t come from something I was taught at home or at school, it runs in my veins. It is the intrinsic Jewish experience that connects us all to one another. It’s seeing a fellow Jew in an otherwise foreign place and feeling instantly familiar. It’s being part of a nation (or religion, or a culture or a people, whichever way you choose to look at it), that has a few thousand years of a shared history under its belt, that still speaks an ancient language, and that has come out shining from the darkest of places. It’s a nation that after 2000 years, finally, no longer has to wander.

And so 22 years later, I’m getting back on that bus.

I’m going home.

Sincerely,

Sarit

sarit child

12 Tips for Travelling as an Orthodox Jew

We just got back from Curacao with our little one (yay for being on maternity leave and going away three weeks before the holiday season). We love to travel but like with most things, being an orthodox Jew adds a layer of consideration.  Here are my top 12 tips for travelling as an Orthodox Jew (based on personal experience).

Tip #1: Go Hungry or Go Home

Or go to Miami. But seriously, if you don’t want to miss out on some of the world’s most incredible places,  be prepared to eat lots of granola bars, a gross amount of double wrapped salmon, cold vacuum packed meals, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

If you’re feeling comfortable with the idea, find a vegan place (and pretend to love it).

Tip #2: Find the nearest Chabad.

To be honest, we’ve had better meals in Peru than in Toronto. Just try not to think about the fact that your schnitzel was slaughtered on site.

Pro tip: if you want to make sure there will be a chabad house, go to destinations that Israelis travel to, e.g., Thailand, or follow South America’s “Hummus Trail.”

Tip #3: Don’t bother explaining the concept of double wrapped fish in places that have never heard of kosher (or religion). We tried explaining it in Cuba, what we got was not just a piece of fish, but a work of art. The fish was finely wrapped in layers of foil. Shaped as a swan. Took the chef an hour to put together. The fish itself was cold and inedible. A hefty tip was still expected, of course.

Tip #4: If going on a cruise, always request to be seated at a table for 2 (or however big your group is). There simply won’t be enough room at the table with all that foil for fellow cruise passengers to enjoy their meals. It’s anyway not conducive to making friends. Either way, act normal.

Pro tip: when they show you the menu of all the kosher apps, mains and desserts, remember not to choose the cheese cake dessert with the roast beef main.

Tip #5: When it comes to Shabbat and the obvious modern hurdle of needing electronic keys to get into your room, pre-arrange with your hotel that whenever you come to them on Saturday and ask to be let into your room, they sort of know why.

Pro tip: try to explain that the dimmed lights/those you want off are just for your Sabbath, not for every day. Otherwise they might think that you weirdly like to have the mood set at all times.

Tip #6: If you ask your Bed and Breakfast to have someone meet you at the gate at 5pm to let you in from your shabbat walk – don’t be late. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself stranded on a sidewalk, lurking like a creep.

Tip #7: If you visit a European city (i.e., Paris) with high security at Jewish sites and wish to go to synagogue on Friday evening, again, don’t be late. The guards will turn you away rather aggressively.

Tip #8: Sad but true, consider taking off your yarmulke in destinations such as the above.

Tip #9: …But if heading to a kosher restaurant, no need to go to with your baseball cap, we all know you’re from Borough Park.

Tip #10: If out on Shabbat, better to rely on the three stars to let you know shabbat is over instead of asking strangers who don’t speak English what the time is and getting it wrong. It’s like breaking your Yom Kippur fast 10 minutes before it’s over. So unfortunate.

Pro tip: Bring a working watch, (but seriously who has one these days?).

Tip #11: There is almost no place in the world that doesn’t have some kind of Jewish history (#wanderingJew). It’s worth looking up when you’re there. You’re bound to meet a fellow yid and brush up on your favourite game – Jewish geography.

Tip #12: Don’t let being an Orthodox Jew stop you from seeing this beautiful world. And without eating out, you’ll do it at a fraction of the cost.

Sincerely,

The working yid on mat leave

 

Names ‘R’ Us

I’ve been thinking a lot about names lately. Anyone who’s seen me recently can probably guess why. For the rest of you, I’m carrying around a big belly and it’s getting close!

So as we’ve been entertaining names, these have been our considerations: Do we give our child a Jewish, but easy-to-pronounce, name? A Jewish, not-so-easy to pronounce name (because what the heck we like the name)? Or a Jewish and an English name? And if we do give two names, which one would we call the baby by?

