Friday, April 24, 2009
After the Holidays
This Postcard from Israel was originally written on 14 October 2005.
Autumn in Israel is a time of renewal and reflection. While in other places the falling leaves and the chill in the air seem to signal the dying of the old year, here they mark the start of a new year. The season is alive with holidays, from the eve of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) through the culmination of Sukkot (Feast of the Tabernacles) with Simchat Torah (Joy in the Torah) some three weeks later. Naturally, all of these holidays mean time off from work, and vacation for school children. With Judaism's lunar calendar, the holidays don't always fall in October, but they do always occur in the fall, often shortly after the start of the school year. This year, all of these holidays fall within the month of October, and the children will be in school only 11 days this month. As a result of this fragmented schedule, people have taken to postponing plans until "aharei ha'hagim" (after the holidays).
Often, children's extracurricular activities and afternoon clubs and classes don't start up until after the holidays. The erratic schedule of a day off here and two days off there doesn't permit regular planning. Blissful days of sleeping late are interspersed with mornings when the shrill call of the alarm clock reminds students and adults that they have obligations to meet. Parents are focussed on preparing for the many family gatherings that accompany the season. Between the cleaning, shopping, cooking and baking, there is little time for anything else. Perhaps, as well, people are engaged in the kind of contemplation and internal stock-taking that Americans associate with making New Year's resolutions.
In the days before Rosh Hashanah, the phone seems to ring non-stop, as friends and family call to wish one another a happy new year. Sometimes good friends make plans to get together for a meal or a day trip, particularly during the week-long holiday of Sukkot. But more often than not, people tell one another, "We'll get together after the holidays."
The holiday season is sort of like a time-warp, or a 20-odd day period of jet lag. You feel divorced from reality. It's hard to remember what day of the week it is, much less the date. After a couple of days off from your usual routine, remembering what needs to be done tomorrow is a challenge. You find yourself drifting off into musings of things far removed from day-to-day practicalities. Old memories often surface, some of them pleasant, others distinctly uncomfortable. Such troubling thoughts can lead to the determination to replace such unhappy memories with good ones. You might find yourself spending hours doing not much more than planning ways to improve your life and yourself, all in the guise of napping after yet another overly-generous holiday meal. While it would be extremely unproductive to live this way all the time, this special state of mind clearly serves a valuable purpose.
No one seems to expect much to be accomplished during the holidays. The hard work, whether it be for pay or for an education, is mostly put off until later. While on first glance that may seem like a waste, I think it makes sense. The pondering we do now will more than likely result in better work, and a more determined effort to succeed, after the holidays.