Tomorrow is Yom Kippur, and you can bet that there will be no big financial announcements. This is because Jews make up a disproportionately huge number of people in finance. So when the Jews take off work for Yom Kippur, there is not enough liquidity in the financial markets for anything really big to happen. As my hedge-fund brother says, “You don’t want to have to get anything big done in finance on Yom Kippur.”
I like learning this because I like being part of community. In general, it is lonely being Jewish. Not in New York City, where there are, really, more Jews than in Israel. But definitely in Wisconsin, where my son had to explain to a school administrator that Rosh Hashanah is a Jewish holiday.
There is part of me that likes being part of the community of Jews who almost all observe the High Holidays. But there is also part of me that appreciates being a minority, because you're different, and different often means special. And we all want to be special in some way, even at the cost of being a minority.
I am fascinated with racial discrimination at work. I have felt nervous and out of place at times, like when my former bosses told offensive Jewish jokes in front of me. And when I'd tell them I am Jewish, they'd say, “Oh. Sorry. I didn’t know you were Jewish.” Like, “Oh, if I’d known, I'd have had the decency to say it behind your back.”
But I have seen also how valuable it can be to be just part of the group, fitting in, not a minority—it can be the difference between a promotion or not, really. Being accepted or not. And I have seen how much it means to understand what it’s like for people who are treated like outsiders. I never understood this until I entered the workplace, but I like that I know what it’s like to be a minority. It’s part of who I am.
So I vacillate between wanting my kids to understand what it’s like to be a minority, and wanting my kids to fit in. Both are so important.
But even with balanced intentions, I am never really sure what to do with myself and my kids on the Jewish High Holidays. When I was young, I went to synagogue and was bored out of my mind. But I never went to school and my parents never worked, so my kids and I do the same thing.
Leading up to the holidays, I tell my kids that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are a big deal. I drive this home by chanting a mantra with the kids that connects the Jewish stuff to what really matters to them: “First is Rosh Hashanah, then Yom Kippur, then Halloween!” I tell myself I’m being a good Jew because this generates constant discussion about the high holidays. As in, “When is Yom Kippur over so that we can buy decorations for Halloween?”
So the day before Rosh Hashanah I said to my six-year-old: “Tomorrow is a big day. We’ll tell your teacher you will not be in school. And I will not go to work. Jewish people stay home to celebrate the new year. Rosh Hashanah is a big day. It ‘s our new year.”
So we tell the teacher. And it is clear my son will be the only kid out of school.
I tell him he is special. I tell him that we are lucky to have such a nice time for the New Year, and that this is the time Jewish people think about how to make next year even better. I stress that all Jewish people take time off because I want him to have that feeling of being part of something bigger than himself or our family. I think this is a path to community if I play my cards right.
Then I stress again about what we will do with our day.
Part of the Rosh Hashanah tradition is eating apples and honey for a sweet New Year. So I decide that apple picking maybe is within the bounds of what’s okay to do. The driving is not okay. And the paying for the apples is not okay. And the carrying them is not okay. But I ignore that. I tell the kids we’ll pick apples and bring them home and dip them in honey.
We get to the apple orchard—it’s really crowded—and my son says, “Mom, look at all the Jewish kids here!”
I think I am making progress. I think it's working—my kids are learning what it's like to be part of a special community, while trying really hard to fit into the bigger picture that includes everyone else, too.
There is so much written about the challenges of handling race in the workplace, but I see so little about how to cultivate otherness at work, how to thrive on being different. It seems to me that sometimes people want to do that. Figuring out how to do that is part of understanding who we are and where we fit. And the more we understand about ourselves, no matter what the angle, the better we are able to craft a life that works for us.