OPINION: Start working in a non-Jewish office and you realise how different you are

OPINION: Start working in a non-Jewish office and you realise how different you are

Deborah Cirucel
Deborah Cirucel
Deborah Cirucel
Deborah Cirucel

By Deborah Cicurel, Columnist and blogger. You can read more of Deborah’s work HERE, and follow her on Twitter: @DebsCic

Another lunchtime in Pret, woefully gazing at the crayfish salad, chicken wraps and ham croissants I can’t eat.

I never used to mind, probably because having been to a Jewish primary school, secondary school and university (who are we kidding? Birmingham is more Jewish than Yeshiva University), I spent most of my time sampling kosher canapés at weddings, trying not to break plastic forks at J-Soc and pacing up and down Golders Green Road on Saturday nights.

I never knew what I was missing out on, or, like a true sheep, didn’t really mind what I was missing out on as I had so many allies who snubbed the meat at non-kosher barbecues and joined me in munching sadly on salad.

But start working in a non-Jewish office and you realise how different you are.

There was no compulsory bentsching, wearing decrepit T-shirts from Israel tour or adopting the Yom Kippur fashion of donning trainers with everything.

I was working at a glamorous magazine, with hardly any Jews and definitely no communal apple and honey at Rosh Hashanah.

Gone were the celebrations when Succot started and you had eight days off school for no real reason. I had to take hard-earned holiday days from work. No more assuming that everyone knew what ‘kugel’, ‘frummer’ and ‘arriving to shul just in time for kiddush’ meant.

When I said the word ‘aufruf’, people thought I was doing a bad impression of a dog.

I had plenty of non-Jewish friends, who enthusiastically shouted “Amen!” during Friday night dinners and requested we go to Sami’s because “the hummus is better”.

But, suddenly, as the minority in the office, I noticed how impossible it was for me to go one day without mentioning my religion, like some crazed missionary trying to proselytise everyone around me.

I really wasn’t. I just didn’t realise how much of my life revolved around being Jewish.

Whether I was talking about how my mum had embarrassingly confused the words ‘chuppah’ and ‘succah’ in front of my boyfriend, or about how I was going to a bris, or even about how I was craving a shwarma in a laffa with no tahini but lots of tabbouleh, no one could understand me.

It was as if I was speaking another language (which I was!).

I also realised how simple non-Jewish life was.

My colleagues never had to ask unrelenting dietary questions to exasperated waiters; they could go to the pub on Friday nights and date anyone on Tinder.

Imagine a world where you could date anyone, even those who hadn’t had their foreskins removed at eight days old?

My colleagues seemed fascinated by my strange life, and why I was taking two days off to eat cheesecake, daydream in shul and go from meal to meal.

Why not save them, and the other 11 religious days, and go on a big blowout holiday in August? “I wish I could,” I replied, “but unfortunately I need to save those days for fasting, repenting and eating pomegranate.”

Eventually, I began to feel less like the only Jew in the village and more: “Hey, why shouldn’t I talk about the awkward conversation I had with the rabbi about how parmesan isn’t really kosher but, obviously, I’m not actually going to give it up?”

Some people can’t live without mentioning their spinning classes, new car or fixation with Russell Brand.

It just so happens my accidental obsession is based on an ancient faith, with roots thousands of years ago and lots of strange traditions – including hitting your family with leeks on Pesach.

Each to their own.

We Jews have it good.

We get Christmas every Friday, Osem croutons and, clichéd as it sounds, a warm, close community that really cares about each other.

When someone dies, well-wishers flood the shivas, funerals and stone settings.

And while cynics may speculate that these visitors only come for some nosh and a gossip, I believe the way our community looks out for each other is unique.

So when I sit at my desk complaining about how fat I feel after a week of gorging on chocolate-covered matzah, my non-Jewish colleagues tell me how lucky I am to be part of this close-knit, family-orientated, but utterly crazy clique.

And they are right. It’s so worth it.

But I would still love to try a crayfish salad.

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