I was going to write this as a comment to an earlier post by Lavie Margolin, “I regularly wear a Kippah. Somebody told me not to wear it on an interview. What should I do?” It got a little long and in-depth, so I thought I’d post it on its own. Here it is:
Unfortunately, nobody can offer solid advice. It really depends on the office environment where you (hope to) work, and your own level of comfort. I made a decision long ago to always wear a Kippah except in life-threatening situations.
In 2005 I was asked if I could help an Iraqi politician. He was a former member of Saddam Hussein’s government, who was later put in charge of the “de-Baath-ification” of the Iraqi government after Saddam had been captured. He was (and still has been) an outspoken supporter of both the United States and Israel, and was (and probably still has been) told repeatedly by those in the government that if he would simply stop speaking out in support of Israel, he would be given the full backing of the Iraqi leadership. Instead, he continued to speak out on Israel’s behalf, and was stripped of his security detail, threatened with death, and lost his two sons in a bomb attack meant to kill him. I was asked to help, not with security or money or connections – these were all things he was handling on his own – but simply to give the man a ride to his hotel from the event we were both attending. I said yes, and I promptly removed my Kippah before being introduced to him, so that nobody would see him – or worse, photograph him – shaking hands with a Jew. The man’s life was on the line, and my personal, outward expression of my own Jewishness could not take precedence in this case.
Other than that, I have always worn a Kippah, including to every job interview I have ever had – and there were many! One reason I believe I had so many interviews before I found my first job, is actually because I wore my Kippah. Now, you may say, “Seth, you’re making a pretty bold leap to assume that every employer who interviewed you was anti-Semitic!” That would be true if that were the leap I were making. In fact, I don’t believe that anyone who interviewed me was an anti-Semite. I actually interviewed with a lot of Jews! But I interviewed for jobs in political offices, in which the first face to be seen by constituents walking in the door would have been mine, and the first head to be seen would have had a Kippah on it. I think there were two assumptions being made, depending on the office. The first was not that a Jew could not be trusted, but that a Jew would not be well received by the constituents; the second was that a young Jew beginning a family would not want to be there very long and would look for his first opportunity for advancement, not because of a selfish drive, but because Jews value family, and a low-paying, starter job is not conducive to those values.
As if to validate my suspicions of the former, about a year into my job search, I noticed that one interviewer glanced – very quickly, and only with his eyes – at the top of my head. Then I began to notice it a lot more. I believe it had been happening all along, but without my noticing it. I began to be very aware of it, and I noticed that when that happened, the interview usually did not go as well as others. Sometimes, though, it went even better – as if the interviewer were intrigued and wanted to see if I could overcome this handicap, I would on those occasions be asked very interesting and unusual questions, and made to feel like the job were about to be handed to me if I gave the right answer! Obviously it didn’t happen in every interview – I don’t think – and I was probably denied some jobs for simple reasons like timing and my qualifications versus those of the other applicants. I’m just saying that it happened – a lot.
Then, a little over a year ago, I had a terrific interview for a job with a Jewish congressman with mostly Jewish staff, at least his senior staff – those doing the interview. The interview went phenomenally well. I was articulate, they liked my resume and a close friend of the primary interviewer had referred me for the job. Two weeks later, after I had not heard anything, I asked my referral to call and see what was going on. She did, and she reported to me that her friend had told her he was concerned that, because I’m a young, married, Jewish man, I would not want to stick around that long in the position because it did not pay well, and they really needed someone they could keep for at least two years. That was my first introduction to discrimination of the latter kind.
It’s a tough choice. I don’t agree with those who say that if you want to be respected by your employers you need to wear it to the interview or forget about wearing it to work. My feeling on that is simple: if they don’t know you’re Jewish and they like you for the skills you bring to the table, they have no right – legally or morally – to be upset to discover that in fact you are Jewish when you walk in the door on your first day. If they are upset, or if they feel betrayed, that is bigotry of the worst kind, and I would agree that you wouldn’t want to work for an employer who feels that way – but you know what, now you’ve got a job and are gaining experience, and you can use that experience to help you find a job with a different employer who doesn’t have that problem.
Shortly before I got my current job a bit over a year ago, I asked a rabbi if he felt that in practice I had taken a non-verbal Neder (oath) to wear a Kippah at all interviews, since I had stubbornly refused to remove it on principle up to that point. He said no, he could see no Halachic (Jewish legal) reason to compel me to continue wearing it. But he felt I should anyway, because that’s my way of being Moser Nefesh – giving of myself – for the sake of Heaven, and it’s important to hold firm to my beliefs and convictions even in the face of daunting adversity. He also made the point above, with which I still disagree, that it is unfair and deceitful to the employer to take it off for the interview and wear it when I start the job.
What I have to say on the subject in general is this: it’s a personal choice. If you feel it is hurting you in your job search, you have every right to take it off, and you have every right to put it back on when you begin your job. However, be prepared to be made uncomfortable for doing so – and begin looking for a new job with an employer that can see past that, all while diligently doing your job and collecting your paycheck. On the other hand, if you can hold out, I will give you the Bracha (blessing) given to me by that rabbi: You will get a job, and being Moser Nefesh will come back to reward you, either in this world or the next. Even if you don’t believe strongly in the Jewish faith, but simply wear your Kippah as a badge of honor and Jewish pride, continue to do so because you will ultimately get a job, and your colleagues – particularly in an environment where they are willing to hire someone who is proud of his heritage and beliefs – will respect you for it..