Should you tell your colleagues you’re Jewish?

Until October 7 I had kept quiet about my Judaism to colleagues, but a LinkedIn post changed everything

January 11, 2024 14:03

For those of us who do not work inside the Jewish community, there is always a decision to make. It may not be a conscious calculation, but something within us determines whether we showcase or shield our religion from colleagues.

My decision was made for me at university, when words that could have come from Hitler or Hamas left a student’s lips. “The world would be better if all Jews were dead.” Silence followed: the silence of no one standing up for the Jews. Even the Jew present.

The conversation moved on. I could not. Beginning my career that summer, I was very aware of my Judaism while my colleagues remained unaware. Being a Bell not a Bloomberg brought optional cover. I would keep shtum, letting in only trusted people on a need-to-know basis. With antisemitism steadily rising, that call felt justified. I had my outside Jewish life: shul member, suburb living, summers in Israel, Spurs fan. While at work: safety in the shadows.

I now realise that was the wrong type of work/life balance. My awakening was October 7, the day that changed us all. Raising a Jewish family and absorbing the unspeakable atrocities against our kind saw something snap. Feeling useless 2,000 miles from the heartbreaking action, and consumed with pain and anger, it was time to unmask. So I got typing. Not just to colleagues but to my entire professional network on LinkedIn.

What I didn’t expect was national media interest and those 800 words being read half a million times. The post telling my working world that I’m a proud Jew and we’ve had enough of hate went viral in offices, with Jews confiding in me that it gave expression to their feelings, and non-Jews saying it educated them on our daily struggles, from the need to guard schools and synagogues, to the Holocaust debate having mutated from why it happened to whether it even did.

The experience emboldened me to write more, speak more and fundraise more. In truth, it amounted to a little difference-making mixed with a lot of catharsis, a healing cocktail I recommend to all.

The Western workplace has emerged as its own battleground. Internal messaging channels at Amazon and TikTok offer depressing scenes. Reportedly full of anti-Israel rhetoric, Jewish staff are “dealing with harassment” and “scared to speak out”. Even attending the office is “very stressful”. Alienation elsewhere is exacerbated by firms virtuously embracing initiatives for society’s marginalised but staying silent when Jews are vulnerable.

Employer opinion rather than colleague conduct is occasionally the problem. Reporter Noah Abrahams resigned over the BBC’s fact-denying refusal to label Hamas terrorists, while Comic Relief lost its chair amid the charity’s call for an immediate ceasefire that would keep genocidal rapists in power.

Those principled stands reflect a wider fightback. The US businesses pulling offers to Ivy League students who endorse Hamas send a message that values — and Jews — matter, while individuals are stepping up when British firms disappoint. A friend at a major consultancy notes: “Corporately, they’ve not done enough, but my voice has had an impact and helped those feeling alone”. A Jewish CEO adds: “By sharing my religion, I encourage others to share part of themselves too. Respecting differences is how we build bridges.” The profound success of Israeli startups was clear when the boss of a leading tech conference resigned after airing offensive views. Usurped not by “Jewish power” but the moral stance of a global community threatening to withdraw attendance en masse.

This period calls for resilience in diaspora workplaces. If inspiration were needed, the standard is set by Israeli companies enduring the absence of heroic reservists and the presence of mental scars. An investor told The Times of Israel: “Everyone is dealing with something but resiliency is off-the-charts. I wish all founders were as resilient as the Israeli ones.”

I take heart knowing that what, in my case, felt a worthwhile act of resistance is no more than a droplet in a sea of defiance. So should your own 9-to-5 crew know you’re a 24/7 Jew? Nothing is more personal than matters of identity. Keeping your head down is understandable, especially in more hostile environments. I may not be proud of my prior path, but I cannot judge your future one.

My epiphany has been to never again stay quiet. A duty borne of the Jewish burden. The army of advocates is too few not to enlist ourselves.

January 11, 2024 14:03

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