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

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