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Ask Shifra

Something Different... Answering questions and making curious observations (online) since 2005.

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Sunday, May 28, 2006

Ranking Riddles

Dear Shifra-

I recently began a job as a contract worker. I have been here for three weeks, and among the comments I have received from my boss and managers in the area is that I am doing a great job, and they wonder whether they can clone me so I can continue working here after my contract ends.

However, I am quite confused. I was hired to be a guinea pig for the position, to see if there is a long-term need for the position. I consider myself to be the absolute bottom rung of the totem pole. Yet, last week I was instructed to attend a weekly meeting for managers within the department. During the meeting I was asked to participate, and let them know what is going on in my area. I have an area? I guess I do, although I don't know what constitutes my area.

Today, it went to another level. My boss is out sick. The two art team managers are out right now, one for a meeting and one for some undetermined reason. The manager who just went to a meeting told me that with her gone, the boss gone, the other art team manager gone, all that leaves is me on the floor, and if I see any strangers wandering around here, I should find out what they want. The confusing part about that is what does she mean that I am the only one here. Apparently, between that and the team leadership meeting, which I now attend every week, I am not at the bottom of the totem pole. But how do I find out where I stand on the totem pole without appearing ignorant of my totem pole status?

Sign me,
Dazed and confused at work

Dear Dazed,

Ranking at work can be a very complex puzzle. The organizational charts for most of the companies for most of the companies I've worked for were considered top secret and every division had their own wildly different version.

So let's see what I can discern from your email mail...
Well it looks like you are definitely a "manager" since you are expected at the managers meeting (lucky you!) I should point out that being a manager does not always mean that anyone reports to you. It is quite possible to be a manager with no direct reports- apparently you manage an "area."

Just because you were hired as a test-case it does not mean that you should automatically assume you are the bottom banana, nor should your lack of seniority.

Did you ever find out what "the only one on the floor" meant? Did everyone physically pick up and leave or just the managers?

I think the best thing to do would be to talk to your direct manager or the person that hired you. I would focus on the establishing what your "area" is rather than your rank. Since your postion is only temporary it's more important that you are aware of what is expected of you (so that you can do your job well- something any boss will appreciate) than where you stand on the corporate ladder. Although it can be a strange and sticky situation not knowing where you stand, and sometime you just have to fake it till you make it. Be kind and courteous to everyone from the cleaning crew to the CEO. Don't step on anyone's toes but don't be a doormat either - respect others and respect yourself.
Hopefully you will find your place before you have to vacate it!


Monday, May 22, 2006

Happy Blog-a-Versary to Me!

Although I'd prefer you read the new posts below I had to take a quick second to give a quick shout out to myself and all the readers, commentors, and question sender-in-ers who make this blog such a pleasure for me to write and read!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Good kashrus makes good neighbors

I know this particular question was time sensitive, but hopefully I didn't get to it too late to be of some help.

Dear Shifra,

I became good friends with a woman who moved into my neighborhood here in Israel. Her husband told me that even though they are not observant, they keep kosher so that everyone can eat there. She mentioned that on Passover she keeps her hametz in the refrigerator. I explained to her, as neutrally as possible, that hametz that wasn't sold couldn't be eaten after Passover, and she said she would take care of it. She never mentioned it again. Even if she sold her hametz, which I presume she did, I don't feel comfortable eating there. I imagine there is a lot of halacha that she doesn't know, and I don't want to quiz her about sifting flour or trumot and maaserot. She is hosting a meeting on Monday and most of the women keep kosher. Because I know her best, the other women will be looking at me to see whether I am eating the food, and I know that my friend is planning to cook and bake. Please help me explain tactfully that her food might not get eaten!!!!

-Not The Kosher Police

Dear KP,

You are in a sticky situation and I really don't envy you. It does sound like you are a person with tact and you will need it! You were direct with your friend about the chametz situation and she seems to have responded well to it. The Monday meeting is going to be a tricky situation, in Israel even eating a piece of fruit can be a complicated issue and there will be no way to fake your way out of it. The bad news is that if you are going to be a true friend to this woman you are going to have to talk to her about all of these things.

Remember, she is doing her best and this is not personal.

