About 25 years ago, when I was about to apply for an internship, a Professor suggested that I do not wear a kippah to the interview. He was sure that, even if I were the best possible candidate for the position, wearing a kippah would make it significantly more difficult for me to get the job. He was correct. I did get the internship but a peer who did not get the same advice and wore his kippah to an interview at the same facility was shunned. Things changed at that facility over the last two and a half decades and there are now a sizable minority of professionals who wear their religious identity openly. But, things are changing again and not for the better. Two nurses that I have spoken with both of whom work on separate units of this organization and do not know one another, who are openly religious and have worked there for over ten years with excellent evaluations, have been informed by their supervisors that “until now we have accommodated your requests to take off for your Sabbath and holidays. Please know that we are not obligated to do so and we will not necessarily do so going forward.” Similarly, a more qualified Orthodox Jewish doctor was passed over for a job by this facility in favor of a less experienced and less well trained physician who was not Jewish.
In another health care facility a young administrator who wears a kippah was called into his supervisors’ office and told that he must leave immediately or charges will be brought against him. The charges were to be of sexual harassment. The charges were allegedly made by a co-worker but they would not tell him who made the charges or even what the specific charges were. He left the office. On his way out of the building his co-worker said to him “I know this never happened. It could not have. They just want to get rid of you.” Later that same day the supervisor called him and said “You were never in the building or your office alone. We know that you did not do this but our hands are tied.”
These incidents did not occur in France or Spain or even in Germany they all occurred in New York City and the surrounding suburbs an area that has one of the highest concentrations of Jews in the world. There is a pattern to these incidents that appears shocking and it is not just in health care. I admit I have not done a formal survey and many of those I speak with may even have their own ax to grind in some of these situations but many of the Jewish teachers who work for the vast New York City Department of Education that I have spoken with tell me that they feel that they are being harassed baselessly and are being forced out of their jobs only to be replaced by significantly less well prepared others.
Frank Bruni’s opinion column entitled Round Up the Usual Suspects which appeared in the New York Times April 23rd begins with the following question –“How do you know if a real storm is brewing — or if you’re just reacting to a few passing clouds? “ He goes on to report the increasing bigotry in Hungary and notes among other items that the Jobbik political party magazine had a recent cover story indicating that the authors were unsure of the truthfulness of historical accounts of Jews using Christian blood in religious rites, implying that it may have actually taken place. In times of economic hardship bigotry increasingly rears its ugly head and Jews are among the usual victims.
If there is anything that gives those of us who reside in chutz laaeretz a sense of confidence in these increasingly bigoted times it is the sense of pride we have for our religious home. On this day of Yom Haatzmaut we are reminded that having a strong Israel is our only real buffer against prejudice and while we may not live there yet, it is our only real safe place.