Office Parties

My complacency was shredded at a Friday night Shabbos meal.

“I invited some coworkers,” the husband explained when I dialed up for a meal. “They were curious about how the Jewish Sabbath thing works.”

“Should be interesting,” I said. “Doesn’t perturb me in the slightest.”

Little did I know how perturbed I was going to be.

In the end only one coworker came, with his girlfriend. “Joe didn’t want to come,” the husband explained. “He didn’t have anyone to come with.”

I was puzzled.  “What are we, chopped liver?”

“No,” the host explained, “It’s just that non-Jews don’t go to parties if they don’t have someone to go with them.”

I continued to look puzzled.

“Like a girlfriend.”

I was still puzzled. “Did you tell him you were going to have single, unescorted women here, and we’re totally unselfconscious about it?”

He smiled indulgently. “In our culture that’s normal. He feels weird going somewhere alone.”

Well! Talk about perturbed! I started wondering: should I be feeling self-conscious now? I go everywhere alone. It has simply never occurred to me that I need another person – let alone a guy – in tow to justify my presence.

When it came time for the company holiday party, my curiosity turned to anxiety.

“I’ll order a kosher meal for you,” the HR lady said. “Does your plus one need one too?”

“Um, no… There is no plus one.”

She gave me an odd look. “Well let me know if you need another kosher meal.”

I wondered if I should take a page out of Joe’s book and just not go. What do non-Jews do in this situation? They don’t all have boyfriends all the time, do they?

I turned to Dear Google, the Wise One, for the answer to this question. She was encouraging.

“Don’t be afraid to go to your company holiday party alone,” she rah-rah’d. “Go alone and rock that party anyway.”

Right. Phrased like that, you just know it’s going to be awkward. Especially when you’re not the party-rocking type.

“You’re going to the party? It’ll be great!” a coworker said, with the too-interested leer that either means “I can’t wait to see who your boyfriend is” or else “I can’t wait to see you in a dress.” Both equally discomforting. But I was determined. I wanted to go. 

So I went.

There were an even number of place-settings at the table. They had to remove the one next to me.

“You’re here alone?” a coworker asked. “Oh no, that’s great! Really!”

Suddenly, I felt a gaping hole in the space next to me.

“Rock this party anyway,” I reminded myself. “You don’t need a guy to give you confidence and worth.”

Well, maybe not self-confidence and self-worth. But the eyes of the beholder should not be underestimated.

“I can’t be the only one with this problem,” I complained to a shadchan. “Do you have any decent guys who want to a do a holiday party arrangement?”

“I do,” she said, flipping through her binder. “Here, take a look at this one. What do you think?”

“Can he chit-chat with strangers while pretending to know me?”

Great. Forget “a guy you can take home to your mother.” Now I was picking a “guy you can bring to an office party.”

Disgusted with myself, I handed back the binder. He wasn’t my type anyway. 

So this year, when the invitation went out, and the HR lady came around to say “Just let me know if you need a kosher meal… or two,” I said “When do you need to know by?”

She gave me three weeks.

Great. That gives me three weeks to decide whether to go alone, to go at all, or…

“I need a guy who can be scheduled three weeks in advance to be available immediately motzai Shabbos for double-wrapped, reheated steak and beer,” I told my flatmate. “Help?”

I’ll go with you,” she offered. “But I’m not drinking beer.”

“I can’t take you! I plan to marry a man one day.”

“Women switch back and forth all the time.”

Okay, change that. I have three weeks to decide whether to go alone, whether to go at all, to find a guy, or to come out of a closet I’m not in.


42 thoughts on “Office Parties

  1. I would suggest not going at all for a different reason. Last year I asked my R”Y/Posek about office holiday parties and he told me that going to a holiday party is a violation of chukas akum. (He’s the pre-eminent posek for Modern Orthodoxy, he’s not even chareidi.) Of course, you may want to ask your own posek.

  2. Wow, I never knew there was a shaila about going to these parties. Then again, the parties at my office were always very tame as long as the frummies were there. Things started getting wild after we left, judging from the pictures that went around.

    Anyhow, I wonder if a holiday party in which over 50% of the participants are Jewish is chukas hagoyim.

  3. I am married, and I hate going to these holiday parties. For those colleagues with whom I’m friends, I’d rather just visit their office or eat lunch together. For the rest, (who I don’t actively dislike, just don’t know), I don’t want to waste my time socializing with someone I’ll see once a year.

    I decline the party, but I almost wish I was orthodox so I could tell my boss the reason I can’t go is because the party is the practice of idolaters, not Jews. (I know that the hareidi probably read akum, or ovdei cochavim, that is worshipers of the stars, to not only include christians, but probably any non-hareidi Jew).

  4. I dunno. The way they described the party was “Let’s celebrate another great year” not “let’s celebrate Christ–I mean ‘the holiday season’.” It was a very tame affair that involved dinner and standing around chatting, and wasn’t significantly different than a professional event except in the clothing everyone wore and the spouses they brought along.

    And this is the first place I’ve worked that had an off-site party. Until now, they’ve been large, conspicuously non-denominational lunches held at work to reward the plebeians. I am not sure what makes something “chukas hagoyim” in this case.

  5. I would do the closet thing.

    I went to Hawaii with a friend and once we realized that everyone there was on their honeymoon or wedding anniversary, we decided to go with the honeymoon option.

    Honestly it brought up fewer questions (and people were more understanding) than did two straight dudes getting a hotel in Hawaii together for a week.

  6. I remember being at a dinner benefiting a very, very frum organization that was honoring a female doctor. She had a female guest with her, and I assumed she just needed a plus one. Later I realized they WERE actually married.

