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Together, but Apart    

Together, but Apart

We the Jewish People are under a giant microscope, scrutinized and monitored - not just on the world’s political stage but in our everyday, seemingly routine, lives…


“Behold!  It is a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations.”Numbers 23:9
I knocked tentatively on the open door.  Robbie and Paul both looked up from their desks and Robbie said: “Hi, Yael, what’s up?”
“I have something I need to discuss with you both….”
It was crunch time.  I had spent the last few months deliberating over whether to keep Shabbat; at the time, I didn’t know very much, just that a Jew shouldn’t work on Shabbat, and a few very general ideas about what to do and not to do. I didn’t feel clever enough to learn such seemingly complex laws and I felt a bit of a fraud to be taking such a drastic step when I really wouldn’t be keeping it properly.
As the only Jewish member of staff there, I had been working happily in the design company for a number of years and recently had started keeping kosher, with some unexpected reactions from my colleagues.  Working in design companies, apart from designing buildings, seemed to involve eating food [and you thought it was just us Jews!], so tea and biscuits/cakes were the order of most days - and whose turn was it to buy. And so I started to say no thanks, until it became apparent to them that there was something more to it than being on a perpetual diet. Eventually I came clean and told them I was becoming more religious and non-kosher food was forbidden to Jews. 
At first my colleagues tried tempting me [or testing me?] and that failed, and then surprisingly they became quite protective; if a new member of staff offered me food, one of my colleagues would shout out you can’t give that to Yael, it’s not kosher! A discussion ensued once amongst some staff about why I couldn’t eat non-kosher biscuits; I’ll be quite frank, at the time I wasn’t so sure myself, and I was relieved when one said they thought it was something to with grains [the 5 grains associated with the Land of Israel].  I smiled sweetly, in a sort of agreement, as I prayed fervently – probably my first hitbodedut without realising it – that someone would change the subject.  And then there was the time I tried discreetly to say Bircat Hamazon [blessing after bread] in an empty conference room at lunchtime; as I was saying it I heard the door open, a voice say oh sorry, and the door close again. When I got back to my desk, one of the designers approached me to apologise for disturbing me while I was praying!
Now, here I was confronting the ultimate challenge for a religious Jew – Shabbat. I had been rehearsing my “speech” for a few weeks: what Shabbat meant for Jews, the concept of creative work, when a Jewish day starts and ends.  My deadline was fast approaching, it was August and not only was Shabbat soon to be coming in earlier on Fridays but also the High Holy Days were also to be upon us and that meant 3 truncated working weeks.  To say I was apprehensive would be an understatement.
I started my speech, watching their faces. They seemed quite attentive; no evidence of dozing off or trying to carry on with their work, hoping I wouldn’t notice. When I finished, Robbie leaned forward and said:
“Just to clarify, are you saying you want to leave early on Fridays?”
“Well, yes,” I said.
“Of course you can, why didn’t you just ask?”
Oh right, I thought, you mean I just gave a Shakespearean soliloquy for nothing!
But, oh joy, as I left their office!
Now, however, I had to explain to the rest of the staff and I wasn’t sure how they’d take it – after all there would be no-one to service their administrative needs every Friday afternoon for the whole winter. I decided that it was easier to send a memo and in order to avoid any confrontations or misunderstandings on Friday afternoons, I typed up a schedule detailing exactly what time I would be leaving every Friday during the winter.  Of course, I made it clear I would be making up the time during my lunch breaks.
And so I started to keep Shabbat; and my confidence grew and with it my expanded knowledge of the Shabbat laws and Torah in general. Occasionally, people would ask me Jewish related questions; sometimes I knew the answer and sometimes not but I learnt never to fudge the issue, and would always say, actually I’m not sure, I’ll try and find out. Incredibly, the work also never seemed to mount up on Friday afternoons and there were no negative comments that I was aware of [of course, I don’t know what they said behind my back!].
On my last day at the company a few years later, as we walked back from my farewell lunch where I was the only one not eating, a designer told me how much she respected the fact that I had not been tempted to eat at the lunch and, later that day, Robbie also said that, as a “lapsed Catholic”, he felt I was doing the right thing living as an observant Jew.
So what are some of lessons I drew from this amazing experience?
That we, the Jewish People, are under a giant microscope where everything is scrutinized and monitored and not just on the world’s political stage but in our everyday, seemingly routine, lives.
That being authentic and consistent at whatever level of observance is essential.
That the gentile world wants a Jew to behave like a Jew, not a non-Jew.
And, that Hashem was, and continues to be, with me every step of the way.

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