Have you ever wondered what those odd holidays are on your calendar, the ones that pop up randomly every year, in September or October, but never seem to be on the same dates two years in a row? Have you ever wondered what they mean, who celebrates them or why they are on your calendar? I used to wonder too. Sometimes, one would even fall on my birthday. That strange and wonderful day of "Rosh Hashana" or "Yom Kippur" that I knew nothing about. I liked that my birthday coincided with a holiday, before I knew what that holiday was or who celebrated it, or what it even meant.
Now I know. I think I was in high school when I learned that Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur were Jewish holidays. I did not look for or get much more information other than that until college or even grad school. Schools were not closed on those days, banks remained open and mail was delivered. The holidays did not have any impact on me, so they passed largely unnoticed in my world at that time. Sound familiar?
Fast forward to grad school. I suddenly had friends who would disappear for several days in September and October. Wondering where they were, I was told "in Temple" or "at services." I learned that schools in Los Angeles actually close on those days (as do many local universities and colleges) so that Jewish students and families can celebrate without worrying about missing school or making up homework. Then I studied Judaism, and subsequently converted and am now well-versed in the holidays and traditions. (And now that I know, it is not necessarily as fun that my birthday sometimes falls on the holidays, but we'll get to that.)
Fast forward from grad school to now and I have come to the conclusion that everyone, in all walks of life, needs at least one Jewish friend. Why? So that when that ol' calendar rolls around to September and October, we can remind everyone else not to schedule things on those days. Why? Because it is important to us. And you wouldn't want us to schedule something on Christmas or Easter, right?
So what is Rosh Hashana? Well, it is the Jewish New Year. You might know that the Jewish calendar is based upon the lunar cycles, so each month has 29 or 30 days, and every so often, an extra month is added so that the calendar can catch up. (Kind of like leap year.) This is also why the days of Jewish holidays do not fall on the same corresponding Gregorian calendar date each year. (The Gregorian calendar is the basis for traditional 12-month calendars you are used to.)
But the holiday is more than the beginning of a new month and a new year. In Jewish tradition, the New Year is a time to rejoice, but it is also a time for self-reflection and study. It is believed that on Rosh Hashana, the Book of Life is opened by G*d and everyone has a chance to right past wrongs, in order to be written in the Book of Life. 8 days later comes Yom Kippur, which is considered by many to be the holiest day of the year for Jews. On Yom Kippur, the Book of Life is sealed (for another year.) Many Jews spend the day in Temple, in prayer. Many Jews also fast (don't eat) from sundown to sundown. (Because the Jewish calendar is based upon the Lunar cycle, holidays run from sundown to sundown, meaning that Yom Kippur will start tonight at sundown and end tomorrow at sundown. This is also why the 8 nights of Hanukkah are celebrated, as opposed to days.) *Brief side note - this is why I also learned that it is not necessarily a good thing to have Yom Kippur fall on your birthday. Imagine having to go all day without eating. That's right, no cake or ice cream or a drink. Nothing until well after sundown and after having sat in Temple. All. Day. Long. Yom Kippur fell on my 30th. But I digress.
While I could certainly go on in much more detail about why Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are important to the Jewish faith and tradition, take it simply as this: New Year, and holiest day of the year.
Why is this important? Because just about every year, without fail, something in my sphere gets scheduled on one of those days, which I then have to miss. One year it was a teacher's meeting and workshop that I had to miss. Several times there have been meetings or events for groups or associations that I belong to and have had to miss. We have to work around missing a meeting for B that was scheduled during the holidays. I've heard various excuses or reasons why things are scheduled on those days, but the most common is actually that people have no idea what the day is or even when it is.
I think I've addressed the "what it is" above. But let's talk briefly about "when it is." This is why, folks, I've decided that not only does everyone need a Jewish friend to remind them, but everyone needs to invest in a paper calendar. I know that we've all gone tech-savvy, but many of those electronic calendars don't include Jewish holidays unless you specifically tell it to. If you have a paper calendar, those dates are pre-marked for your convenience. (And while many of us who celebrate have gotten calendars that have the wrong dates for those holidays, they are at least close enough, so that you can ask your token Jewish friend to confirm.)
Here's the thing. If you see something at work that is unfamiliar, you research or ask for clarification, right? If your child brings something home from school that requires your attention and you don't understand it, you research it, right? So if you are planning an event or meeting or anything that might include people of other faiths, why not take a minute to check that calendar (the paper one) and see if there is anything listed. You might save your Jewish friend (or friends) some agony in having to miss an event or otherwise plan around.
And of course,with a few of those Jewish friends around - odds are they know how to make a kick a** matzah ball/ chicken soup, and/or probably have a Mom or Bubbe (grandma) somewhere in their family that is a great cook. Bonus!