1. September is the time of year I discover all the other Yids
My organization has about 64,000 employees. I’m pretty certain I know all five orthodox Jews. So when Rosh Hashannah comes around, all the other yids (secular or otherwise) join in taking time off to celebrate the High Holidays. And I get very excited.
Just a couple of days before Yom Kippur, I attended a meeting with representatives from across Canada. Back in August when the dates were being proposed, a manager sent an email to a large group of people noting that when organizing the September meeting, we would need to be mindful that the timing doesn’t conflict with important Jewish holidays. I couldn’t believe my luck. Another Yid had flagged the holidays, and for the first time ever, that Yid wasn’t me.
2. No matter how gently you word that email about your upcoming religious holidays, no one is truly prepared for the sporadic nature and length of the Jewish holiday season
Basically, when letting people at work know that I’ll be taking a few days off for religious holidays in September and October, I should really warn that I’ll be in and out of the office for four straight weeks. But I don’t frame it like that, for obvious reasons.
I swear that by the time I reminded everyone about the last stretch of holidays, every single colleague and my boss had the same look on their face that said “Holy sh*t, another one?!” Yep. Another one. But then smooth sailing till Passover, I promise.
3. Literally no one knows what Sukkot is
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are pretty well known. But when it comes time to Sukkot, I get blank stares. It all seems so normal to me – until I’m asked to elaborate.
“So, we build a hut, or Tabernacle, in the backyard, decorate it, eat in it…” Do you sleep in it? “Actually, some people do.” What’s it made of? “Some make it out of canvas, some out of wood, the ceiling is made of bamboo or branches, or wood, but whatever you do, you must be able to see the stars.”
So kind of like a yurt? Or a tent?
And then, when I’m back at work on Chol Hamoed, I try to explain that the holiday is not exactly over yet and that I can come to work on these ‘in-between’ days until the ‘second days’ begin. More blank stares. I purposely don’t mention the citrus fruit and the whacking of willow branches.
4. The biggest misconception about the holiday season is that we are basking in the relaxation of a series of extended long weekends
I may run a vacation day deficit by the time the religious holidays wrap up, but I hardly consider the holidays a vacation. All those vacation days used up, and I don’t even step outside of my neighborhood.
The month of extended long weekends really looks like this: We begin with New Years, aka two days of intense personal reflections and about five hours a day in synagogue, followed by large hours-long meals. Up next, we fast for 25 hours, and clock in about 15 hours in synagogue. Then for two days straight we sit and eat in our huts (plus more synagogue) and repeat the pattern the following week (minus the hut). This doesn’t include the Shabbats and super condensed work weeks in between, the food prep, rotating between family, in-laws and friends and building the actual hut. No festivals or fireworks on these holy days…There is, however, plenty of alcohol. But not for New Year’s eve.
So, when a fellow orthodox colleague messages me right after the holiday season ends to say – “it’s over!” I realize many of us share the sentiment that this is not exactly a month of vacationing. Quality time/introspection? Yes. Vacation – nope.
5. In the words of a fellow working Yid: “During the holiday season you work twice as hard, but still look like you’re always MIA”
The challenge for those of us who grew up in a Jewish bubble didn’t start in the workplace. It had already manifested itself in university. Holidays were filled with missed consecutive classes, make-up exams and a general feeling of disorientation. To be a high performer, you had to work twice as hard within ridiculous time constraints. Work, it turns out, is not that different. The expectation to deliver is not lessened by the notion of religious practices.
As a result, some people start their day at 7:00am and work evenings and Sundays to catch up on work. Unfortunately, regardless of how much time you put in outside of working hours, sporadic absences still deem you, for the most part, MIA for a month.
And so…“Yes, the holidays are awkward, uncomfortable and difficult at work – but so what? Does that mean I shouldn’t be orthodox?” Said a friend over the holidays. I concur. Optics and all, I’ll take it.
Happy New Year to all:)
Till next time!
Sarit, the Working Yid