closed2-smIn my newsletter last week, I wrote about how the Jewish holidays are treated, and how that affects my sense of belonging as a Jew. I received so many responses that I am writing a full blog on the topic now.

Slippery Slope: Parking Holidays and NYC

How to handle holidays is a big question for governments and businesses. Between Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, and other religious holidays, it’s almost impossible to commemorate all of them. In New York City, there are 45 parking meter holidays—for everything from Christmas to Eid al-Adha to the Asian Lunar New Year. That’s an average of almost one each week, plus the standard Sunday suspension of parking rules.

Many of you are probably aware that the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, was last week, and that Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, will be observed Tuesday night and Wednesday of this week. In Israel on Yom Kippur, there are no radio or TV broadcasts, airports and public transportation systems are shut down, and all shops and businesses are closed. Where I grew up (New York City), everyone, regardless of their own religion, knew when these holidays were coming. Schools were closed and many businesses were closed. No one would even think of scheduling a major business event on one of these High Holy Days.

Being Acknowledged

Now I live in Wisconsin, where it’s simply not like that. “Taste of Tenney,” a neighborhood event offering fare from local restaurants, is scheduled for the evening of Yom Kippur. Several times, my coaching group has held their annual party on a High Holy Day. I have declined an invitation for this Wednesday to see a presentation by a top speaker in the entrepreneurial world, hosted by that same group. I keep letting them know when these conflicts arise, and I keep saying, “This would never happen in New York.” But it happens in Wisconsin.

I feel hurt and unseen every time this lack of consciousness reveals itself. Like I am not accepted. Like I do not belong.

In contrast, I went to swim at the Highland Park Rec Center in Illinois on Rosh Hashanah this year, where the lifeguard advised me that all swim classes had been cancelled for the holiday! I got a lane to myself, admittedly while many other members of my faith were in synagogue. And, as a nice surprise, I also received a sense of acknowledgment and belonging.

Education: Another Slippery Slope

After sending out my newsletter, I received many responses. A fellow resume writer sent me an article about how classes at Yale, our common alma mater, go on as usual on the Jewish holidays. I was surprised that I did not remember this tradition from my undergraduate years. I feel angry that there is not more of an observance of these holidays. And yet I also understand. Contemplating the 45 parking holidays in New York, I realize that accommodating all these days on a college schedule would be untenable. Still, there’s a strong voice in me saying that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur hold enough weight that institutions should respect them. No one would ever think of scheduling classes on Christmas, would they?

Give and Take

In the workplace, what’s the best way to handle the holidays? Cultural sensitivity is paramount always. In some professions, workers can do a swap to accommodate everyone. For instance, Jewish police officers and nurses often work Christmas, and their Christian colleagues work for them on holidays like Yom Kippur. If you’re delivering couches to your customers, you want to be aware that sometimes a Jewish holiday will not be the appropriate time to do that. Do you send out holiday letters? Are they Christmas-themed? If so, you might be alienating some people. Do you wish people “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” in December?

I have become more tolerant in my 40’s than I was as a younger woman. When people wish me Merry Christmas I say thank you and say it back to them. I’m not sure if I like this shift in myself, as it indicates some level of complacency. I still don’t like it when organizations schedule important events on days that make it impossible for practicing Jews to attend, or that flagrantly ignore the existence of sacred days. I want, at least, to be acknowledged.

I’m curious to hear your own experience of your holidays. Are you acknowledged by your country’s trends and traditions? Do you acknowledge the traditions of others? What consciousness can you bring to your life and to the people around you this holiday season … whenever and wherever that may be?



  1. Having grown up in suburban Philadelphia (primarily occupied by White Anglo-Saxon Protestants), I always had to take a day off of school for Rosh Hashanah (only the first day) and for Yom Kippur. In college, I actually met a Jewish guy that I fell for and we got married after graduation. He was the first Jew I had ever dated! But then I found a job out in our state capital (part of PA’s Bible Belt) and I was astonished at how little my circle knew about any of the Jewish traditions (or what matzoh or Hanukkah is). When I told my new acquaintances about my wedding (at this point, we had divorced) only taking 20 minutes and that I had to schedule is at 9:00 PM (due to being the longest Saturday of the year), they were astounded.

    Shortly after moving away from my home area, I found out that many of the suburban Philly schools were actually closed for the High Holidays. Certainly not true in this part of the state (100 miles West of my home area). Although there are a few synagogues in this city they don’t have really good bagels or kosher thinly-slice corned beef. And trying to find matzoh (some of the grocery stores get a limited number of boxes 2 months before Passover and if you wait until a week before the holiday, you’ll be out of luck trying to find matzoh or any Passover foods). The schools around here are not closed for our High Holy Days. And events are frequently scheduled on a High Holy Day, without so much as giving it a thought, since it’s just a regular work day – isn’t it??

    My Rotary club is selling Christmas wreaths, as a fund raiser. And our supplier only stocks wreaths – not green swags (which I would have no objection to buying and hanging). My husband is not Jewish (2nd husband), so it never occurred to him that hanging a wreath on our front door just isn’t something I’m comfortable with. I have made the suggestion for a couple years, that we look to a new supplier so that we can have a variety of greens to sell during the holiday season.

    People are more comfortable hanging out with other people who are like them. But, very often, in sticking with people who are like me, I miss out on so many cultural traditions (language, food, religious observations, traditional activities). But we’re not just talking about religious differences – what about people whose skin is a different color than mine? Or their sexual orientation? Or their gender? Or their political views? Or their physical/mental abilities? Our nation is so very diverse – but are we inclusive as well? So many of us who are “different from the majority” do feel left out. How many women achieve C-Level management positions? How many women achieve that career status at the same pay level as men? Many of us are trying, but our society needs a lot of education about including people who are different and who are so valuable.

    Today is Yom Kippur. May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life for the new year!!

    • Thank you for this amazing addition and contribution Jan – indeed my we all be inscribed in the Book of Life – with all our beautiful diversity! What a good thing to remember as the elections approach :-).

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