Reader Y wrote,
Me and my family recently made aliyah to Israel from NY. Things are going ok, baruch hashem.
We live in Kiryat (removed for privacy), I don't think the place is "right" for us but it's great for now.
I thought you may be able to give me some advice. I work in (up and coming internet field) and every time I have a meeting I inevitably trim my beard pretty short. Now I don't think I have it in me (yet?) to let my beard grow totally but it feels so inauthentic to trim because I think that I won't get a project as someone that looks "too" religious.
It hurts my neshama and I noticed that I subconsciously started to avoid meetings so that I don't need to trim. How did you overcome the challenge of not trimming your beard when you work with the outside world?
In NY, having a beard is "cool". But I have been warned by people in Internet work in Israel that people here are totally turned off by a beard and assume that you know nothing about the industry.
Reb Akiva responds…
Mazel Tov on your aliyah!
First I assume you know you're on firm halachic ground with a trimmed beard. While a long beard and/or an uncut beard is a midos chassidus and a wonderful custom kept by many, there is absolutely no limitation on cutting your beard to any length or style you feel comfortable with.
Of course in most religious communities a bigger beard is socially a 'higher level', and among many Jewish religious groups an uncut beard is normal.
Now you face an interesting problem (that I face as well). The values of religious society and secular society are in pretty strong conflict in Israel. In some ways Orthodox Jews are the “African Americans” of Israel - a natural negative bias is somewhat automatic on the part of many in the Tel Aviv and central region areas. (This is less true in the Jerusalem area.)
How can you overcome it? My advice is to emphasis your American-ness, especially your American experience and the mentioning of recognizable American firms you've worked for (whether you've done projects for them, had them as clients or worked as an employee). Part of that is emphasizing the SIZE of the companies you've worked for. Keep in mind a company of 1,000 employees in Israel is a HUGE top company in the country! (The biggest high-tech companies in Israel are 2,000 and 1,500 employees respectively, the average mid sized information technology projects company is 100-300 people.)
Israelis value and are impressed by American management styles, orderliness and planning, managing of growth, and comfort level with size and (what's to the Israeli) big projects.
So, to somewhat try to relate it to your specialty, while Internet work focused at an Israeli audience would feel success at impacting 10's of thousands, consider it great success to impact 100,000's of thousands, and couldn't imagine doing something that impacted 1 million, an American approach might not even consider things to be getting started until it's impacted 100,000. The American approach would also possibly be more focused on measuring and tracking, having performance indicators in the relationship and monitoring, and produce regular graphs and reports on a campaign. The Israeli approach would be more ad hoc, change frequently to meet wavering customer expectations, and be less polished.
While the Israelis may do a double-take when you enter as a bearded religious Jew, they'll quickly hear an impressive organized American ready for large impact and focus on that.
Naturally I have to add to have emunah, daven to Hashem and the brachos will flow, which is definitely true in Israel. We all literally survive here by nissim (miracles), obvious and in our faces, regularly. Don't be afraid to ask our Father in Heaven for help with your concerns, and I'm certain you will actually see a result (and here in Israel be able to recognize it for what it is).