Six years have gone by since I last spent Rosh Hashannah with my parents. And I would need all my fingers and most of my toes to count the number of years it’s been since I celebrated the Jewish New Year with either of my sisters.
It’s not that we haven’t planned to spend the High Holy Days with family. To call upon one of our tritest expressions, “life gets in the way.” Or, to be more honest with myself, I have made other choices.
Let’s see: Last year, I made an eleventh hour decision to forgo spending Rosh Hashannah with my parents in order to make a nearly 1,400 mile round-trip drive to attend a job interview. I knew that I had just a few weeks of work left before I would be laid off, and I had begun to panic. The interview was a disaster, a total waste of time and money. I guess it serves me right for not doing the right thing by turning them down in order to spend the holiday with my parents.
2012: My parents were being feisty and we didn’t want to deal with them. We blew them off, instead opting for a lovely trip to the ocean, attending a very friendly synagogue in San Luis Obispo and hanging out in Pismo Beach.
2011: I was able to secure only minimal time off work. We were living out in the desert, so we settled for attending synagogue near Phoenix, about two hours away.
2010: I was only a few months into a new job and was denied any time off work. I worked right through Rosh Hashannah and prayed at home on Yom Kippur, which (thank the Lord) happened to fall on a Saturday.
2009: There was a death in my wife’s family and we had to attend a funeral at the other end of the state.
Thus, 2008 was the last time I sat down at my parents’ dining room table to dip the apples in honey, pour the wine and recite the Kiddush.
The last time I started a new job, I forgot to ask for the High Holy Days off as a condition of employment. This time I remembered, although I just barely mentioned it in time. It’s a Jewish job hunters’ conundrum. You know they’re not going to allow you time off early in your first year of employment unless you insist on it as a hiring condition. But if you start asking for time off before you’ve even begun working, will the job offer hold? What employer wants to hire someone who asks for time off before he even starts work? It makes an applicant sound suspiciously like someone who doesn’t really want to work, or for whom work is not the first priority, in any event.
Until I was ten years old, my father’s parents lived two hours away and visited us often. My grandmother worked as a clerk in the office of a large clothing manufacturer, and I remember her telling me that she was able to get one Jewish holiday off each year by switching with a coworker. You work Yom Kippur for me and I’ll work Good Friday for you. My grandparents weren’t religious in the slightest, so they just worked through Rosh Hashannah and thought nothing of it.
When I worked in a call center that operated 24/7, I was able to obtain time off for the High Holy Days by switching days with coworkers who wanted a Sunday off. When I worked in the Silicon Valley high tech industry, I was able to get the High Holy Days off by working Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, all of which were days that meant nothing to me. My employer didn’t insist that days be switched within the same pay period or even within the same month. An added advantage was that I would find myself the only one at the office on Christmas and New Year’s, enjoying the peace and quiet as I got some work done.
Today, however, I have a job in the public sector where everyone works Monday through Friday and the office tower is closed up tighter than a drum on weekends and holidays. Fortunately for me, I have a very kind boss who is willing to accommodate my needs. I am truly blessed.
So tonight we will head south for a visit with my parents in Madera. They attend a super Orthodox synagogue in Fresno. Back when we lived down there in the Central Valley, I had more than a few philosophical run-ins with the rabbi, which resulted in me changing my synagogue of affiliation while my parents stayed put. For three days out of the year, however, I figure I can handle it, if only for the sake of my parents.
After all, they are now in their eighties and I don’t know how many more opportunities I will have to share Rosh Hashannah with them.
L’shana tovah tikatevu… Best wishes for a happy, healthy and sweet new year to all!