Summer was back once again, and with it the quest for a job. I had tried almost everything over past summers - camp counselor, working in a clothing shop, boxing tapes, and answering phones. This summer, another new experience loomed ahead. I was to do filing in an office in Beverly Hills. So far so good. But here comes the catch - I was to work for students of my father who is their rabbi. He is their role model. He teaches them about marriage, parenting, and how to be a good person. And I am his daughter.
Nervously, I went into the office one Friday for orientation. I met the general secretary, a very friendly woman, who introduced me to my 20 co-workers. I trailed behind her as we wound our way through the office, my anxiety increasing each time she introduced me to yet another employee as "the rabbi's daughter."
I wanted to tell her that introducing me by my name only was sufficient, but I kept quiet, only smiling politely at the curiosity her introduction arose. "Shira will be working here for a few weeks this summer. She's the rabbi's daughter."
My employer did nothing to ease matters. He repeated to me on a number of occasions how he had warned his employees to watch their behavior and speech around me, and cautioning me that their behavior might not be that which I was used to.
I could no longer relax; I had an image to live up to.
I began my job that next week and although everyone was most pleasant and friendly to me in the office, I felt a weight on my shoulders. "The rabbi's daughter." What a title for me to try and live up to. And just now, when I was so nervous about starting this new job.
I could no longer relax and just go with the flow; I had an image to live up to. I had to pull myself together and try to be the best I could be. I had to look, talk, and dress in a way which reflected my values.
I felt as though I always had to make a good impression. I became conscientious about being punctual to work. Although my employer allowed me to choose my hours to start and end work, and I used the opportunity to leave early a few times, I always felt guilty doing so. Was it really responsible to just leave whenever I wanted? I had free rein in the matter but was it the right thing?
And was I taking too many coffee breaks? Of course, each time I took one, my employer happened to walk by and I felt embarrassed. I was allowed to take a break every so often but I always felt guilty.
The battle over what to wear was a weary one. Too tight. Too short. Too clingy. I checked myself out in the mirror. Did my clothing really express my values and beliefs? Was my wardrobe that different from every other Ramona, June, and Beverly? Was my dress a picture of refinement and was my clothing really befitting a "rabbi's daughter"?
On one occasion, an employee uttered a bad word. "Sorry about that, I try to watch myself in front of you, but it slipped."
Once again, I felt my pulse quicken. Was I really so careful about my speech? Not just about saying bad words, but did I speak with clean language, and in a pleasant matter?
I called one of my friends from an open office one day during lunch break. I chatted with her for quite a while, laughing and just chilling out. It was only after I hung up the phone that my vision cleared and I realized that my conversation had probably been carried on a tad too loudly. And what had we been talking about anyway? Had the subject been one above reproof or the all too often gossipy chitchat of friends.
"You mean you don't date guys? Do you sneak it?"
As the days went by and I became friendlier with some of the women, they questioned me about my lifestyle. "You mean you don't date guys? Do you sneak it?" and "I'm not so into religion myself. What's it like?" I tried to answer in a way which revealed how satisfied and happy I am with my faith, that I do things not only because my parents and family do but because I myself believe in it. I tried to explain the pleasure that Torah brings, the satisfaction that I have in my life not from trivial matters but from real things, things that count.
I explained the freedom from outside distractions that Torah brings. I also tried to leave the impression that one can be friendly and "normal" as well as religious.
When at last my job was over, I left with a sense of relief. No more obligations to try and prove myself, no more explanations of who I was or self -consciousness of my mode of behavior. Now I could relax and blend right back into my familiar and comfortable world. I could go back to usual and be myself once again.
But could I really? Could I really forget about the last few weeks and just return to my laissez faire attitude? My job had stirred up a revolutionary realization. The past few weeks had shown me that not only am I a rabbi's daughter, I'm a princess as well -- the daughter of the King of all Kings. And while that dynasty is one of great advantages, it is one of great responsibility as well. Every action of mine has to be planned out, every word properly contemplated. My dress has to be impeccable as well. In public and private, I have an image that I have to uphold. After all, I'm royalty.
Did I relax too early? I feel the stress coming on and I stare at myself in the mirror with weariness.
Oh dear, is my dress too short?