Israel needs time off

Masses flocking to forests on Hol Hamoed and Independence Day remind us what state lacks is a Sunday.

yom haatzmaut independence picnic  (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
yom haatzmaut independence picnic
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
During Hol Hamoed Pessah and on Yom Ha'atzmaut, our family joined over a million visitors to the national parks. So many people crowded into the Jerusalem Forest that there were traffic jams at the picnic areas. Throughout, people hiked, picnicked, barbequed and enjoyed being out in nature. We left the main areas and found a quiet spot in the forest. But so many people flocking to the forests on Hol Hamoed Pessah and on Independence Day reminded us that what the State of Israel lacks is a Sunday. As a rabbinic couple in Los Angeles, Friday, while the children were in school, was devoted to Shabbat preparations. With services, Kiddush, classes and meals with congregants, Shabbat was busy. Sunday was our family day. After morning minyan, we would leave the house to drive down Pacific Coast Highway to hike in the Santa Monica Mountains or drive east to Angeles National Forest. If the weather was not conducive for outside events, or if there was a particularly interesting show, we visited the many museums in the area. Our children experienced a blend of nature and culture on their Sundays. Errands were for the week; Sunday was for fun. A successful Sunday in our home was when we returned tired, dirty and late. But also refreshed, feeling that we had had some downtime, some time just by ourselves. There is little downtime in this country. For the religious community, Friday is filled with preparations and Shabbat is for sacred commitments. Solitude on Shabbat means opting out of communal prayer. There is no day when religious children can sleep late and not feel that they have an obligation to be someplace, whether services or youth groups. A typical response that Friday is a day off for many businesses still does not make it a family day if children remain in school. For the religious, during the winter and fall the day is too short to venture far. WE LIVE in a tense country. A longer weekend may help all citizens relax and return to work more productively during the week. Perhaps more families would keep Shabbat in some manner if they knew there was another day to travel and visit out-of-town friends or appreciate parks and recreational facilities. If we cannot even dream of Israel having 52 Sundays off, then we should follow our own calendar, returning to the festive time originally attributed to Rosh Hodesh. If schools, businesses and government offices are closed each Rosh Hodesh, families would also have the opportunity to visit natural and historical sites, parks, beaches or friends who live far off. Just as museums host children's programs and music and other cultural festivals are held on Hol Hamoed, these special events could be a regular feature of Rosh Hodesh. The celebrations would be shared by Jews of all stripes who would come into contact with each other. Rosh Hodesh is primed for this further evolution. In biblical times, additional sacrifices were offered on Rosh Hodesh, which often included a mini-pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the faithful. In the second century in Babylonia, Jews began to sing an abbreviated Hallel to celebrate the joyous nature of the day. This practice was adopted by the Jews of Eretz Yisrael. Maimonides required a festive meal and, following the Talmud, forbade the sadness of eulogies. Women kept a custom of refraining from household drudgery and began to develop a spiritual celebration of the day. A public Israeli Rosh Hodesh, including the joy of God's nature in His land, travel, music and a day off from work, is a relevant contemporary expansion of the day's mix of spirit and relaxation. The 11 Roshei Hodesh (Tishrei is of course Rosh Hashana) could be implemented in stages. Priority could be given to months far from official holidays such as Kislev or Shevat, or summer Tammuz, or in a given year a Rosh Hodesh falling on a Thursday or Sunday, producing the prized "long weekend." A million people in the national forests are telling us that nature and family are to be appreciated and enjoyed. We should listen and devise ways to make our private and national life less tense and more enjoyable. Rabbi Daniel Landes is director of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. Sheryl Robbin is a writer and social worker. They are married and live with their family in Jerusalem.