Jewish holidays were designed for Israel – opinion


Israel is the Jewish state. Therefore, Jewish holidays are easier to celebrate in Israel than anywhere else in the world. When it comes to vacations, what Israelis take for granted is serious business for many Jews in the Diaspora.

The Gregorian calendar, the calendar most used everywhere else in the world, certainly the Western world, does not correspond to the Jewish calendar. It does not host for Jewish holidays. In many places around the world neither the seasons nor the weather change.

Jewish holidays were designed for Israel.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are recognized as great holy days by most of the Diaspora – and this is a blessing in itself for Jews living outside of Israel. Due to the high status of these days, most companies understand when employees express a need or desire to take these days off. In fact, many companies offer them as part of the list of corporate vacations one can choose to take off. And many schools and universities do not offer classes on Rosh Hashanah (or at least, the first day of Rosh Hashanah) and Yom Kippur.

Sukkot is another story.

In Israel, Sukkot is celebrated by all. Even if you don’t build a sukkah, almost everyone celebrates because almost everyone is absent from work on the holiday, also known as the Feast of the Tabernacle – a fancy name for a sukkah. The weather is mild and eating under the stars is a great distraction from everyday life.

In the diaspora, the party is not quite the same.

Taking time off for Sukkot (and Passover and Shavuot) is usually part of vacation time. And most years, the season has already changed. In the United States, it would be a freezing fall.

But if you live in northern Europe, you are probably wearing thick jackets and craving hot soup. Sleeping outside in the sukkah, as many children like to do and many adults feel compelled to do, is an act of bravery. A friend, originally from Northern Europe and now a Jerusalemite, remembered the Sukkot celebration in Denmark.

He described their special sukkah table, designed and built around a heater. And he told me about the roof of the sukkah at the end of meals and the pole that was used to lift the “schach”, so that the heavy snow would not cause the roof to collapse. The roof had a “doohickey” just like the “doohickey” on a car that keeps the car’s hood from falling on you.

When they finished using the sukkah, they propped the roof up so the snow would slide off. When they returned to the sukkah, the roof was lowered.

It was a temporary solution. In homes around the world, there are permanent sukkah halls. Rooms designed with a retractable roof that, for eight days a year, functions like a sukkah. Rooms with interior heating – or air conditioning in the early Sukkot years – that make the Sukkah experience more comfortable.

All of this is a far cry from the Israeli Sukkot experience.

In Israel, Sukkot permeates popular culture. Decorations, many of which are sold as Christmas decorations in the Diaspora, abound.

Outside of Israel, many Jews do not know when Sukkot is, and others have not been to a Sukkah since Sunday school. And, as times change and priorities have changed and fewer Sunday schools are open and functioning, more and more Jews will never celebrate Sukkot and never enter a Sukkah.

For most Jews in the Diaspora, Jewish holidays are a chore. They are an intrusion into their daily life. The number of Jews attending synagogue or temple is declining. Holidays, and even Shabbat, are only important to “Jewish Jews”. They are only of value to Jews who – consciously and deliberately – want Judaism and Jewish values ​​to permeate their lives.

Outside of Israel, Jewish family life in the non-Orthodox world is in decline.

Today there are no requirements, no minimum standards for Jewish participation. The number of non-Orthodox Jews for whom Judaism is important and welcomes holidays, celebrations, continuity becomes smaller and smaller with each passing holiday, each passing year.

In Israel, you cannot avoid the Jewish calendar. Part of the brilliance of the secular founders of Zionism and the Jewish state was to make the Jewish calendar the calendar of the country. Their foresight reinforced the importance of Jewish holidays and Jewish time for every Israeli Jew. They linked the Jewish heart and the Jewish soul in Jewish times. This was and still is essential for the secular masses. The founders of Israel understood this. They had guessed it.

This is reflected in the modern Hebrew language. Shabbat, Friday afternoon and Saturday are weekends. The word for Saturday in Hebrew is “Shabbat.” Not Yom Hashevi’i on the seventh day. The use of the term Shabbat imbues a Jewish value, conscience, awareness of Shabbat – even for the most secular. In Yiddish too, there is only one word for Saturday – Shabbos. Even Yiddish socialists used the term.

Unfortunately, just like the Jewish holidays which are optional for only so many Jews, so too is the affinity, appreciation and love of Israel.

Loving Israel is, for Jews in the Diaspora, just another Jewish activity like holidays and Shabbat that fell into the optional category. If there is any chance to rekindle the spark of love for Israel among young Jews, it must go hand in hand with triggering an interest in the rest of Judaism that has been set aside.

The natural link between the Land of Israel and Judaism is no longer transplantable to the diaspora. Not so long ago, Zionism was a form of Jewish affiliation. With Zionism, one could support their Jewish life. Zionists built Sukkot to celebrate a secular Zionist holiday called Sukkot.

Those days are over.


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