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3 Uncomfortable Conversations All Observant Jews Have

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And how their friends can support them
07/08/2015

3 Uncomfortable Conversations All Observant Jews Have photo

I'll always remember the day I told my parents about my decision to become more observant. I was in Israel with knots in my stomach, unsure of how they'd respond to my decision.

To my luck, it was painless and easy. We talked through how to make it work and it made my life back in Chicago that much easier.

Our 20s are a significant transition on its own, but for religious Jews who either grew up with this lifestyle or chose it later in life, it can be uncomfortable to say the least. For starters, this is - for many - the first time that a job forces us out of our bubble. It requires us to figure out a way to make our practices work with an employer who might not understand why we're running out the door at 2 p.m. in the winter months or why we won't necessarily eat at the same restaurants as the other employees.

These moments also extend into our social circles as well. If you're observant, these are a few of the awkward conversations you're likely to deal with; if you aren't observant but have friends who are, there are also some tips on how you can support them.

1. The shomer Shabbat conversation  

At a time when being connected is everything, the concept of not using a cell phone for 25 hours a week seems unfathomable. Add in all the rules about not cooking, spending money, turning a light switch … you get the idea. Regardless of whether someone has been shomer Shabbat for a whole week or their whole life, turning down a team happy hour or Saturday brunch is never an easy decision, but one that someone observant will always take.

How to support your friend: Ask your friend if you can have a meal with them or meet them for a walk on the park. It shows you're accepting of their lifestyle and your religious friend will worry less about feeling like an outsider.

2. Having to explain their kashrut observance  

Whether someone is kosher-style, eats veggie out, eats vegan out or requires a strict hechsher, there is always a level of awkwardness when it comes to food. The last thing a person who keeps kosher wants to do is offend their friend or employer. However, Chicago is a big restaurant city and restaurants are a natural place to socialize. Anyone who keeps kosher often finds themselves trying to strike the balance between looking like a picky eater and doing what makes them comfortable and it can be difficult to have to explain that reasoning.

How to support your friend: First, make sure you understand that their definition of kosher might be different from how another friend keeps kosher. The easiest way to support them is just offering to go to a kosher restaurant with them. If that isn't possible (the kosher restaurant selection is less than desirable in Chicago), then ask what they are willing to eat. Frozen yogurt places, a bar and coffee shops are always a safe bet. Whatever you decide, make sure it's equally as uncomfortable for them as it is for you.

3. Why they aren't around or at work much during the fall

It doesn't take a Jewish day school education to know what Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are about. However, you might not have learned about Shemini Atzeret or all the details that go into Sukkot. The fall holidays are almost always a stressful time for your observant friends as they try to stay above water at work while coordinating several Thanksgiving-sized meals over the next several weeks. This should hopefully not only explain why they essentially disappear from your life for a month and probably don't have vacation days for a winter getaway at the end of the year.

How to support your friend: Whether you celebrate the holidays yourself or not, this probably isn't the time to ask how their employer feels about all the PTO your friend is taking as it's likely to be a stressful topic of discussion. Instead, offer to come over and help cook for a meal or join them in a sukkah for dinner one night. The lesser known holidays can feel isolating when work is still happening, leaving them anxious for what awaits when they return.

While any observant Jew will tell you what they practice is extremely meaningful to them, they are also conscious that their lifestyle is different from the world around them. If you have a friend who considers themselves religious, support their lifestyle the same way you would with any other lifestyle by going the extra mile to make them a little more comfortable..

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