Shabbat Goy: After the 'hagim'

It was very inconsiderate of Him Upstairs, via Moses, to command the Israelites to live in booths for seven days each year at precisely the point when the school year ought to be bedding in.

After the 'hagim' (photo credit: Courtesy)
After the 'hagim'
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The hagim. The bane of my existence. Just as one is about to settle into a defined work/life balance, up pops another Jewish holiday to disrupt my domestic arrangements. You know, send the Small Noisy One off to school, go back to bed, wake up in time to pick him up from school. That sort of thing.
“He’s at home again?” my friend asks incredulously. I nod sadly.
“But they’ve only just come back from their summer vacation!”
I nod sadly again. It’s the hagim, I explain, feeling somewhat redundant as I do so. After all, she is Jewish, albeit a Diaspora Jew over here temporarily for work.
But the thought hadn’t crossed her mind, actually – the idea that the Jewish holidays take precedence over everything else. Even if it means that children will be returned to reluctant parents seconds, seemingly, after the end of the interminably long summer vacation.
“Ah,” she says. She chews over the complex intersection between education and religion. “So why don’t they go back to school at the beginning of August, allow for a bigger gap between holidays?”
Yeah, right. My friend, brought up on moderate European sunshine, does not understand what the relentless heat of the Israeli summer does to one’s sanity.
That to send children and teachers – two of the more recalcitrant and illogical subsets of the human species, just behind politicians and journalists – to school at the height of the summer heat would be an act of extreme folly. I mean, between them they’d set the whole country on fire.
“Ah,” she says again. It hadn’t occurred to her. Of course, this was the same person who had asked the other day why on earth everyone in Israel starts to talk about war each August, without fail. Hmph. You try to survive the August heat without feeling homicidal.
But that’s neither here nor there. The point is, is there anything one can do to ameliorate the logistical nightmare that the hagim thrust upon parents – diligent and otherwise – round about now every year? Probably not. After all, what’s the point in having a Jewish state if one does not celebrate each and every last one of the Jewish holy days? Precisely. And, for once, I’m not being sarcastic. Once one accepts that this country has a Jewish majority (even if some Jews seem to be recognized as more Jewish than others, but that is a matter for another time and place), certain things should be accepted for what they are. Such is the way of the world.
ONCE UPON a time, in those wonderful, innocent years before I met Mrs. Goy, I lived in a London neighborhood called Golders Green. Golders Green, most emphatically, is London’s Land of the (Diaspora) Jews. As the old joke goes, when the Bus 82 from Victoria approached the precincts of postcode NW11, the conductor would call out, “Passports ready!” It was a nice enough place to live, but I was absolutely bamboozled the first Friday I spent in the ’hood. Busy week at work, no food in the fridge. No problem. That’s what take-away was invented for, no? I’d spied an enticing Chinese restaurant (kosher, since you’re asking) just up the road. That’d do the job nicely.
But it was shut. As was the bagel emporium. And Joseph’s, the upmarket fish restaurant/bookshop. And indeed, everything within walking distance, excepting an Iranian corner shop, where I bought some flat bread, margarine and fizzy soda before retreating back home.
(Yes, an Iranian shop in the heart of Jewish London seemed a bit odd to me, too. It’s still there, I believe.) But as I tramped...
adam the superman (I do apologize. My son, away from school – because of the hagim – insisted on contributing to my column, and I couldn’t say no. His first words in print. Only five-and-a-half. I’m so proud.) I tramped home feeling sorry for myself, I understood that in a majority “Christian” country, certain liberties would never be taken for granted. Observing Shabbat must be a pretty difficult task, especially in winter.
(Yes, a proper winter, dark at 4 p.m., not the wishywashy nonsense we have here as mandated by Eli “White Man” Yishai. But again, I digress.) A difficult task, but an important one. Under the circumstances, one could hardly begrudge the Jews of Golders Green their determination to keep the Shabbat holy, even if it meant I had to go hungry that cold January night. (In case you are wondering: Yes, it is all about me.) But before I start to sound all slushy and ecumenical: Not very long afterward, I met Mrs. Goy. Mrs. Goy couldn’t stand Golders Green. Absolutely loathed it. She insisted that we spend our time together up the road in West Hampstead, where she lived. Also heavily Jewish, but much more secular in character. And much more popular with Israelis. I can’t for the life of me imagine why...
So, to recap: It was very inconsiderate of Him Upstairs, via Moses, to command the Israelites to live in booths for seven days each year, etc. (Leviticus 23 for full chapter and verse), at precisely the point when the school year ought to be bedding in. But there isn’t much I can do about it. Well, I could try to become a more committed, caring parent, cherishing every moment I get to spend with my progeny... nah. Sounds too much like hard work for my liking. I’ll just suffer in silence. Or perhaps get the child to write my column occasionally. I doubt anyone would notice.
“AFTER THE hagim,” as used in Israel, generally denotes a return to routine. A fresh beginning, even, after the disruptions of the summer holidays and Holy Days.
But in this case, it’s also about moving on. After three years of being indulged by editors and readers alike, it’s time to say goodbye. Writing this column has been both a pleasure and a privilege. I am deeply appreciative to The Jerusalem Post family for being – mainly – nice when I have been – mainly – horrid.
Thank you.