It’s no secret to any Jew living in America that the national calendar follows Christian traditions. The Government, businesses, and schools close for Easter and Christmas vacations, but on our holiest days, Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, we have to make the conscious and sometimes difficult decision of how to balance our commitments to our Jewish identity and our commitments to our academic or business expectations.
This past Sunday, Temple Emanu-El congregant, Mitch Lewis, came and spoke to the 8th-grade class at the Diamond Family Religious School. I asked him to share his Jewish journey in business and in life with the class. Along the way he posed a difficult hypothetical question to the students:
You just started a new job on September 1. The High Holy Days are in a couple of weeks and you’re one member on a team of 5 who has to meet a deadline that falls the day after Yom Kippur. How will you observe Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur? Will you take 3 days off (2 for Rosh HaShanah and 1 for Yom Kippur)? Will you go in for half days? Will you work from home?
Essentially, Mitch asked the class, “how will you balance your Jewish identity in a culture that won’t easily help you to be Jewish?” The responses of our 8th-graders varied. Some said that they would take those days off no matter what, others said that would go into work this time to build a reputation so they could take off future holy days, and others tried to find a compromise that allowed them to observe Jewish traditions and be a dependable employee. Surely, we have all thought about each of these options throughout our time in school or work.
As Jews living in America, we are faced with this dilemma every Fall when the High Holy Days come around on a weekday, every December when we explain the relative unimportance of Chanukah in Judaism compared to Christmas in Christianity, and every Pesach when we need time to prepare or travel to family or friends for Seder. We constantly balance our Jewishness and our desire to be part of American mainstream culture.
At Temple Emanu-El we call this choosing to live sacred time; the intentional decisions that help us to feel Jewish in a world that does not always make it easy. The most available way we can choose to live sacred time is on Shabbat. We can do this by saying blessings at the dinner table on Friday night, by attending Shabbat services Friday night or Saturday morning, by studying Torah with our Temple Emanu-El community on Saturday mornings, or even getting out in nature on a Shabbat hike. When we choose to live sacred time more often, we find greater meaning in our lives, and we can more easily balance the dilemmas around participating in Jewish life and being present in our studies or in business when conflicts arise.
What decisions will you make that help you to live sacred time this week, this winter holiday season, or this coming year?