You see where I’m going with this – typical diasporic dilemmas for the Modern Orthodox yid.

One time my husband Zvi (pronounced Tss Vee?) introduced himself to a lab partner in university as John, and his Asian peer introduced himself as Steve. As the prof went down the list and neither John nor Steve were called out, Zvi turned to the guy and said “my name is not really John” to which Steve responded “my name is not really Steve…” Ng and Zvi had a good laugh. Despite our multicultural and diverse setting here in Canada, the desire to not stand out seems to cross cultures and religions.

I have some friends that are known by their Hebrew name in their social circles, but at work they go by their English name. Hence if these worlds were to collide, it might get a bit confusing. I also know a lot of people who don’t have a given English name, but nevertheless make one up for their job, or at least when they go to Starbucks. And some just go by their Hebrew name and, if needed, correct people until they get it right.

My theory is that the Jewish naming convention largely depends on the generation and era.

Our grandparents’ generation suffered a historical trauma that led them to call their children by gentile names in order to discreetly blend into society. But it seems like our parents’ generation reclaimed the Jewish pride, and with much less to fear, reversed the trend and called their children by Hebrew names (i.e., Rosalie and Alan had Zvi, and Colette and Joe had Sarit) in line with the Jewish concept that “when the Jews were enslaved in Egypt, they kept their Hebrew names.” Perhaps to prevent assimilation, to keep their spirit alive, or both.

But now, as the generation who has entered university and the workplace with our sometimes difficult-to-pronounce Hebrew names, many of us contemplate calling our children by English names, not necessarily out of a desire to “blend in” (although this might play a factor) but for the practical reason that having an English name in university or in the workplace is just simply easier to go by.

Personally, at work I always go by Sarit (sometimes confused for Sayrit), my one and only Israeli/Hebrew name. And yet, here I am contemplating names for the next generation as I once again try to consider how to strike a balance between the modern and the orthodox.

Till next time!

-Sarit, the Working Yid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frantic Fridays

After running like a maniac I finally made it on the train at 3:20pm. I left 20 minutes after I was supposed to leave. And, as you know, on a Friday, every minute counts…

I had sat in the meeting like a cool cucumber ‘casually’ checking my phone: 3:03 3:05 3:09. Okay that’s it. I hate to do it but I collect my things and mouth to my boss – I got to run! I slip out of the meeting, run to my desk and do a final check in my email. Sh*t. Director just asked for something. I quickly get to it. It’s not my best work but I got to go so I copy my manager and ship it off as is. My manager sees my last email and responds: Thanks! Now go home! She knows about my Sabbath. Meanwhile the texts and calls start coming from Zvi asking if I’ve left yet. I finally pick up the phone and promise – I’m leaving in a minute! I grab my stuff and skedaddle.

I dash to the subway. Literally run, in my winter coat and hat and with uneaten lunch flying out of the bag but I don’t care, my Sabbath is calling.

Luckily, the subway is at the platform, but doors are about to close. I shove myself in. I find myself sitting down next to two chassidic teens. They’re praying fervently. Good, I think to myself, pray that there shall be no delays.

Zvi picks me up from the station, it’s 3:45. We drive home. Traffic is a killer, but even more so when you think you might have to get out and walk the rest of the way (true story). We’re glad that we bought takeout for Shabbat the night before, because by the time we get home, ain’t nobody got time to cook. On the way, we swing in at my in-laws for our matzah ball soup and kugel (it’s tradition). We barely say hello and with one foot out the door, we take our goods and dash.

We get home, it’s 4:15. A chaotic routine ensues:

We’ve got 15 minutes to tidy/prep/ shower. We even turn on Jewish music to get in the groove but we’re stressed AF. I yell to Zvi –  Is the hot plate on? The fridge light off? He yells back, which lights do we want on?! And don’t forget the urn!  We make a great team, fast and efficient if I may say so myself. We decide that the dishes that aren’t done will have to sit in the dishwasher. Zvi  sets up the candles while I run to take a three-minute shower. I throw on a dress and a hat on my soaking wet hair. I’ve got thirty senconds left to light.  I turn off the music, the computer, my phone. I light the candles and then everything

 

stops.

 

Till next time!

