Dear Miriam | Coworker Question Causes Confusion

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Dear Miriam,

On a recent work Zoom call, a controversial topic came up, tangentially related to our work. A coworker asked me in the chat box, “How do Jews feel about this?” I was too shocked to respond and didn’t participate in the rest of the conversation. I’d like to follow up with this person with a productive response, but I’m not sure what that might be.


Off Guard Online

Dear Off Guard,

Zoom meetings are changing so much about our professional lives, including how we respond to questions that may be out of line. In an in-person meeting, if someone had asked you this out loud, the other people in the room would have been able to help reframe the conversation and move past the awkwardness, or least there likely would have been a collective shocked silence at the question.

If someone slipped you a note during a meeting, akin, perhaps, to the chat box, you could have expressed an appropriate non-response by not replying via note during the meeting, if nothing less, giving you time to figure out your response.

However, virtual meetings are changing all kinds of norms more quickly than most of us can keep up. The chat box is commonly used for all kinds of side comments, and with everyone muted most of the time, there’s no such thing as a shocked collective silence. Still, better to have been asked this in the chat than out loud, and not responding was a perfectly reasonable response in the moment. Now that you’ve had some non-Zoom time to collect yourself, though, you may want to consider a reply.

If this is a person you don’t know well and someone with whom you rarely interact, you could say something like this: “The Jewish community is broad and diverse, and I’m not comfortable being asked to speak for all Jews or sharing my personal opinions on this topic in a work environment.” If you are asked additional follow-up questions or made to feel uncomfortable based on your Judaism, this may become an issue to take up with HR, but for now, I think you could leave it at this.

If this is a person you like and respect, someone with whom you have a relationship and share work on a regular basis, I would suggest an email that goes something like this: “I was caught off guard by your zoom chat the other day asking about Jews’ opinions on X topic. The Jewish community is broad and diverse and there is no single opinion on any topic that is held by all Jews. With that as the basis, I’d be happy to tell you about my personal opinion on the subject and how my Jewish values are related to my opinions. Or, perhaps more comfortably and productive for both of us, I could point you in the direction of some articles written by Jewish leaders taking on a variety of opinions related to your question.”

I would like to take your coworker’s comments at face value as coming from a place of curiosity and genuine interest and trying to learn more about people who are from other backgrounds. During this time of isolation, racial reckoning, social unrest and intense uncertainty, I understand both your coworker’s attempt to reach out in this way and your very justified discomfort. You certainly don’t need to be a spokesperson for all Jews in any regard, but communicating with your co-worker in a gentle way will be better for everyone overall long term.

Be well,



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