March 28, 2020

The Mixed Blessings of Jewish Holidays

At the risk of being religiously incorrect, perhaps it is time someone said out loud what most observant Jews think to ourselves: Jewish holidays can be really, really difficult. 

Every Jewish holiday is filled with purpose and meaning. Although some holidays are a breeze, even fun, such as Hanukkah, Purim, Simchat Torah and even Shavuot, let’s face it, the upcoming High Holy Days and Sukkot are stressful, expensive and exhausting. And wait until Passover rolls around.  

It’s midsummer, the migraine you got from fasting on Tisha b’Av finally subsided, when you see a huge Manila envelope in your mailbox. You know it’s your synagogue membership renewal, crammed with more forms than when you refinanced your house. 

You tear open the envelope and search for the enclosed calendar that will be your roadmap to Jewish holidays for the coming year. 

“How do the holidays fall? Are they early or late? They never are on time. How much work will I miss? Can Moshe come home from law school? Will his professors believe Simchat Torah is a real Jewish holiday? 

With all the days of Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot, navigating the household holiday social calendar is a feat that would challenge Einstein. You know you have to extend meal invitations, so you sit on the couch and mentally review who was naughty or nice to you the past year.

The High Holy Days and Sukkot are a piece of babka compared with Passover.

“Who do we owe? What weddings did we go to and still haven’t sent a gift? There’s the first night, first day, next night, day and the last days. What if someone invites us and messes up the plan? Nah, nobody likes us.” 

You grab your laptop and/or smart phone and start to email and text. For the very special people, an actual phone call. 

“Hi, Laura, this is Judy. Are you available to eat by us Sukkot second-day lunch? Oy. How about first night? How about second day, night or day. We have two seats open but they are on the low, wobbly folding table. You know, the one your Chana tripped over and broke two years ago.”

Operation holiday hosting is in full swing. Your house is transformed into an OpenTable reservations app.

Next stop, the garage. You step around the empty Amazon boxes you’ve been saving in case you need to return something and make your way to the sukkah tucked way in the back next to the Pesach dishes. 

“How does this go again? Where are the screws? I’m short on bungies. Do I even use bungies? Why is this picture from Adina’s first-grade project still stuck on the tarp? She’s married.” 

But the High Holy Days and Sukkot are a piece of babka compared with Passover, unquestionably the most labor-intensive, expensive and nerve-racking holiday of the year. It starts weeks before with the traditional donning of the hazmat suit. Every corner of the house, corners that you forgot existed, must be inspected for chametz (leaven that is forbidden to possess during Passover). Inevitably, you see a lone Cheerio between a bed and the wall. Out comes the vacuum. You shove down the tube attachment hoping the vacuum will inhale it. It does the trick but you scratched the wall and now have to paint. 

Cleaning is just the beginning. Then there is the shopping, cooking and hosting the seder(s), if you hate yourself enough to go through that. As hard as it is, let’s be honest — wives make Passover. We guys would just take a leaf blower to the living room, pick up a box of matzos at the 99 Cents Only store and call it Passover.

The beauty of the Jewish religion lies in our traditions, most of which are expressed through our holidays. The High Holy Days keep us connected to our spiritual side while Passover keeps us connected to our historical roots when we became a nation. 

So although we muster our energies and resources to face yet another cycle of Jewish holidays, we somehow always manage to get through it, and hopefully find the meaning that awaits us. 

Just wish it wasn’t so much stress.

Harvey Farr runs a West Los Angeles-based public relations firm specializing in nonprofit marketing.