The Job Interview
How quickly a dream can turn into a nightmare.
I needed a job in the worst way and was prepared to check my pride at the door and take almost anything. I was unemployed and a recent attendee at a monthly Shabbos Beginners Service in Brooklyn. The Torah I was learning was inspiring and the paucity of money was perspiring.
“Without flour, there is no Torah,” the mishna says, so I began spending less time on the plays I was writing, and more time on networking for a job. I was in the middle of a long run of a comedy play I had written that was being presented at a Greenwich Village theatre. I wasn’t being paid anything for it but at least I didn’t have to pay the theatre to put on my work. And who knows? Maybe one night a big time producer would come and offer me a big contract.
Well that never happened, but one lady who attended – from France – told me how much she liked the show and we became friends. A few weeks later, while I was pondering job hunting strategies, the phone broke the silence. It was my French friend and she told me in her broken English that there was a job offering at her firm – something to do with coordinating a product they exported from Europe. I was very interested and she told me they would interview me in Manhattan in an hour and a half.
I never put on a suit quicker and I rushed out the door with two tokens in my pocket and seven dollars in my wallet. I got there right on time.
My friend met me in the lobby and wished me luck in getting the job. She led me to a small office where I was introduced to an assistant manager. I thought the interview went swimmingly well, especially since he was creating scenarios where I was already working for the firm. He said a lot of positive things about me and then he escorted me to a second floor office to meet his manager.
I was definitely moving up in this world, and this manager seemed inclined to keep the positive momentum going by heaping all kinds of praise on me. He said that my background in putting together a magazine showed I have a knack of coordination under deadline pressure which was exactly what the job called for.
“I would hire you on the spot but you have to meet the owner, which I would say is a mere formality,” he told me. Visions of having more than macaroni and tuna fish for dinner were dancing through my head.
I went to see the owner – going further up on the elevator to the top floor, and he appeared thrilled to meet me. “Alan, you’ll be excellent in this job.” He then told me a salary that was more than reasonable.
His next words made me want to pinch myself to see if I was dreaming. “And it’s clear to me that you can do this job in 25 hours a week. The other 15 hours you can do what you want, including working on your latest play.”
Overjoyed is too mild a word to describe how I felt at that moment.
“I’m offering you the job,” the owner said. “What do you say?”
I wanted to say thank you a thousand times, buy him a hundred candy bars, and sing to him “Wonder of Wonders” from “Fiddler on the Roof,” but then a little voice of caution entered my consciousness. “You know, I feel a little silly,” I said, “but in rushing down here today, and in these wonderful interviews, I never asked what the product is that you import.”
The owner smiled and proudly said, “Alan, we are the number one importer of ham in the United States.”
Instantly, all of the air went out of my bubble. I looked up at the wall and saw large color posters of various cuts of ham with different vegetables and other adornments. If there was a museum of ham, this would be it.
And I thought about how badly I needed the money. I really, really needed it. And I thought about how I could ask a rabbi about the permissibility of taking a job like this and figured that there would be lenient opinions in Jewish law that would say it’s okay. I wasn’t the owner, I didn’t have to eat the food and I wasn’t directly feeding any Jew treif.
But during those few seconds of pausing before answering the owner, I thought of a day down the line where I would get a call from a Mr. Feinberg in Omaha, who is yelling at me, “Where is my ham?!” And I thought about the path I was taking in learning about my Jewish heritage and how I wanted to continue growing in my commitment and observance.
I looked at the owner and with gratitude and politeness, I declined his offer.
A few months later, in addition to strengthening my Jewish roots, I followed my journalism roots and got a position as a copy editor for a trade publication. A real job! I wouldn't be able to work on my plays there, but I was now working on more important things.