Shalom, Rabbi! I work for a software company, One of our loyal client companies invited us for a two-day conference to discuss ways to strengthen our business relationship. My (Orthodox Jewish) boss nominated me plus two other employees (who are not Jewish) to attend together with him. I requested, and was readily granted, kosher ‘airline’ meals which turned out to be gourmet fare matching the quality of what the other participants were served. My boss decided not to order but brought his own food which he ate privately. His concern was that the cost would be exorbitant and this could rebound upon us in unpleasant ways; however he didn’t take it amiss that I ordered. Should I have followed his example? Kol Tuv. Zach.
This is a delicate issue and it is a credit to your boss that he was concerned. You mention also that you later found out that indeed the cost of your meals was, in your words, “way beyond what I would ever expect to pay”.
However, in the larger scheme of things, it was a ‘drop in the ocean’ for the company. You tell me that not only were there no negative vibes regarding your ‘different’ food, but that actually people were curious, in a positive way, about the ultra-secure double-seal ‘protecting’ your meal and you got to explain to your receptive co-participants some basics of what kosher food was all about.
I don’t believe there is a right and a wrong here. Your boss was more comfortable not burdening your client company with what he anticipated would be an excessive cost for his meal, and you were more comfortable being able to sit down and network with members of the company over a working lunch on an equal footing. Had they served you a scaled-down meal, it would have looked ‘cheap’ by comparison and that would have been uncomfortable for you.
I recall being invited for a special birthday lunch in honor of the Hon. Fred Nile in NSW Parliament House. I too ordered kosher food and was gobsmacked by the KA double-sealed fillet steak I received consistent with what first-class airline passengers would doubtless be served. It was a Friday in the winter and I really didn’t need it! However I would have felt more uncomfortable to have just been sitting there while my fellow-attendees tucked into their own gourmet stuff. Moreover the packaging, airtight as it was, was so discreet and so easy to remove (unlike the standard economy-class kosher meals!) that there was no embarrassment whatsoever.
While it is laudatory to be on one’s guard against unwittingly stirring up antisemitism in the wider community, I do not believe there is an antisemite lurking in the heart of the average Australian – and in the end he or she will hold us in higher regard when we wear our Judaism with positivity and modest pride.