(Photo/Pixabay CC0)
(Photo/Pixabay CC0)

What do I do about water-cooler anti-Semitism at work?

Dear Mensch: I work in a firm that provides accounting and benefits services. Often, members of our team are dispatched to trade shows to exhibit our company’s products. Recently one of our employees (McIntyre) returned from a trade show and, in describing the trip to another colleague, remarked in a rather loud voice, in our shared office space, that it was a good trip except for the “obnoxious Jew” in an adjoining exhibit booth. As far as I can tell, I am the only Jew in our department and, although I was offended and taken aback by McIntyre’s comment, I did not think it appropriate or entirely safe to confront him in the workplace. However, as it happens, the owner of the firm is a Jew. He is accessible to all the employees and I wonder if I should tell him he has an anti-Semite on the payroll. — Carl

Dear Carl: Mensch is sorry for the offense you have experienced and urges you to consider taking some form of corrective action. This behavior should not go unchecked, especially in a time where hate and bigotry are being cultivated.

Your first option, assuming he is not above you in the chain of reports, is to go to McIntyre and let him know you heard the comment and why you were offended. Sometimes people act incorrectly out of ignorance until they are corrected and informed. Maybe being confronted with the knowledge that a respected colleague is Jewish and that his language was hurtful will be enough to move McIntyre toward a more enlightened and compassionate outlook. Maybe.

If there is an HR officer, you can also go to that person to report your experience. HR is tasked with noting and tracking objectionable behavior on the part of employees and, when appropriate, initiating corrective action. A benefit of this approach is its confidentiality.

And then there is the option you mention, going straight to the boss, the Jew who pays McIntyre’s salary. You are in your right to do so. Think carefully about the personalities and potential consequences involved and then move forward.


Dear Readers: On Sept. 13, a week before Rosh Hashanah, more than 70,000 groups (such as classrooms, workplaces and Kevah groups) will be participating in the fourth annual Character Day. In a shared experience, participants will explore, through short films and exercises, the development of character and its higher attributes such as empathy, humility and bravery.

In other words, menschhood!

Character Day is the creation of Bay Area Emmy-nominated filmmaker and lecturer (and all-around mensch) Tiffany Shlain. To learn more about Character Day, or to sign up, visit letitripple.org/character-day.

Additionally, Mensch highly recommends his readers take 10 minutes to view Tiffany’s online film “The Making of a Mensch,” a charming, entertaining and thought-provoking look at Mussar, a Jewish but not exclusively religious movement focused on ethics and morality. And its usefulness in the pursuit of being a mensch.

Jonathan Harris
Jonathan Harris

Jonathan Harris is a synagogue administrator and writer-editor living in San Francisco with his wife, three daughters and an ungrateful cat. He can be reached at advicemensch@gmail.com.