Friday, September 18, 2009

Rant #91: Jewish New Year-Rushing Hashanah and Yomming Kippur

Tonight is the start of the holiest period during the year for Jews around the world. Rosh Hashanah commences this period, starting at sundown on Friday, Sept. 18. This holiday continues for the next two days, on Saturday, Sept. 19 and ends during the evening of Sunday, Sept. 20.

On the evening of Sunday, Sept. 27, Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, commences, and lasts a single day, ending on Monday, Sept. 28.

Although I am not a religious Jew by any stretch of the imagination, I do participate in these holidays. They are holidays that ask Jews to examine their strengths, and weaknesses, during the past year and to reflect on how they can improve themselves during the upcoming year. They are holidays of both introspection and group prayer. During Yom Kippur, observant Jews fast, to show their forgiveness to God, and also to show their strength.

It is with this understanding of what the holiday means that I have always had this conundrum with how the rest of the world should look at these holidays. Should the “outside” world recognize this holy time of year or simply ignore it?

Living in New York, where there are a large amount of Jews, has made these holidays pretty well known by the non-Jewish population. In fact, schools are generally closed during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur; this year, they will be closed only for Yom Kippur, as Rosh Hashanah falls on a weekend.

I once found out years ago that the reason New York City schools close on these holidays is that since such a large portion of their teachers are Jewish, it was not prudent to open when three-quarters of the teachers would be out.

This year, there are the usual myriad controversies revolving around whether certain events should be held on these holidays or not.

Professional sports leagues will go about their business during these holidays, but this year, one team has changed the starting time of its game on the day of the beginning of Yom Kippur to appease many of its fans who would not be able to attend the game due to their faith.

The Yankees have moved up their Sept. 27 game against the Red Sox to accommodate those fans. The game was slated to begin at 8 p.m.—I would assume it would be ESPN’s Sunday game of the week in this spot—but it will now be played at 1 p.m. in the afternoon.

Other leagues and teams will continue on with their schedules as is, but in New York—where the largest Jewish population in the world still resides—I must give the Yankees credit for making such a nice gesture to those fans who would be impacted by the game being held during the start of the most holy day of the year.

But on the other hand, I am sure people are asking why their schedules have to be turned upside down to placate a group of fans. They paid to see an 8 p.m. game, and now they get a 1 p.m. game. What happens if they can’t be there for the earlier time—why should they be penalized?

When my son was in Little League, the league would, every year, schedule games on the first two nights of Passover. Although Passover is not one of the holiest occasions on the Jewish calendar, it is a holiday which revolves around the family, and the traditional seder, and garners wide participation even among non-observant Jews.

The league, of course, never had a game on Easter Sunday.

My workplace does not give me off for the Jewish holidays, even though the owner is Jewish himself. I have to take the day(s) off as personal days.

Is this right? Shouldn’t everyone be given days off to celebrate their most holiest of holidays, whether it be Yom Kippur or Good Friday?

However, should business stop because a major religious holiday is being celebrated?

I don’t have an answer, and it is something that has puzzled me for years. These are religious holidays, and thus, they are more personal than say July 4 or Labor Day are.

The bottom line is this: do we suspend our usual day's activities because a major religion has one of its holiest days to celebrate?


  1. Not being religious of any religion it dosen't matter to me if they take days off or not, so many holidays (usually Christian) are celebrated on the wrong days, usually a pagan day of celebration, irony never ceases to amuse me there.
    I'd make Halloween a holiday.

    Happy Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah.

  2. Thanks. I think a lot of companies and organizations run into this problem each year, and whether you are religious or not, it can impact your schedule.

  3. It's interesting being here in a small North Dakota town after growing up Jewish in an eastern city with a large Jewish population. It would be really difficult to live here if I were observant; for one thing the nearest synagogue is 100 miles away.

    Drake - There's really no "correct" date for most holidays; dates are set by tradition. Every religion incorporates elements of past religions, so it's not surprising that holidays sometimes occur on pagan days of celebration.

  4. It must be very difficult for you. Do you get responses when you put up the menorah during Hanukkah?

  5. Since I'm pretty non-observant, it's not so hard. This is a tolerant place for the most part, with an easygoing attitude. I actually don't put up a menorah, but I have breakfast pretty often with a group of people who were totally unfamiliar with Jewish practices. The have learned a lot though through me.

  6. That is a nice thing to do. When we moved to Long Island, we were the first Jewish family on the block. I remember that during our first Hanukkah, someone threw a rock through our front window where the menorah was. It was a harrowing experience, and back then, you just cleaned things up and put the menorah back where it was; no police, no reports, no nothing. Today, I think people are more tolerant, although when the holiday season comes around, and I hear of menorahs being desecrated, I have to wonder.



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