Anyone who’s ever made a party knows that the most essential ingredient is planning. Every year before Thanksgiving, the three board members of my government agency vote on when the office will hold its annual holiday bash. They allot a certain amount of money from the budget to cover paper goods and platters, and a list makes its way around the office for each of us to write what we will bring to supplement the party. On the day of the party, work basically stops after noon. Someone cranks up some tunes, and a few “outsiders” are invited to stop by—folks from other government agencies and private contractors with whom we do business throughout the year. The result is a fun and (somewhat) meaningful holiday experience.

I offered to contribute something kosher and seasonally appropriateThere are just 11 of us in this agency; I am one of three Jews, and the only Orthodox one. By and large, all 11 of us get along just fine. We do our jobs, and things move forward as they should. I have no complaints whatsoever about my bosses, co-workers, workload, commute or anything. This is a great job; I’m happy (and fortunate) to have it—and I know it!

My Orthodoxy has attracted attention only twice, and neither experience was negative. The first time involved hair-covering issues when I first started. One of the non-Jewish men in my office didn’t understand why I wore a wig to work on some days, hats to work on others, and occasionally a scarf or snood. (My Catholic boss appeased him with, “It’s what she does!”)

The other time was at the office X‑mas party.

For last year’s “holiday” party, I offered to contribute something kosher, seasonally appropriate and a little bit different from what they’re used to. So I shlepped my electric food-warmer, fresh sour cream and applesauce, and about 15 pounds of homemade latkes that my husband had prepared to share with my new coworkers. I covered my desk with a Chanukah tablecloth, opened a package of new Chanukah paper plates and hung up assorted Chanukah decorations that my family has collected over the years. My paltry Chanukah display paled beside the office’s overflowing trays of deli and cheeses, chicken wings with ranch dressing, barbecued ribs and meatballs. Pete’s wife sent a huge tray of homemade fudge, Mexican almond cookies and homemade candy. Others brought in homemade dips and baked goods. It all looked great, smelled great, and, well, it was all off-limits.

But I’m proud that I keep kosher, and I was more than happy to share my little Chanukah feast with my new friends. They were gracious and polite, and we all had a good time. The latkes nearly disappeared, and one of the cleaning ladies was happy to take home the leftovers. Afterwards, I was actually looking forward to the next party, and during the year, my husband and I occasionally discussed what we could do to “kick it up a notch.” We believe that it’s important to share the beauty of Judaism with everyone, and this is perhaps the most appropriate way to do that in an office setting.

This year, the date for the holiday party was chosen once, changed, and then changed again. The final decision: Wednesday, Dec. 19. Just another day to most, “hump day” to some. On the Jewish calendar, however, it coincides (this article was written in 2007—Ed.) with Asarah B’Tevet, the 10th of Tevet, a minor fast day, which is also the day that the Chief Rabbis of Israel designated as yom ha-kaddish haklali—the day on which traditional prayers for the dead are recited for people whose yahrzeit (death anniversary) is unknown. Many rabbis have designated it as a day of remembrance for the Holocaust.

It was on the 10th of Tevet that the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar (reigned 3319–3363 on the Jewish calendar) took over the holy city of Jerusalem, surrounded it with forts and wore down its inhabitants by forcing a famine. This was the beginning of a long chain of calamities that finally ended with the destruction of the Holy Temple.

I’ll probably take a half-day and just go homeWhat this means, of course, is that I won’t be shlepping the food-warmer or the latkes or anything else to work on that day. In fact, I’ll probably take a half-day and just go home. Most folks might think that this is because fasting is about grieving and mourning, but that’s not the case here. This fast is about repentance. Teshuvah. Why repentance? Simply put, Nebuchadnezzar was permitted to succeed in overthrowing the holiest place on earth because we didn’t deserve better. It’s a heavy thought to process, and one worth considering, especially in light of the ongoing turmoil in Israel today. But teshuvah doesn’t have to be a drag. In fact, some find the process uplifting, approaching it with an attitude of “This time, I’m going to get it right!”

I spent some time debating how I should properly spend this fast day. I considered just hanging out at my desk throughout the party, watching my coworkers and the others enjoy their holiday fare. I can schmooze with the best of them, so what’s the harm? And I wouldn’t eat their food anyway, right?

As attorneys often say in courtroom dramas, “Asked and answered, Your Honor.” Many (millions) before me have made this inquiry. The Gemara tells us that “the people who fast but engage in pointless activities are grasping what is of secondary importance and missing what is essential.” I reluctantly admit that while parties are fun, and office parties can be a valuable networking tool, in the grand scheme of things, they probably fall into the category of “pointless activities,” and my day might be better spent doing something more essential, like praying.

So I’ll be spending the office party in private contemplation with the King. I’ll fast, I’ll pray, I’ll contemplate teshuvah. And with a little planning, I will have a most meaningful “holiday” experience.