Wednesday, January 5, 2011

So, Dr. Epstein, what do YOU do when New Year’s Eve comes out on Shabbat?

As we are all reacclimating to the school schedule now that winter vacation has become part of our past, I walked into my first class this past Monday – January 3, 2011 – to my wonderful group of ninth grade scholars with whom I have the privilege of learning Gemara. I always wonder exactly how to begin the business of getting back into school mode in a meaningful way, acknowledging that we have all had these different experiences, some of which may be instructive to us in “the real lane of life” in which we all live. I came armed with so much to contribute and fully intended to have others in the group share new lessons and observations as well. Almost immediately, several students were upset about a religious family that had their son’s Bar Mitzvah this past weekend and their friends and families were invited. They thought this was “rather rude” and not accepting of the needs and observances of the other members of the community and wanted to know what I thought of such families, and of course, what did I do on New Year’s Eve? So, we committed educators love these educable moments and here it was! With absolutely no sense or feeling of guilt about “not covering the curriculum,” I launched into a discussion about the particular juxtaposition of our identities as Americans and Jews when Shabbat has the nerve of interfering with New Year’s Eve. For my family and myself, Shabbat is Shabbat, regardless of the calendar and we plan accordingly. I will say we were a bit creative this year, as we do usually have a New Year’s Eve Party and just had a New Year Day’s Eve Party. We of religiously observant stock are perfectly familiar and comfortable with two day Yom Tovim, so why not? Although some other groups of people in the restaurant we decided to go to for our celebration looked at us a bit oddly, when we counted down and yelled “Happy New Year.” It is probably appropriate to point out at this point that on the other end of the spectrum of our lives, there is no recognition of anything secular amongst many members of the more right-wing Orthodox communities. So back to Shabbat and New Year’s Eve -- Now, this problem, of course, does happen every six years or so, depending on when leap years occur. I believe there is actually a longer reprieve until the next one due to two leap years in this cycle, so I think we have eleven years to figure out what to do next time we have this clash of calendar elements as Jews living in a larger secular world.

The discussion continued as I acknowledged that there were upset members of the group who felt that they had been slighted by having to decide between their New Year’s celebrations and attending this Bar Mitzvah weekend. I proceeded to explain that we all need to understand and appreciate that people will decide which option to exercise dependent on a number of factors. Specifically, in this case, in the Orthodox/Halachic communities we usually schedule a Bar Mitzvah according to the birth of the child and what Parsha was connected to that week and the HEBREW date of the child’s birth, not the date on our generally used secular calendar. Therefore, the family of the Bar Mitzvah was not being “rude,” but rather observing their minhag or custom. It was then up to those invited to make whatever decisions were appropriate for them and to appreciate that their friends wanted to include them in their celebration.

Once the information piece of the puzzle was in place, the broader discussion of pluralism and what it means to us and the challenges it presents came on the table. Members of the group who are not religiously/ritualistically observant (I always insist on precision of terms) of Shabbat did not understand why the rest of us do not just “skip one Shabbat” and acknowledge our part of the larger culture, observing as well as celebrating New Year’s Eve. After all, it is such an important event. I asked what was so important and basically the answer was “just because.” Okay, I accept that!

It was particularly interesting to “watch the eyeballs” of all in the group as we continued to try to understand the complicated issue of acknowledging that it is precisely in a pluralistic community that such discussions occur and such sharing of different solutions and choices occupy the same space. I suggested that we all remember that we are blessed to know each other, learn with each other and have each other in our lives. Decisions and compromises such as those necessitated by this situation will occur in these special shared spaces. I remind all of my students and everyone with whom I work and live that when we all agree to share space; I can guarantee that “100% of the people will not be 100% happy 100% of the time!” Forty five minutes later as the bell rang to signal the conclusion of the class, we all wished each other a Happy New Year and I gently reminded all that it is important to have respect for the different positions that members of the group take and to “see” each other accurately – that is to say, I don’t think anyone considered the Bar Mitzvah family “rude” at this point (success!) but now were confused as to why those that are Shabbat observant cannot make this one quite infrequent exception. Hmmmm, something to consider for the next time this happens in our calendar… and we have longer to ponder it this time! Happy New Year to all!

1 comment:

  1. Nice Mom, it always comes back to pluralism, doesn't it? :)