–  Sarit, the Working Yid

P.s. If you’re wondering what the fuss is all about and why I leave work early on Fridays, check out the answer to question #2 of my Top Ten FAQs post

5 Things I Learned from Another Jewish Holiday Season at Work

1. September is the time of year I discover all the other Yids

My organization has about 64,000 employees. I’m pretty certain I know all five orthodox Jews. So when Rosh Hashannah comes around, all the other yids (secular or otherwise) join in taking time off to celebrate the High Holidays. And I get very excited.

Just a couple of days before Yom Kippur, I attended a meeting with representatives from across Canada. Back in August when the dates were being proposed, a manager sent an email to a large group of people noting that when organizing the September meeting, we would need to be mindful that the timing doesn’t conflict with important Jewish holidays. I couldn’t believe my luck. Another Yid had flagged the holidays, and for the first time ever, that Yid wasn’t me.

2. No matter how gently you word that email about your upcoming religious holidays, no one is truly prepared for the sporadic nature and length of the Jewish holiday season

Basically, when letting people at work know that I’ll be taking a few days off for religious holidays in September and October, I should really warn that I’ll be in and out of the office for four straight weeks. But I don’t frame it like that, for obvious reasons.

I swear that by the time I reminded everyone about the last stretch of holidays, every single colleague and my boss had the same look on their face that said “Holy sh*t, another one?!” Yep. Another one. But then smooth sailing till Passover, I promise.

3. Literally no one knows what Sukkot is

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are pretty well known. But when it comes time to Sukkot, I get blank stares. It all seems so normal to me – until I’m asked to elaborate.

“So, we build a hut, or Tabernacle, in the backyard, decorate it, eat in it…”  Do you sleep in it? “Actually, some people do.” What’s it made of?  “Some make it out of canvas, some out of wood, the ceiling is made of bamboo or branches, or wood, but whatever you do, you must be able to see the stars.”

So kind of like a yurt? Or a tent?

“Uh-huh.”

And then, when I’m back at work on Chol Hamoed, I try to explain that the holiday is not exactly over yet and that I can come to work on these ‘in-between’ days until the ‘second days’ begin. More blank stares. I purposely don’t mention the citrus fruit and the whacking of willow branches.

4. The biggest misconception about the holiday season is that we are basking in the relaxation of a series of extended long weekends

I may run a vacation day deficit by the time the religious holidays wrap up, but I hardly consider the holidays a vacation. All those vacation days used up, and I don’t even step outside of my neighborhood.

The month of extended long weekends really looks like this: We begin with New Years, aka two days of intense personal reflections and about five hours a day in synagogue, followed by large hours-long meals. Up next, we fast for 25 hours, and clock in about 15 hours in synagogue. Then for two days straight we sit and eat in our huts (plus more synagogue) and repeat the pattern the following week (minus the hut). This doesn’t include the Shabbats and super condensed work weeks in between, the food prep, rotating between family, in-laws and friends and building the actual hut. No festivals or fireworks on these holy days…There is, however, plenty of alcohol. But not for New Year’s eve.

So, when a fellow orthodox colleague messages me right after the holiday season ends to say – “it’s over!” I realize many of us share the sentiment that this is not exactly a month of vacationing. Quality time/introspection? Yes. Vacation – nope.

5. In the words of a fellow working Yid: “During the holiday season you work twice as hard, but still look like you’re always MIA”

The challenge for those of us who grew up in a Jewish bubble didn’t start in the workplace. It had already manifested itself in university. Holidays were filled with missed consecutive classes, make-up exams and a general feeling of disorientation. To be a high performer, you had to work twice as hard within ridiculous time constraints. Work, it turns out, is not that different. The expectation to deliver is not lessened by the notion of religious practices.

As a result, some people start their day at 7:00am and work evenings and Sundays to catch up on work. Unfortunately, regardless of how much time you put in outside of working hours, sporadic absences still deem you, for the most part, MIA for a month.

And so…“Yes, the holidays are awkward, uncomfortable and difficult at work – but so what? Does that mean I shouldn’t be orthodox?” Said a friend over the holidays. I concur. Optics and all, I’ll take it.

Happy New Year to all:)

Till next time!

Sarit, the Working Yid

 

 

 

 

 

My Vacation Complex

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If you’re orthodox like me, I can guarantee, you’ve already pulled out your handy dandy Jewish calendar to the months of September/October and made the grim calculation of how many vacation days you will have left once the holiday season passes.

By now you’ve likely also drafted that awkward email to your boss outlining the infinite number of religious holidays you’ve got lined up in the next few weeks and sprinkling phrases like “I won’t be accessible by email or phone” and “apologies for any inconvenience.” Yup, you will soon be using your vacation credits to pray, fast, eat, and sit in a makeshift hut in your backyard.