  7. These parties clearly started as Christmas parties, regardless of their current function or title. That fact alone would be sufficient to categorize it as chukas akuma according to many (most?) poskim. And the fact that you referred to it in this post as the company holiday party is also telling…iow it celebrates the “holidays” which include Christmas. Like I said, you can ask your own Posek, because this is clearly at least a shayla.

  8. YU – And you’re charming too.
    Until now the only thing I’d heard about them was that you should go ‘mipnei darchei shalom.’ Sounds like a pick-your-psak situation.

  9. LOL.
    Last year they accidentally treifed up my meal at the holiday party but you knew it was a classy non-kosher place when they comped me an expensive kosher wine to apologize.

    @ Sass – i was also told that I should go ‘mipnei darchei shalom’. Like most things, one should ask their personal LUOR.

  10. harryer-
    I don’t think darchei shalom can override an issur of chukas akum. Was it your Rav who told you this? Do you know why he did not consider it to be chukas akum? (It seems to me that it’s a pretty strong case that it is chukas akum.)

  11. @Sass- I dont recall his reasoning. There were guidelines he gave me as to what i can do though (as in no alcohol consumption etc).

    But why is a holiday party any different than any other company/department event? For most companies it is more of an employee appreciation/informal gathering event during the holiday season. What specifically makes it a chukas hagoyim issue?

  12. Sass- first you tell people to ask their rabbis, then you tell them their rabbis are wrong when they disagre with you? B”H I live in a land where we “raise a cup for the new year” sometime in Sept or Aug..

  13. I didn’t say anybody was wrong, just asked for their reasoning. So sensitive…

    Harryer, it’s different than any other company event because it’s the “holiday” party (which historically, before the era of PC and inclusiveness, began as the Xmas party.) Would you say that going to the Xmas party is also not an issue? If the Xmas party is an issue, then so is the holiday party.

  14. Gonna agree with b on this one. Its not a matter of disagreeing, its how you disagree….
    As i understand Chukas Hagoyim, its that when NJ do something which has no rational reason to it. When it has a rational reason to it which does not involve fantastical thinking, such as a thanksgiving meal/birthday parties/wearing a tie, then it would not be an issue.
    That being said, you should check out the sefer ‘u’bechukosiheim lo seleichu’ where it states that smoking is assur for women (only) because of chukas hagoyim.

  15. “when NJ do something which has no rational reason to it…”

    or when the reason is rooted in pritzus or Avoda Zara (this is according to the both the Maharik and the Gaon.) Which is why it makes sense to me that an Xmas party (or an xmas party by another name) should be included.

  16. What b said. I don’t know the reasoning. The rabbi said so. Isn’t that good enough?

    But for the sake of argument: When non-Jews refer to “the holiday season” they’re referring to Thanksgiving through New Years, including Christmas, yes, and also Chanukah, and Kwanzaa and Festivus too, if you’d like. Do you know for historical certainty that the “holiday party” began as a Christmas party? There’s definitely a dinner associated with Festivus.

    Harryer – how old is the smoking psak? Before Surgeon General’s warning, or after? Flapper era?

  17. Contemporary. although for guys to smoke is not a problem of chukas hagoyim, according to him.
    Sass- check out the first few dafim of avodah zara, specifically tosafos who although remains uncomfortable with it, does seem to allow a lot of practices which are even more problematic than Chukas hagoyim because of darchei shalom.

  18. I should comment that now you really can’t take up smoking since it would be assur in addition to being bad for shidduchim

  19. How in the world is smoking different for men and women? Women are just as susceptible to doing self-harmful things as men. Paternalism.

    Also, when I said are we back in middle school, I meant the need to bring a second person to a party.

  20. It is a pity about the smoking. It was something I always thought I could safely get away with, simply because nobody ever asks if a girl smokes.

    Although I don’t understand why a contemporary posek would see a difference between men and women with regard to smoking. Does he provide a rationale?

  21. I’m not talking about differences in health outcomes for men and women- I’m upset that somehow it is more inappropriate for women to smoke than men. I don’t think anyone should smoke, but that attitude seems to come from the notion that women are somehow more pure than men and that smoking is too “rough.” Women enjoy smoking just like men enjoy smoking.

  22. I’m sorry, but I don’t think smoking is cross-dressing. It’s a taavah like eating chocolate cake (only with worse health outcomes).

  23. When she was First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy didn’t want the public to know she smoked. If anyone knew about image control, it was her. If she felt smoking isn’t ladylike, it isn’t ladylike.

  24. I have mixed feelings on this. You’re right that we have certain social perceptions… but not sure how I feel about women being restricted from doing something because of those. It starts with smoking and it ends with… everything. PS- let it be known that I am completely against smoking, male or female!

  25. I think it’s legitimate to consider something “cross-dressing” if that’s the current social perception. The problem is carrying it over to times when it’s not.

    Kind of how you can’t call pants “beged ish” when they’re made for women. (Not saying there aren’t other problems with wearing them.) And a pink, rhinestoned handgun is debatably kli gever. Similarly, smoking for women stopped being taboo close to a century ago. (Or one can conversely argue that nowadays, it’s not either a gentlemanly thing to do. Either way, the restrictions should be equal on men and women.)

    That’s why I asked for the rationale.

  26. A couple of them. First, issue about going to a non-kosher restaurant. General office parties that didn’t include the family were usually okay, but the family ones he felt could get inappropriate. Each party that I had gone to was specifically called about and discussed. For example, the non-kosher restaurant one was one for my whole dept. Eventually, we agreed I could go to that one, but it had to be clear, even to my head of dept., that I was there only because it was for the whole dept. Family parties have more complicated issues, and it depended on each situation individually.

  27. My small all female office actually wants to go to our kosher deli for me, but I just realized the date they planned is 10 Teves! Will see if can reschedule that one.

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