Young, Orthodox and Ambitious

Can the Secular World Handle Orthodox Women?

Journalism Calls: Avital Chizhik chases her career while maintaing an Orthodox lifestyle.
Mijal Bitton
Journalism Calls: Avital Chizhik chases her career while maintaing an Orthodox lifestyle.

By Avital Chizhik

Published January 06, 2013, issue of January 04, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

When the company executive asked me, out of curiosity, how religious I am, I froze.

The job interview had gone well. I stayed composed while answering all the questions, smiling at my interviewer while admiring the river view behind him.

But now, my religion? I shifted in my seat. My tailored skirt suit suddenly felt uncomfortable as I blurted out: “I’m not that religious.” My poise was ruined. I plunged into a winding explanation that, really, I’m not so Orthodox, though I am kosher and I observe the Sabbath and some other things, but really I’m normal and I have a college degree and I can write and socialize like a normal human being.

The executive laughed and said, “Good, I’m glad to hear you’re not too religious,” and then offered me a job on the spot.

When I left the office, I was shaking. Why did I have to explain that I wasn’t “that religious?” It’s a false statement, after all. I am actually quite Orthodox. Was I embarrassed by my own observance — how I would have to leave early on Friday afternoons, sip mineral water at corporate events because the food isn’t kosher, and politely decline male co-workers’ invitations to after-work drinks? So what if I use a coffee break to recite my prayers in the corner of my cubicle? So what if I am the only woman wearing a skirt while the rest of the women wear trousers? Why did I minimize my own values, the very ones I follow so passionately?

Looking back, I realize I was responding to a brand of prejudice that I have grown to expect from secular Jews like this company executive. Whatever his preconceived notions were about “the Orthodox,” I felt I had to claim they were not applicable to me.

As a young Orthodox woman in New York City, I find no dissonance between my career aspirations in journalism and my traditional lifestyle. I grew up studying in yeshiva day schools, immersed in text study and learning several languages. My Orthodoxy has not stopped me from pursuing my education and career. And I am blessed to have female Orthodox friends studying in the world’s top universities, seeking advanced degrees. What I find so challenging for Orthodox women — and men, for that matter — is the outside world’s assumptions about who we are and where we come from. This hurdle is more difficult to clear than the occasional elder who shakes his head and says, “This isn’t a good job for a young Jewish girl.”

If anything, my religion enhances my career aspirations. The constant sense of purpose that drives our observance is also channeled toward everything else in life — our careers, our families, our hobbies. The sense of purpose that drives me to pray every morning also drives me to write every morning.

Traditional values are not the only ones that can hinder success. Ironically, sometimes the secular world is the one that objectifies me more than the traditional world. I am constantly told by the media that I ought to feel marginalized by my laws and rabbis — yet how many moments are there that I feel pigeonholed by the secular world as “an Orthodox woman” or labeled by company executives as solely “religious” and thus strange and likely problematic? I am told that I should feel marginalized behind the prayer partition in my synagogue, yet sometimes I find myself growing more defensive in the glass offices of New York City’s tallest skyscrapers.

Avital Chizhik is a journalist living in New York City. She can be reached on Twitter at @avitalrachel.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.