Let her know that you care about her and you respect her but that keeping kosher is VERY complicated and you don't want her to be hurt when people turn down her Shabbos invitation or pass up her homemade cookies. Offer to learn with her to study the halachot and where they came from. It may be a bit tough at first but it may prove to be an enjoyable activity for both of you.

For now I would encourage her to BUY the food she serves at the meeting until the two of you can figure out how to get her kashrus status up to a level your neighborhood will accept, and please let me know how it turns out - I'm rooting for you!


Conflict Avoidance - The Asparagus Edition

Yes, it's true - I'm a conflict avoider.
I'm a lover not a fighter. I like to help where I can, and stay far far away from where I'm not wanted. I know blogging and commenting is about expressing ideas and opinions and I love that, but I really don't like seeing people get their feelings hurt.

That last post you see below was meant as nothing more than a little joke - a throwaway ha-ha type of post. I had no idea the kind that it would generate the kind of bible quoting, rav accusing, insult hurling, mocking and mock-mocking passion it did. And so I will do what I always do in times of conflict which is to APOLOGISE all around.

Anywho - lesson learned.
Never again will I quote an offline conversation with a reader (even with his/her permission) on my blog. This is the second time I've gotten into trouble for this sort of thing and with me it's usually twice bitten the third time shy (I'm a bit slow sometimes.)

And now back to our regularly scheduled program.

Oh and I almost forgot - I've been dropped from the Treppenwitz blogroll!
Maybe it's because my blog got so depressing and I stopped writing almost entirely for weeks (and I'm sorry about that too!) but seeing my name up there on the big guy's blog when I stopped by for a good read made me very happy while it lasted.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

How the Reform movement really got started

Here's a snip from a conversation I had the other day with a friend of mine who is a Ba'al teshuva with a pretty machmir Rav- we had been talking about vegetables ...
I'm recalling the conversation from memory so the dialog may be a bit off:

N: Oh asparagus - I really miss that.

Shifra: Why don't you eat asparagus?

N: I wouldn't even know how to clean it, our Rav says it's best to avoid it - and lettuce, and broccoli etc.. Frankly it's all getting to be a bit too much for me and my wife.

Shifra: Well if asparagus is what's holding you back from enjoying your yiddishkiet why not just eat it. There are plenty of Rabbanim who allow it. Why should you have to suffer so much to be frum. I say be frum, be happy, eat the asparagus.

N: Isn't that how the reform movement started?

Shifra:*eyes widen* .......

Actually now that I think about it this might have been better in cartoon form but now you know the truth - asparagus always did look a little suspicious to me, now I know why.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Kashrut and Kiddush (not necessarily in that order)

Thanks to everyone who sent in fresh new Ask Shifra questions.
I will attempt to answer them in the order they were recieved.
For customer service press one, for refunds press two, if you'd like this message to repeat press the star key.

Shira Salamone from On the Fringe--Al Tzitzit
sent over this situation for the "ask Shifra" treatment:

Dear Shifra,

Over a decade, ago, we heard that the cost of sponsoring a kiddush (at an area synagogue of which we were not members) consisting of nothing but (if memory serves me correctly) wine, grape juice, soda, challah, and cake was $200. Those strapped for cash couldn't even put out a few boxes of packaged kosher cake from the supermarket in honor of their father's yahrzeit, because everything had to be done by the synagogues's resident kosher caterer.

Here's the dilemma: A synagogue wishes to be more inclusive, concerned that, if the only meals permitted are those provided by a kosher caterer, many of the less-well-off congregants will be excluded. Those who would like to sponsor a kiddush or attend synagogue dinners (especially those with several children) will be unable to afford to do so. So the synagogue allows members to cook in its kitchen and/or bring in food prepared in their home kitchens, provided that they follow a list of kashrut rules. In either case, there is no rabbinical supervision, and, therefore, no real guarantee that kashrut will be maintained. Question: Is there a way to guarantee kashrut without excluding people with limited budgets?

Well, that is a dilemma isn't it!
How does a shul keep their kitchen kosher and still keep things affordable for their membership?
I personally know of several cases in which friends of mine with very limited funds were forced to pay more for rabbinic supervision of their simcha than the cost of the food itself which is not right. Still, a shul needs to decide on and adhere to a standard of kashrut, and while it's very nice to "trust" your membership to do the right thing the margin for error can be very high.

I've thought it over and I have two possible solutions.
Neither one is perfect but both are workable.

