Faith and Public Service with Hannah Lebovits

In the series, ELGL members talk about how they balance their personal faith with their public service careers. 


By Hannah Lebovits, PhD Student, Urban Studies and Public Affairs

A few months ago, when I saw the “Call for Writers” for this series, I thought it would be a great opportunity to discuss my experience as an Orthodox Jew in the public sector. In fact, I wrote an entire article about my faith, my practices and a half-joking request to make the next holiday event on a Tuesday night rather than Friday night (my Sabbath). But things have changed in the last few months.

Whether it’s my name or my nose, something about me clearly states that I’m Jewish. And, aside from the occasional question or comment, my Jewish-ness is usually not a topic of conversation. Until the inevitable luncheon when I bring my own kosher food or the Saturday program that I miss. Then people become curious.

It’s totally understandable- my personal practices are not as well-known and there are misconceptions about some of the rituals that have made it into popular culture. And, actually- I enjoy telling people about my faith and dispelling some of those inaccuracies. But recently, something odd happens when I tell people that I am a religious or Orthodox Jew. Almost immediately after finding out that I’m religious, friends who I’ve known for months or years, begin to ask me pointedly about my personal views on politics, policies and politicians. It’s like suddenly these people who I’ve spoken with dozens of times about equity, inclusion, safety and the value of diversity don’t even recognize me anymore. And honestly, it’s really disheartening.

Because, to me, “diversity and inclusion” have more to do with what makes us similar than what makes us different. In truly diverse workplaces, everyone works collaboratively because we recognize that we are greater when our passion for public service drives our work, rather than our individual viewpoints. It is for that reason that we do not exclude anyone based on attributes that are personal to them. If they come with enthusiasm and a dedication for public service, the doors are wide open.

Yes, I’m religious. My holidays, food choices, weekly schedule and manner of dress are different. But I’m here because I genuinely love the public sector. I’ve been a legislative aid, an administrator, a candidate for local government office and now I research and write about local and regional governments. If I couldn’t square my faith and my commitment to public service, I wouldn’t stick around.

So, while there might be people who misuse religion and faith as a vehicle for hatred, that rhetoric you heard from some political pundit or a cousin on Thanksgiving? You haven’t heard it from me. My religion is a huge part of who I am but so is my family, my research and my passion for good governance. We’re all here to make the world a better place. So, after I tell you about my wig, my weekly Thanksgiving-esque dinners and my kids Hebrew names, let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work!

But really though, I would appreciate the occasional non-weekend social event. At least that way I wouldn’t miss out on all the office jokes!


Supplemental Reading

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