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Jewish Journal

Home for the Holidays

by Howard Nemetz

October 7, 2004 | 8:00 pm

My son attends Hebrew day school. At least, I think he attends it. It's October and he hasn't been there for a full five-day week yet.

The school year begins, as it always does, the week of Labor Day -- three or four days, depending on the school. I get that. A short week helps the potentially shocking transition from the carefree late-night/late-morning routine of summer to the foreign atmosphere of sitting still and concentrating on something other than PlayStation.

Monday morning of the second week of school, we hit the ground running. It's time to get in the swing of things. It's time to learn. It's time for Rosh Hashanah. OK, nothing you can do about that. It's not Columbus Day or Grandparents Day. It's a biggie -- after all, it's in the Bible. This year, the holiday fell on a Thursday and Friday, so the kids had another three-day week.

Wednesday morning, I wake my son for school. He informs me that he has the day off. Apparently, the teachers need the day to prepare for the holiday. I'm not sure why it takes a whole day to buy a round challah, but I'm not sure about a lot of things -- why people comb six strands of hair across their head and assume no one will realize they're bald, to name one. It's not a big deal. As they say in football, we'll get 'em next week.

Now it's the third week of school. You can't fool me this time. I may not be a biblical scholar -- in fact, I'm pretty sure I'm not a biblical scholar, and who would know better than me? -- but, as I recall, where there's Rosh Hashanah, there's Yom Kippur. So I know it's a short week -- our third in three weeks -- but after this, it's smooth sailing until winter break (what was once called Christmas break before we smartly stepped in and protected our children from that word).

The fourth week of school begins on Monday and ends on Tuesday. To be completely accurate, it ends at noon on Wednesday, but that half day is really only long enough to drop my son off at school, get stuck in traffic trying to get out of the parking lot, circle the block, get stuck in traffic trying to get into the parking lot and pick him up. Why another short week? It's Sukkot. And it's eight days long.

I understand a harvest holiday. I understand that a harvest holiday, by necessity, has to take place around the harvest (i.e., the fall). I don't understand why the holiday has to be eight days long. Other cultures have harvest holidays -- Americans, to name one (in fact, the only one I can name without having to do research) and they get it over with in one night. I know our people like to eat, but eight nights?! I think it's because we build a sukkah. If a Jew is going to build something -- anything -- it's not going to be for one night. Once it's up there, it's staying for at least a week.

Sukkot is so long, in fact, that it's got a holiday in it -- Shemini Atzeret, followed by Simchat Torah. I realize that Jews have been around for more than 3,500 years. I know that, in all that time, you're bound to accumulate a lot of holidays -- some biblical, some celebratory, some of the "they-failed-to-kill-us-all, nyah-nyah" variety. But there are 12, and sometimes 13 months in the year. Spread these babies out a little. At least hold a few of them on the weekends. Hebrew day school isn't free, but so far my son has been home more in September than he was in August.

Shemini Atzeret means "the assembly of the eighth day." Biblical scholars speak of the perfection of the number eight. It is on the eighth day that a Jewish male is circumcised in order to instill the potential for perfection in the human being. I don't remember my eighth day, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't perfect. I'm confident in saying that I enjoyed my seventh and ninth days a little more than that eighth one.

If we want to cut down on these days off, let's start with Simchat Torah, a holiday that celebrates the completion of the reading of the Torah. That doesn't have to be in September. We can read a little slower. We'll finish it in November, right around Veterans Day. By then, my son could use a four-day weekend.

Howard Nemetz has had a moderately unsuccessful career as a television writer.

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