Always be true to yourself
Ihad the honour recently of participating in Yeshivat Or Chaim’s annual career day, where former students of the Toronto Orthodox high school speak about what they do and offer tips to soon-to-be graduates.
When it came time for questions, one of the boys (Or Chaim is an allboys school) raised his hand and asked my co-panelists and me about our kippot. Do we take them off at work? And what about observing Shabbat and the Jewish holidays – would that hinder his ability to land a good job? Can you succeed in your chosen profession while also outwardly displaying your religious observance?
My answer to that last question was an emphatic yes. I have worn my kippah in newsrooms across Canada and beyond for my entire career. As far as I know, it has never caused any problems or kept me from being hired. And my employers never balked at the fact that I had to leave early on Fridays (at least in the winter) to get home for Shabbat, or that I needed time off for Jewish holidays no matter how busy things were. I was always up front about my religious requirements, and my employers were always accommodating. (Of course, now that I work at The Canadian Jewish News, none of those issues apply.)
The key, I told the students, is to make it clear that you’re not looking for special treatment – that you are more than willing to make up any time and work you miss. In my case, that often meant working extra hours in the evening, going to the office on Sundays and filling in for my non-jewish colleagues during their holidays.
(I might have added that if Orthodox high schoolers are looking for more proof that religion need not impede their career trajectories, they might look no further than Jared Kushner, senior adviser to his father-in-law, U.S. President Donald Trump. While Kushner does not wear a kippah, he has been very public about being a practising modern Orthodox Jew, and that he does not work on Shabbat. You may or may not agree with his politics, but Kushner is proving that Orthodox Jews can reach the highest levels without having to sacrifice their observance.)
But there was one occasion when I did take off my kippah, I told them. It was back when I was a university student and moonlighting as a writer for a telecom company. I was set to conduct interviews at a well-known company owned and operated by Germans, and as I pulled into the parking lot, I inwardly worried what they might think or do if they saw my kippah. So I took it off and stowed it in the glove compartment before heading in.
I have always regretted that decision, not only because my fears were completely unfounded and the people I was interviewing couldn’t have been nicer, but because I felt like I had betrayed who I am.
And that is perhaps the best lesson I could have offered the Or Chaim students. Above all else, be true to yourself. If you’re willing to do that, everything else will likely work itself out.