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High Holidays Feature (12): Israelis Confront Disruption in Daily Life During Holidays

Although Rosh Hashanah does not begin until Sept. 13, Israel is already in the throes of “After the Holidays” syndrome.

This maddening phenomenon, which annually hits Jewish communities around the world between Rosh Hashanah and Simchat Torah, is felt most keenly in Israel, where the Jewish calendar dictates life, at least most of the time.

Whereas Jews in the Diaspora have to fit the Days of Awe into their secular work or school week, Israelis simply shut down their businesses and schools every time a holiday comes along.

In Israel, employees never have to beg for time off at holiday time, because all government offices and virtually all Jewish-owned businesses traditionally close shop. And because Jewish holidays begin at sundown, employers usually throw in this “pre-holiday” day for good measure.

Schools, which religiously open the last week of August or the beginning of September, despite the fact that it is hot enough to bake matzah in most classrooms, take a short Rosh Hashanah break just a couple of weeks later. This ritual is repeated on Yom Kippur, which precedes a weeklong break for the duration of Sukkot. Classes finally resume the day after Simchat Torah.

Rather than deal with this scheduling nightmare — this year’s holiday schedule does not bode well for courses meeting on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays — the country’s universities start the fall semester after the holidays.

“In Israel, people take the Jewish calendar very seriously,” says Steven Cohen, a sociologist at the Hebrew University’s Melton Center for Jewish Education who immigrated to Israel from the United States. “The holidays mark a clear boundary between periods, between the old and new years.”

Unfortunately, Cohen says, “today we have a real conflict between our pre- industrial, agricultural past and our post-industrial society. Back in pre- industrial days, people didn’t have the same kind of work week. The 5 1/2-day work week is an invention of the industrialized world.”

The fact that the holiday period wreaks havoc with the work week “can be very frustrating,” says Mona Berdugo, an environmental planner in Jerusalem.

“Nothing gets done. It begins in August, when everyone goes away, and continues through Simchat Torah. Last year, when I sent out resumes in the summer, I was told I’d have to wait until after the holidays for a response.”

Berdugo, the mother of a toddler, says the holidays also create a child-care nightmare.

“My daughter’s [day care] is closed during Sukkot, not to mention the other holidays, and this off-again, on-again schedule makes it hard for kids to adjust.”

Becky Rowe, a Tel Aviv-based editor, says she and her husband cope with the holidays by visiting family in the United States.

“From a work standpoint, it’s not even worth being here,” she says. “August is bad enough because there’s very little child care and parents bring their kids to the office. No one can get any work done. So my husband and I decided to take advantage of the time off, when the weather in the States is good.”

While acknowledging that the holiday period is the worst possible time to order a new phone line or renovate the kitchen, many Israelis actually savor the slower, gentler pace that characterizes holiday season.

“Sure it’s tough that the kids are off from school,” says an Orthodox father of five, “but the holidays allow me to take time off from work and be with the family. It’s hectic but worth the effort to spend time together.”

Rabbi Andrew Sacks, director of the Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly of Israel, sees the holiday period as a time of hope and renewal.

“Sure it’s a time that almost nothing gets done in the outside world, but the holidays offer rabbis the opportunity to touch and activate people in large numbers,” says Sacks, who also made aliyah from America.

“As a movement we will address key issues like religious pluralism and the slaughter on the roads, as well as the importance of organ transplants. We’ll be handing out donor cards to encourage people to donate organs.”

Although he does not minimize the frustrations associated with the “After the Holidays” syndrome, Sacks prefers to look on the bright side.

“Unlike the Diaspora, where most holidays are two days, and there’s usually a Shabbat thrown in, there are less days of `yom tov’ in Israel.”

As a result, he says, “last year I was incredibly energized by the holidays. Instead of being `holidayed-out,’ as I am in the States, I found myself spiritually recharged.”

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