JERUSALEM – For the last few weeks, you could begin to hear it on the streets, in conversations, and written in emails and texts. It’s the mantra that Israelis repeat in response to virtually any request that’s made this time of year, and it’s elegant in its simplicity – acharei hachagim, or after the holidays.
Start those home renovations with a contractor? After the holidays. Set up a meeting with your kid’s teacher? After the holidays. Have that discussion with your boss about the raise? After the holidays. Form a new government? After the holidays.
Regardless of one’s religious proclivities, residents and those who visit between Rosh Hashanah through Simchat Torah can’t help but live according to the hectic rhythm of the Jewish calendar. And that means that everything virtually shuts down for a month.
It’s a far cry from growing up in New England, in a city with a small Jewish population. The written excuse notes to teachers for being absent from class on Rosh Hashanah (“Why is it two days?” they would ask) and then another day a week later for Yom Kippur became a burden, as well as having to catch up on the lessons missed.
That’s besides the feeling of walking to synagogue in those stiff new shoes and starchy shirts as everyone else rides by in their everyday clothes. Talk about being a fish (with scales and fins) out of water.
One of the welcoming gifts of becoming Israeli is that you never have to think about those things anymore. It’s just a natural part of the landscape. Of course, that presents its own set of problems and issues.
For one, based on the “after the holidays” philosophy, very little gets done. School kids hardly see a classroom the entire month, and the school year doesn’t really get started until late October. Then, it’s just a few weeks until Hanukkah vacation.
Work continuity is disrupted with four weeks of holidays in a row. And even if you carve out a couple days in a row of being at work, the colleagues you need to get something done aren’t there, having taken a gesher (bridge) – one of those unique Israeli inventions – to extend their vacation.
Speaking of vacations, for those who aren’t religiously observant, the holidays are a great time to travel and explore the country – and that’s what thousands of other Israelis are doing too. The hiking trails are bumper to bumper, and finding shade and quiet at the beach is like finding harmony at the Knesset.
Another thorny issue is the close, family-oriented ethos of Israeli society. Holiday time is family time. But just how many meals can one have with the extended family before conflict emerges? Most Israelis come close to finding out every holiday season.
Then there are the big fights over where to spend the holiday meals – at his parents or her parents. One of the blessings of living in Israel is the close proximity in which everyone lives. There are no 10-hour drives or 5-hour flights like in the U.S. to reunite with family. However, that means you have no excuse not to get together with them.
Countless identical husband and wife discussions and negotiations take place the weeks before Rosh Hashanah. “We’ll go to your parents the first night and mine the second.” “But during Sukkot, we’re going away with my sister’s family.”
Despite the stress and togetherness, though, holiday time in Israel is full of charming elements that didn’t exist in New England – the outdoor markets are full of seasonal delights like pomegranates, stalls are set up on empty lots hawking prefab sukkahs and decorations, and a holiday atmosphere is palpably felt everywhere.
Israel is certainly a fractious society consisting of distinct tribes who all see things differently, as the recently completed second Knesset election in five months has proven. Secular Jews don’t want to sit with the ultra-Orthodox, religious Jews don’t want to sit with the Tel Aviv Left, and Israeli Arabs feel left out of the entire discussion.
The one thing for sure that will take place only after the holidays in Israel is the formation of a government – let alone by the end of 2019.
In the midst of such a contentious post-election period, a month of holidays is a timely reminder to search out those little things that unite us more than separate us. And maybe it’s not such a bad thing to have our day-in, day-out routine broken up by a string of colorful and distinctive traditions that have bound the Jewish people for centuries.
We’re in such a rush and the world moves at such a frantic pace, that there’s a refreshing element to succumbing to the realization that we’re simply not going to get anything done for the next month, so we might as well enjoy it. It surely isn’t going to turn Israel into a laid-back New England hamlet, but the “after the holidays” philosophy might be the key to the Jewish people keeping their sanity all these years.
Shana Tova v’metuka.
David Brinn grew up in Maine, and is a Jerusalem-based journalist.