Saturday, September 10, 2005

No more anonymous kippot

He looks like a typical chassid. Indoors, you can see the full outfit—black pants, white shirt with long sleeves rolled up to just below the elbow, arba kanfot (literally, "four corners," a ritual garment with fringes on each of the four corners, that a man puts on over his head so that two corners are in front and two in back, worn, usually, under the shirt), worn over the shirt (noch besser—even better), a black vest, no tie, and a large black velvet kippah/yarmulkeh/skullcap. Outdoors, he tops that outfit with the usual long black coat. (Kapoteh? Bekesheh? I'm not aware of there ever having been chassidim in my family, so I'm not quite sure of the terminology.)

Six years ago, I would have dismissed him as just another chassid straight out of Central Casting for "Fiddler on the Roof." Not anymore.

This particularly chassid , whom I'll call Moreh (teacher), is the guy who used to teach a weekly women's shiur (class) before being reassigned to another office. He has the most wonderful sense of humor. And, noch besser, a member of my (Conservative) synagogue has known him for years because—get this—she's met him several times at science fiction conventions. Yes, Virginia, this chassid is a sci fi fan. If you ever need to make a minyan at a Star Trek convention, Moreh is your man.

One of the advantages of working for an Orthodox Jewish organization is that, in addition to getting the Jewish holidays off without a hassle from the boss, I'm getting to know a segment of the Jewish community with whom I've never interacted very much in the past. (The same thing's happening on my blog, which is half the fun, but this is in person.) It's nice to be able to look at people and see beyond the kippot.

So, first up, let me introduce you to Boss # 1. He's a "black hat." In plain English, that means that a) his business and synagogue attire consists of a black suit and white shirt, topped by a black velvet kippah, and, when outdoors, with a black hat, because men with his particular haskafah/viewpoint believe that that's the way a traditional Jew should dress; and b) that he's rather right-wing on the Orthodox spectrum. He's also the holder of an earned Ph.D. in a secular subject, and frequently locks himself in the office with a verbal "do not disturb" sign to work on the organization's high-level paperwork. He's also a staunch supporter of higher education for Orthodox Jews, male and female, and a true believer that Jews should work to support their families, rather than sitting in kollel studying full-time and relying on welfare. Though he's strictly a two-finger typist and doesn't sufficiently appreciate the work I do for him on the computer because he hasn't a clue how much time and effort go into all that fancy formatting, he's fairly even-tempered, and is usually a pleasant person to be around.

Boss # 2 is probably what some describe as a Centrist Orthodox Jew. He wears suits of various colors, and a black velvet kippah that he covers, when outdoors, with a dark blue hat. He's a bit more temperamental than Boss # 1, but, since he has a bit more of an aptitude for language, is more appreciative of my editing abilities than is Boss # 1.

Another recent boss is a Modern Orthodox Jew. Back in the good old days before my three-month-old CD player with the external speakers broke, he used to be very happy to listen to my Debbie Friedman CD. I always behaved myself, though: Whenever a gentleman of an obviously more right-wind hashkafah walked into the office—as you can see from my descriptions above, one can usually tell just by looking at the person's clothing—I would replace my Neshama Carlbach CD with my Shlomo one.

Since my last post was about Orthodox women, this post was going to be about Orthodox men. But how can I not mention any Orthodox women when discussing an office that employs a bazillion of them?

There's the sheitl/wig-wearing, open-minded and tolerant Modern Orthodox woman who's a grandma several times over who's my best buddy at work. In spite of being radically overworked and outrageously underpaid—I'm sorry to say that worker exploitation is alive and well in the Jewish community—she can usually find a minute for me. Sometimes we chat about a mutual friend (who recommended me for this job). At other times, poor S. is patient enough to put up with my many questions about words or concepts with which I'm not familiar. She's the one who explained the meaning of the word "hashkafah" to me and introduced me to the idea of a "vort," which is, apparently, an Orthodox version of an engagement party.

Last but far from least is the woman whom I hereby designate "The Wiz." (I'm off to see the Wizard, the wonderful wiz of our corps. I tell you, she's a wonderful wiz—I never could ask for more. :) ) Our resident computer-programming genius, rumored to be Lubavitch, she's pulled my feet—and the feet of half the staff, including Boss # 1—out of the fire more often we can remember or thank her for, and has taught me more formatting tricks than I can name. With her patient assistance, I've become far better at my job than I was when I first began working here. I pray that she finds herself a fine shidduch (marital match) some day soon, not only for her own sake, but for the entirely selfish reason that the Jewish people can ill afford not to have the genes of an individual of such good character and such intelligence passed on to another generation.


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