This year’s line-up includes: New Year – Monday/Tuesday; Fast of Atonement – random Wednesday; Holiday of the Huts – Monday/Tuesday/Monday/Tuesday.

To put it in perspective, every year I accumulate 15 vacation days. Every year I have 13 religious holidays. Luckily, my organization is kind enough to offer two days of ‘compassionate leave’ where I get to check off religious accommodation. Yes, it’s actually listed up there with bereavement. Either way, I’ll take all the sympathy I can get.

So that means to take time off for a real vacation I have to ask for unpaid, and for a twenty-something that’s a hit I’m not… (who am I kidding it’s a hit I’m totally willing to take). But I have to say it’s not the asking for unpaid vacation that makes me cringe. It’s asking for vacation, period.

I’ve been struggling with this vacation complex since the day I started my career. This complex comes in many forms. Once, during one of my holidays, I developed a wisdom tooth infection (nothing hurts like a toothache). After all my absences there was no way I was taking a sick day, so I showed up to work high off antibiotics and promptly scheduled my wisdom teeth surgery for the next statutory holiday. Speaking of sick days, I’ve accumulated about 30 over the last two years, because, well, I just don’t take any.

I’m also the first to volunteer to be around during Christmas, and I’m the only one around all summer long, so much so that I’m constantly being asked if I’m taking any time off. Oh no, not me. I’m busy saving up my days to go to synagogue. When I do ask for time off, I tend to keep it short. Last year we went all the way to Peru. We had the most amazing 6 days.

It’s not like anyone would care if I took a vacation. But I can’t shake the feeling of wanting to overcompensate for my sporadic absences where my colleagues are left to pick up the slack on my files just in time for me to return and leave again. Not to mention the early Fridays that last all winter long where I undoubtedly come across as the privileged one. You see, I’m almost always concerned about optics.

So you can imagine how awkward I felt asking for vacation time to go to a wedding abroad this November, merely a month after the holiday season ends. I’d like to think that the fact that I even asked shows I’ve come a long way. I may be an Orthodox yid with some peculiar scheduling demands, but what the heck, I still want to travel.

Till next time!

Sarit, the Working Yid

 

My Homeland, a.k.a the Elephant in the Room

sarit and Israeli Flag

Sometimes being an Orthodox Jew in the workplace goes beyond the awkwardness of keeping kosher, early Fridays, and an endless array of religious holidays. Sometimes, it comes with the tension of saying the word

Israel.

Yeah, I’d say it can be pretty contentious. Especially when it gets news coverage (i.e. always).

Whenever I say I’m from there, am going there or have family there, I almost always get a reaction. It’s usually a conversation starter or stopper. Here’s an example of a conversation starter.

One of my awesome colleagues once dated a Jewish kid from Forest Hill. Fast forward and she’s in a serious relationship with a Palestinian. She jokes that her ex would fall over.

But this is not where the story gets interesting. Her current boyfriend could really care less about the conflict and thinks everyone should just calm down and be friends we’re family after all! No, the story gets interesting when she tells me that her boyfriend’s grandmother was an Israeli Jew who fell in love with a Palestinian. Neither family was pleased, but their love story persisted. Today there’s even a hotel named after her in Jerusalem as a symbol of bridging differences. Yes, I ask if it’s his maternal grandmother, but nope. Would’ve been a great twist though!

So as we’re discussing our mutual, although distinct, connection to the Holy Land, I keep getting stumped because the whole time she’s referring to it as Palestine while I refer to it as, well, Israel. Until we finally awkwardly conclude that we’re referring to the same place. We’re clearly associated with different circles. But given that she first dated a Jew and then a Palestinian she tells me that for the longest time she thought that Israel and Palestine were two separate countries at war. She’s still not sure what she’s supposed to be calling it. So then we get talking borders and green lines, the conflict. I recommend Fauda. There’s a love story there too.

But anyway, that was a very civil and fascinating conversation about Israel and since I’m surrounded by some pretty amazing colleagues, that tends to be the norm. I do, on occasion, get weird looks like oh, why would you go to a war-torn country on vacation?

