Three day yomtov We’ve had enough!

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - OPIN­ION AN­GELA EP­STEIN

YOU CAN see it in the ex­pres­sion on their faces. Hov­er­ing be­tween haunted and hys­ter­i­cal it com­bines pain, panic and the grind­ing weari­ness of dread an­tic­i­pa­tion. As Coro­na­tion Street’s Bet Lynch once sagely re­marked when asked how she man­aged to main­tain a daz­zling smile in the face of life’s hard­ship: “It’s not a smile, cocker, it’s the lid on a scream.”

But hey, that’s what three days Yomtov does to a girl (I’ve yet to spot a sin­gle Jewish bloke by the chill cab­i­net in the lo­cal deli, rak­ing his hair in de­spair over three days of menu plan­ning).

This year, 5778, our High Holy Days fall on a Thurs­day and Fri­day, which for the ob­ser­vant adds up — with Shab­bat tagged on the end — to a three day whammy.

And what a whammy it is. First there’s the prepa­ra­tion — stacking the larder and cram­ming the freezer with enough food to sus­tain body and re­pent­ing soul. Lit­tle won­der, as I bat­tle pre-yomtov in­som­nia, I’ve tried count­ing chicken pulkes rather than sheep. Then there’s shul. Hours of shul. Per­son­ally, I ac­tu­ally like the Rosh Hashanah ser­vice. Its con­tem­pla­tive text, its soul­ful melody. But af­ter one day I feel that to go back to shul the fol­low­ing day, rather like sec­ond night seder, di­min­ishes the im­pact.

And though not wish­ing to con­flate mat­ters of the soul with mat­ters of the stom­ach, let’s not for­get the eat­ing. That’s eat­ing, eat­ing and more eat­ing as well as those long hours beached on the sofa man­ag­ing the af­ter ef­fects of eat­ing, eat­ing and eat­ing.

And if you have an, ahem, tricky rel­a­tive stay­ing with you for the du­ra­tion… well let’s just say on a scale of sweet­ness, we’re not talk­ing ap­ple and honey here.

Of course in Is­rael it’s all very dif­fer­ent. Save for Rosh Hashanah, where they ob­serve two days, the other foot fes­ti­vals only com­prise one day. So once the New Year triple has been cleared, there’s no re­peated three day lock-in at the be­gin­ning and end of Suc­cot.

With this in mind it’s surely time for par­ity to ex­ist. Let’s ad­dress the in­equity of Jewish prac­tice, so the di­as­pora can fall in line with the Holy Land and Jews everywhere unite in their ob­ser­vance of just one day of yomtov.

This isn’t about re­form­ing re­li­gion. In fact as some­one who iden­ti­fies as Mod­ern Ortho­dox, I don’t be­lieve we should wa­ter down Ju­daism in terms of its phys­i­cal prac­tice.

Af­ter all, it’s the only way we can en­sure our re­li­gion is gifted from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion with­out dis­turb­ing its in­tegrity.

It’s one rea­son why I strug­gle with the con­cept of Re­form Ju­daism, since I be­lieve the more you re­form, the more you di­lute. But that’s an ar­gu­ment for an­other day (hard hat at the ready!).

Swap­ping from two days to one is quite dif­fer­ent since in Is­rael holy men — rab­bis! — keep one day. If it’s good enough for them why can’t it be good enough for we Jews in the di­as­pora too?

The fun­da­men­tal ar­gu­ment — that the di­as­pora ob­serve two days, be­cause of an­cient con­fu­sions about the cor­rect day to cel­e­brate — no longer holds, thanks to global com­mu­ni­ca­tions and a fixed cal­en­dar. I’m sure there are tracts of text which source greater rea­sons but to me, this is the most com­pelling.

Hav­ing any kind of in­equity can surely only breed re­sent­ment and dis­sat­is­fac­tion.

I’ve wit­nessed it my­self when hol­i­day­ing in Is­rael dur­ing Suc­cot or Pe­sach. While ob­ser­vant lo­cals go about their busi­ness on the sec­ond days of Yomtov, re­li­gious hol­i­day mak­ers sweat in their Shab­bat best . Lit­tle boys in crisp white shirts look long­ingly at the pool or creep into the shade for re­lief from the burn­ing sun.

Do you re­ally have to shell out for a nice pad in Po­leg or do three stints a year at the David In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal in or­der to qual­ify for the right to swap shul for a sunbed?

Ju­daism never of­fers easy op­tions and for the most part, I em­brace those re­stric­tions with a sense of pride. Mix­ing meat and milk — wouldn’t dream of it. No phone for 25 hours on Shab­bat — bring it on, it’s a blessed re­lief. It’s the toil and chal­lenge of many of our laws which re­mind us of who we are and which con­sol­i­date our Jewish iden­tity.

But with so much that di­vides rather than unites us, per­haps it is time to bring us all — at least for a few days a year, un­der one roof.

Let us stand in unity of prayer and ob­ser­vance. And if it means one less day of eat­ing our body weight in kugel then surely it can only be a good thing


II’m count­ing chicken pulkes in­stead of sheep

An­gela Ep­stein

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