Being Orthodox in an Unorthodox World

YU Alumni Offer Aspiring Professionals Insight into Religious Observance in a Corporate Environment

A sizable crowd of Yeshiva University (YU) undergraduates filled Weissberg Commons on the evening of September 14 to discuss the challenges and opportunities that abound while working in a non-Jewish environment.

“Being Orthodox in an Unorthodox World” was sponsored by YU’s Career Development Center (CDC), the Student Organization of Yeshiva (SOY), the Torah Activities Committee (TAC), and the Syms School of Business Student Council and featured YU alumni currently employed by some of the larger and more prestigious law firms, investment banks and accounting firms in New York City. The participants—who work for Goldman Sachs, PricewaterhouseCoopers, JPMorganChase, Hain Capital, Citigroup, Golden Mountain Investments, Proskauer Rose LLP, Stellar Management and Kaplan Fox & Kilsheimer LLP—spoke about real-world issues many Orthodox individuals face when joining the workforce.

One of many CDC events planned for the semester, the session served as a component of Yeshiva University’s renewed effort to prepare its students for life after college through a variety of personal and communal advisement and informational sessions.

“Our goal tonight is to help prepare our students for situations and challenges they will face in the secular world and give them the tools, resources and support to help determine how to handle these scenarios,” said Laurie Davis, director of counseling and programming at the CDC.

The program began with some words by Rabbi Yona Reiss, The Max and Marion Grill Dean of YU affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS). Prior to his current position, Rabbi Reiss worked in an international Wall Street law firm and he shared some of his experiences interspersed with a few words of Torah. In one such story, he related how in his first year, his firm had a tradition that all newcomers dress as elves and hand out gifts to the other employees during the holiday season. Uncomfortable with this, he decided to dress as a Maccabee instead, to the delight of his coworkers.

Joel Strauss, a YU graduate and partner at Kaplan Fox & Kilsheimer, helped organize the event.
Joel Strauss, YU graduate and partner at Kaplan Fox & Kilsheimer, helped organize the Sept. 14 event.

“Being open about observance creates a reminder to yourself and expectations in the case of others that you have a right and a responsibility to be different,” said Rabbi Reiss.

Following this, the audience broke into four groups with a male and female professional leading a discussion on different situations an Orthodox person may encounter in the workplace. The conversation ranged from issues of head-covering to non-kosher restaurant etiquette to the proper way to leave early on Fridays. Throughout, these professionals stressed that being Orthodox should never prevent someone from gaining employment anywhere in the business world, but it may, at times, require going the extra mile under the higher scrutiny of executives.

At right, C. Howard Wietschner ’88YC, head of the Hedge Fund Industry Group at Goldman Sachs, talks to students.
At right, C. Howard Wietschner ’88YC, head of the Hedge Fund Industry Group at Goldman Sachs, talks to students at the CDC event.

“I have heard many stories about problems that can arise if you want to live an observant lifestyle in the corporate world, things that could have been avoided if you attended a panel like this,” said Benjamin Rosenberg ’11SB. “I came looking for advice and now that I heard these interesting stories, I know what to expect when interviewing for a job.”

One of the participants, Eveyln Havasi ’82S, a managing director at Citigroup, commented at the close of the event how YU graduates constantly impress her for their hard work and dedication. “Their consistent commitment to the long day of a dual curriculum showcases their capability and competence,” said Havasi. “The caliber of the students here is as high a caliber as the Ivies.”

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