1) Use an onsite mashgiach instead of a caterer.
While it's true that kosher supervision is not free, the hourly rate charged by a competant mashgiach (as determined by the shul) may not be as overwhelming as what a caterer might charge. As long as the food is cooked in the shul kitchen under the watchful eye of the mashgiach everything should be just fine. Anyone cooking in that kitchen, however, will need to be informed of the shul's standards of kashrut and must agree to comply 100% with whatever the mashgiach requests.
Being a mashgiach is not alway the easy a gig it sounds like. I had a few stints as one in my youth and people can be VERY touchy when you try to tell them something is not kosher when they believe it is. "But it's a BAGEL! How can a BAGEL not be kosher!!?" Ahem...

2) Serve packaged foods in their packages.
Ok I know that sounds SUPER tacky but it's cheap and it works - certainly for a kiddush if nothing else. I don't think anyone can say anything bad about boxes of coffee cake and donuts, served with plastic knives and containers of orange juice.

Want to take it up a notch?

How about a bowls of fresh fruit, uncut or even sliced with a shul knife in the shul kitchen? Same for vegetables... I think we can trust everyone to cut up a pepper without treifing up the place.
Lox can served in it's packaging, bagels in the marked bags they came in etc..

Dinner would be a lot harder I agree I'd have to really think about that one. Clearly kosher takeout from an acceptably kosher restaurant could be an option but that may be pricey too depending on what is available in your area.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Back to Business

Things are still settling down at the Ask Shifra ranch - my background check for the new job is nearing completion. I've done everything they asked including digging up 7 year old paystubs for a now defunct company I used to work for and peeing into a cup to prove I'm not a drug user- good times, good times.
I had no idea that going to work for the C.I.A... ummm... ahem.... I mean some company that's certainly NOT the C.I.A.... was going to be so complicated!

But enough about me and my carreer! Let's get back to business the business of you sending me your questions and me answering them in my reasonable yet humorous style.

Drop me a line at Shifraq@gmail.com - operators are standing by!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

So far so good!

Thanks for all your great comments below!
I hope to respond to them soon.

So far things are looking good. I got the offer letter in the mail (not withstanding my confessions) and as soon as my background check is complete I will give two week's notice and moooooove on.
I've been working on my resignation speech and have already ruled out the following expressions:
"In your FACE!"
"Na na na na nahhhhh..."
"So long Suckers"
and the Simpson's classic "Smell you later!"

As for now- right now I have a migraine. I don't get them too often and I know looking at the screen isn't going to be much help but while I had a free moment I wanted to check in and let you know I'm still alive and employed!


Sunday, May 07, 2006

Some kinda idiot?

As my regular readers know, I have been spending most of my spare time (of which there is less and less these days) looking for a new job.

A few hours before shabbos I was called with a job offer.
My first and second interview with company X had gone very well and I had expected (ok hoped) that they would call.
Although the job and the company seemed really good I had some worries particularly about the length of the commute (an easy hour, no public transportation) and the "Shabbos factor" which would be compounded by the distance.
To put it into fake mathematical terms:

D(distance from the office to my home) * SF (the shabbos factor) - S (the current season) = P (the amount of problems I will face being an orthodox Jew while job hunting.)

Since it's spring going into summer this is an ideal time for a an orthodox Jew to look for work. But it still worried me, as did the length of the commute over all.

So in my head I devised a list of conditions which I would haggle over if I was offered the job:
Better pay, decent hours, 3 weeks vacation, etc...

And wouldn't you know it?! They offered me all that without my even opening my mouth!
A 37.5 hour work week?! I didn't even know that existed!

So when the HR lady asked me if I had any concerns before they went ahead with the background check I had nothing to say... so like a moron I mentioned Shabbos.
I was pretty blase about it really, like just to let you know blah, blah blah, no problem... but now of course I'm worried that it will be the deal breaker.

So now I'm nervous and feeling a little stupid too.
Think good thoughts for me, this could be the start of something good, if I haven't killed it before it started. I've had about a 50% sucess rate in being open about shabbos before accepting a job. I'm interested to hear how any of you have handled the Shabbos factor when job hunting. Please share!

I've missed you all. Hopefully once this job search is through I'll have more time to crank up the old Ask Shifra advice machine again!