I am an Orthodox Jewish woman. I dress modestly and cover my hair. I also observe the practice of ‘shomer negiah’ and do not touch men outside of my family.
At work I recently hosted visitors from a foreign embassy. The diplomat is new to Israel and eager to learn about our diverse communities.
The meeting went well. As he left, he went to shake my hand. I politely bowed my head and explained that I don’t shake hands with men for religious reasons. He nodded, said “of course”, and we chatted for another few minutes. It wasn’t a big deal, and I promptly forgot about the interaction.
One of my younger colleagues, a devout Muslim, later pulled me aside.
“Wow, that was really amazing. You felt so comfortable not to shake his hand, even though he is in a high position. When I arrived earlier, he went to shake my hand, so I shook it, even though it is ‘haram.’ I didn’t know what else to do or that I could say no without it being rude.”
We had a conversation about how we must each act in accordance with our belief systems, and that we should never be embarrassed (nor embarrass others!) about our religious customs. She shared that she’ll now feel more comfortable holding her boundaries in new situations.
It was a powerful moment and a good reminder that when we stand up for ourselves, even in small ways we might take for granted, we’re serving as role models for younger women who are just beginning to find their place in the workforce.
Jewish, Muslim, Christian, or otherwise – as women we have much in common and there are so many ways we can support one another.