Monday, August 13, 2018

"Oh, You've Got All Those Days Off!"

Ah...the fall chagim. When everyone (including you) eventually starts to get tired of hearing, "it's a holiday again." This is especially problematic in the school and workplace. 

When you become an orthodox Jew, you suddenly have a lot of holidays. Holidays that involve you not working, not driving, not answering your phone or emails, not coming to class, not coming to the office for the important meeting. 

And it gets awkward.

(It can get just as awkward with Shabbat, but the holidays are more likely to conflict with secular schedules. Everything said here can be applied to Shabbat as well. I once had to reschedule a Saturday exam, and the administrator actually said to me, "We have lots of Jewish students and no one has ever asked for an accommodation." As though I were making it up. I went on to make many problems for that administrator, and she eventually stopped being visibly annoyed. I later learned this helped smooth the path for a later student, so I'm slightly less bitter about it.)

Funnily enough, I've found that, in general, it's less awkward when your co-workers/teachers/whoever aren't Jewish and are clueless. When it's all new to them, it's interesting and exciting, and they have no preconceived notions about it. They have lots of questions! The trouble comes when someone else has an opinion about the holidays or too many holidays happen in a row (like in the fall). It can even make some Jewish friends or colleagues defensive, afraid that you're judging them for not celebrating the holiday like you do. (Hopefully you aren't judging them for that! a) it's not your place and b) if you wish they were different, wishing they were different is the worst way to go about inspiring a change.) 

But either way, your holiday schedule is almost certainly going to inconvenience you professionally sooner or later. And it will certainly inconvenience others around you too. This is most strongly felt during the fall chagim: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. By the time you reach Sukkos, someone will say, "Ok, Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur are printed on my calendar. Are you just trying to get more days off?? What do you mean you have two more sets of holidays off?? You just had off several days!" 

If my math is right (Hebrew calendars and my brain don't always get along), you would need seven business days off in September 2018, spread over four instances. That's a LOT, from an employer's (and client's and teacher's) standpoint. In colleges, you could literally miss a once a week class for an entire month - I've done it. More than once. It is rightfully stressful to have to request those days off for many employees and students, especially in a society that doesn't understand having religious days totally removed from everyday life.

And inevitably, someone will comment about how relaxed or lucky or jerkish you are to "have all those days off." Like they're a vacation. 

Oh ho ho. Little do they know. As you've probably figured out by now, Shabbat and holidays can be relaxing, but often aren't. And even the relaxing ones aren't relaxing in a vacation sense. There's getting up early to go to synagogue (no sleeping in!), davening for a few hours, getting lunch put together (especially if there are guests), entertaining guests, more davening, maybe a class or even more davening, dinner, entertaining the dinner guests if you have them. Yes, all these things are nice, but I would never compare them to sitting on a beach in Tahiti with a daiquiri.

But your colleagues (and potentially even clients) will.

They (usually) just don't have a frame of reference for such a highly ritualized, communal religion. And assume that you probably do catch-up work in the evenings and get out of the work that went on while you were gone.

And they'll wonder why you're so stressed out when you come back to the office. They won't understand all the enormous prep that goes into making a holiday, the stress of putting your outside life on hold (and many of us mentally never fully do), getting through the holiday itself, then the enormous cleanup, go back to work, catch up on work while also doing the new work coming in, and knowing you're going to have to repeat the whole thing next week. It can be incredibly stressful, and your colleagues may be (understandably) annoyed with your special circumstances while simultaneously annoyed that you don't seem to be appreciating all the "vacation" you're getting at the inconvenience to others.

But vacation days. Oh, vacation days. Those days you're using up to take off work for your holidays (if you even get vacation days in this insane American workforce). That's right. Especially if you're a student, you may not have thought about this. Many (most?) of my friends use up almost all their vacation days, and sometimes even a sick day or two, to take off work for the chagim throughout the year. They literally don't get a vacation, especially in a year like this, when almost all the chagim are business days. Their coworkers conveniently tend not to notice that part. And it's not healthy either that so many people in our community don't get proper vacations to sit back from their work, a very necessary mental health and productivity need. I think this is a big factor in the high rates of entrepreneurship we see in our community, as well as businesses that target within the orthodox community. It makes it a lot more likely that your time off work won't inconvenience your clientele and might allow you to take a proper vacation. 

Of course, this is all a worst case scenario view. But if you work outside Jewish communal organizations, you'll probably encounter it at least once or twice. While it's not pleasant, I hope you're remember that their point of view makes perfect sense if you're not familiar with living this kind of ritualized religious life. Be patient and kind and try not to take it personally. If our roles were reversed, I'm sure I'd feel the same way.

And that's this year's Elul message: be patient with the people who are impatient with your never-ending holidays.



  1. The other thing I've had is, "Oh, Jewish New Year, so you're having a really big party, right?" Er, no. We're wallowing in guilt and fear. I sometimes wonder what it would be like if Christmas and secular New Year were observed - and portrayed in the wider culture - like Pesach and the Yamim Noraim. If those films about rushing home for Christmas were less, "I need to be with my family at this special time" and more, "If we don't burn this bit of bread right now, we are going to be committing a terrible sin!"

    More seriously one reason (admittedly one of many) why I'm currently unemployed and thinking seriously about whether I'm in the right career is Shabbat and Yom Tov. Some careers are better than others for being frum, definitely.

  2. This article explains one of the reasons why
    NOBODY should be converting to Judaism!

    Why kill yourself with a million holidays?

    The Metsudath David commentary on
    Joshua, chapter 24, verse 19, teaches that:

    "…it is very difficult [meod kasheh] to serve
    Him with sufficient carefulness [zehirut]…"

    My advice: Forget about converting to Judaism,