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Ask Shifra

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

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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

No Lunch for Weinstein

Via Email-
Here's a serious question for you:

My non-Jewish boss has invited my coworkers and I out for lunch. Although I'm friendly with my coworkers, I don't talk to them about my personal life, and my religious habits have never come up. I feel like I can't turn down the invitation without being rude, and I plan to go but am not sure how to go about not ordering, or even ordering just some greens or fruit. What's the best way to broach the kosher issue without making me seem like a backward fundamentalist ?

(Note: I am currently living outside the greater NY region, where orthodox
Jews are relatively rare.)

This is a question I've had to deal with many times myself. I also grew up far from New York where keeping kosher was unheard of. If you are an Orthodox Jew working in an non-Jewish environment matters of religion are bound to come up eventually either because of dietary issues or because of days off required for Shabbos and Jewish holidays. I don't think it's something you will be able to keep secret forever but I think you can show your hand a bit without turning it into a major event. There will probably be a few questions because people are curious but I don't think it will view the way they view you overall or for very long (people have short attention spans and even shorter memories.)

Since you have already decided you will go to lunch with your co-workers you have a few options:

#1 If you live in an area where there are kosher eateries (that are not embarrassing to take co-workers to) see if you can get them to go some place you can eat. I've found most people I've worked with are very open to trying new "ethnic" foods. You can suggest this as something interesting or vaguely hint at your eating preferences.

#2 Go along to the non-kosher restaurant - Once you get there though, things will get tricky. Even eating a salad or fruit in a non-kosher restaurant is very questionable depending on your level of observance (I'd ask your local Rabbi if you don't know where you stand on this issue.)
Most people would agree that having a soda or water would be fine but there will be no hiding the fact that you are not eating anything while your co-workers pack it in. When an explanation is called for be brief but confident, something like "Because of my restrictive diet eating out doesn't work for me" Or "I'm on a kosher diet, but I'm just here for the company" followed by a big smile. Surely there will be follow up questions but keep your answers as short as you like- no one wants a five hour lecture on the laws of kashrut, they just want to know why your plate is empty. These days everyone is on some kind of weird diet, vegan, Atkins, macrobiotic etc.. I'm sure they will at least accept it even if they don't understand. Not having your mouthful is also a good opportunity to be a major player in the tableside conversation, it may not be as bad as you think.

One last bit of advice from personal experience: If you end up tagging along to a non-kosher restaurant I'd advise you to eat your own lunch before you go. Watching your coworkers eating in front of you while you are starving and sipping on a diet coke is no fun no matter how good the company.


At 9:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

...and if it's a Chinese buffet with wrapped fortune cookies, there's a pretty good chance you can eat a few of those. ;)

At 11:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've found non-Jews to be very tolerant of kosher restrictions - it is Jews who don't keep kosher out who tend to be the ones who get annoyed.
One analogy to use to explain how seriously you take kashrut is that of someone who is allergic to certain foodstuffs. Nobody urges somone allergic to peanuts to 'just try this brand of peanut butter, it is so good you won't mind it puts you into anphalactic shock', whereas I've had plenty of people urge me to eat some 'kosher-style' (ie treif) food.

Kol Tuv


At 11:19 AM, Blogger Air Time said...

One time, when my manager really wanted me to go with the team to lunch, she went to a kosher restaurant, picked something up for me for takeout, and brought it for me to eat in the restaurant.

It was awkward though, even though the waiters don't mind. You can't use the plate or silverware, people look at you funny, and if you are wearing a Kippa it is doubly uncomfortable and Morris Eyin to eat there.

At 12:39 PM, Blogger DovBear said...

My non-Jewish boss has invited my coworkers and I


I can't spell, oovdah, but these sort of mistakes piss me off.

At 12:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

HEY! Pick on your own commenters!


At 5:47 PM, Blogger orthomom said...

I have the benefits of owning my own business AND working in the NY area, so I choose where we go, and I have a lot of places to choose from. Not a bad deal.

At 5:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll say! No wonder you've been to all the fancy places.

Who picks up the tab you or them?

At 6:38 PM, Blogger orthomom said...

Usually they offer, if not I can always expense it...

At 8:15 PM, Blogger Shifra said...

I am SOOOO in the wrong line of work ;)

At 10:25 AM, Blogger Noam S said...

Obviously you are not good friends with your co-workers, and not eating, while they eat, is a very socially akward position, because it puts the onus of the conversation on you(the one without food in your mouth, and nothing to do, like pretending to move peas around on your plate.) From lots and lots of personal experience, my rec is definitly to try to get the meeting to be at a kosher facility(however, not the pizza place where everyone will say hi to you, spill soda on the floor, and wild 3 year olds will bump into your co-workers). Failing that, get fruit or a salad(if that is in keeping with your level of kashrut- you can call in advance and find out what is in stuff, to avoid quizzing the waiter at length about the salad having bacon croutons etc), or bring something of your own, that is not messy and does not entail a lot of work, like a sandwich or fruit)

As far as what the others will think, most will admire you for your convictions. Be prepared for questions, just keep it simple. You will be fine. The main point is to do the work, enjoy the company, and not be starving,,,, oh, and leave with your level of kashrut practice intact


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