It’s fall and you know what that means. It’s time for the High Holy Days. The leaves are turning. The air is crisp. I have this urge to seek out apples and honey and go to every challah baking class despite my lack of room in the freezer for the extra challot. My kids are already planning on what to hang in the sukkah. It’s also a time for introspection and growth for the coming year and what I can do to be a better person.
So, naturally, the next thing on my mind is how to engage my kids in the High Holy Day fun. Well, we are fortunate that our community has lots of kid-friendly events to teach about the holidays and show how much fun celebrating is. We get to do tashlich and say, “I am sorry.” There are community activities that support tikkun olam and engage us in social justice work. At home we have games, books, family meals, special traditions, and, of course, time at the synagogue. My husband and I have that all covered, thank g-d.
What I do not have covered is my own decision about how to balance the days off when there is a holy day. Do I take the day off? Do my kids take the day off? What do I do if my kids have the day off and I can’t get out of work? What kind of example do I want to set for my children? The answers to these should be very easy if I want to have a Jewish home, but how?
Some of you might relate to my questions if you have a job or career that expects you to be present all the time, or do not have a flexible schedule to take time off. Of course, there are halachic reasons for needing to work on a chag; for example, if you are a health care professional and are asked to save a life, but that’s not everyone’s career. As you might imagine or know, there are reality reasons for needing to work; for example, you need the work to make sure you make the rent on time. The teacher or coach might have forgotten or not known there was a holy day, and accidentally scheduled a big event or game that is very important to your kid’s social life (that’s a tough one!). And then there is the question of level and degree of observance, and what works for shalom bait.
The truth is that I can’t get all the holidays off work and can’t take my kids out of school for every holiday because all of those questions factor into what happens on a day-to-day basis. And I also want to find this balance between the Jewish and secular life, and this work involves forgiveness. For my kids, I want to model forgiveness during this time when the decisions are not favorable.
Here’s the good news. What we do have covered is that in our whole Jewish community, nobody judges these questions, decisions, or realities. Nobody. I have yet to meet anyone who does. And you know why? Because during this time we are forgiving and I believe we need to be forgiving when we have to make that hard decision of going to picture day or having lunch with the family in the sukkah. All of us know that we have loving spaces to pray and be Jews in our own ways. We are fortunate that there are laws that protect our rights to observe so we can pull our kids out of school and take time off of work without repercussions. It’s ok to be you in your own Jewish way.