Once though, while Trump was making his big embassy announcement, some public servants couldn’t resist engaging in hushed political talks. These whispers happened to be taking place on the other side of my cubicle wall (cubicles are a complete facade of privacy). Anyway, I’m hearing familiar anti-Israel rhetoric. How horrible and unethical Israelis are, senselessly killing innocent people left and right. And my heart starts to pound. I suddenly feel uncomfortable in my seat. A realization hits me that I just don’t know what coworkers around me are thinking.

I want to hear every word so I fully press my ear against the wall. But the whispers get quieter, it’s so darn hushed. I want to get up and tell them that that there’s an Israeli citizen on the other side of their wall. But I freeze up. I should be able to, I live in Canada after all – the land of milk and maple! And yet an inner voice tells me, better to coast under the radar than to stand up and defend my country.

I’m not looking to change anyone’s opinion. I’m just looking to come to work with the hope that the fact that I was born in Jerusalem, the most contested piece of land on the planet, has no bearing whatsoever on how people perceive me. Ha, seeing it in writing makes me realize – it might just be too much to ask for.

And so, I move on with my day. A little disheartened, a little uncomfortable, but hey it’s a Friday so I leave early anyway.

Also, I think I strained my neck from eavesdropping.

Till next time!

Sarit, the working Yid

My Big Fat Awkward Networking Story

So, I work for the government.

As you can imagine, it’s a huge organization. But it’s kind of a very small world. Like any workplace who you know is, well, everything. So by the time I finished my Masters, like any new grad, I was already ingrained with the whole “network, network, network” thing. People absolutely swore by it. Some of the advice I got was:

Go for coffees. With everyone.

When your team goes out to lunch, go. When another team in your branch goes out to lunch, go.

Socials? Go.

Holiday parties? GO.

You get the point.

So when my boss asked me last year if I was interested in representing my branch at an annual gala dinner, an “excellent networking opportunity”…

I went.

I put down my dietary restriction as kosher. And this is how my night went down.

As evening rolled around, I stepped into a grand and elegant downtown hotel banquet hall. Low and behold suited and ball-gowned individuals were strolling around sipping champagne. And I mean EVERY single one of them was sipping champagne.

To blend or not to blend? That is the question.

I approached the bar and asked for a sex on the beach, more kosher than champagne I figured. The bartender was so taken aback by my request that I quickly ditched the glass and figured better to walk around empty handed than with a mixed drink.

After lots of handshaking and some mingling, I took my assigned seat at a table among ten senior managers. Moments later, someone approached our table and asked for Ms. Sarit Steinfeld.

“That’s me…”

“Please follow me.”

I followed into the kitchen, like a school kid in trouble.

“We wanted to show you your kosher meal for tonight. As you can see, there has been no cross contamination. We’ll bring it to your table as soon as the first course is served.”

I stared. In front of me were three stacked aluminium trays wrapped in layers of foil and saran wrap. On top was an assortment of paper plates, napkins, and a plastic fork and knife.

I cringed.

“Is there any way you can take the food out of the package and bring me one course at a time?” I awkwardly begged.

“No can do.  We’re under strict orders not to tamper with the package. You’re the only one who can open it to remove the food.” (COR for the win).

And so, I returned to the table, anxiety rising along with dread. The food began to arrive and alas so did my quarantined goods. My china plate was swiftly taken away and replaced by a paper one.

As the others commenced eating the first course in style, I began to unravel the layers of foil. After much effort and a mountain of mess later, I finally found my appetizer. As I sat there, feeling the corner-of-the-eye stares from my tablemates, I seriously wondered what kind of self-control it took the other guests from asking “WTF kind of allergy condition do you have?”

Luckily, I live in Canada. So everyone stared. No one asked. And I didn’t volunteer.

Then I broke every classy rule in the book.

Yup. Piece by piece I disposed the foil and placed my other courses by my feet. Whenever I felt like eating more, although I had mostly lost my appetite, I dug clumsily in the dimly lit hall and felt under the table for what I thought was the salad, or was it the salmon? Sh*t. That was his foot. My apologies, sir!

While everyone commented on their juicy steak, I played with my cold food. The rest of the night I took small bites, smiled at all the right moments of people’s speeches, and literally bailed the second I could. And yes, I’m ashamed to say it, but whoever cleaned up that night had a surprise waiting for them under the table.

Needless to say, it was not my most glorious career moment. Good thing I’ve got time to learn how to look classy eating out of foil while rubbing elbows with distinguished bureaucrats.

In the meantime, when it comes to networking, I try to stick to coffee…

Till next time!

Sarit, the working yid