The months of September and October are a beautiful time of year full of new beginnings, holidays, and delicious food. This time of year can be hectic and difficult for all Jews, but for observant Jews in North America it can be particularly hard. Asking professors and bosses for time off for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are mostly acceptable. Asking for time off for the first day of Succot and Pesach might not go over terribly. But when you tell people about Simchat Torah or the end of Pesach, it may seem like a stretch. Upon telling managers about the upcoming fall holidays, many have heard, “Come on, Simchat Torah isn’t a thing.”
In Israel, the holidays are everywhere. You can walk down the street in the month of Elul and hear the Shofar blasting from the windows of synagogues and homes. Throughout Pesach, not a crumb of bread can be found. Not only is Rosh Hashana a paid holiday for everyone in the country, but the day before is even a little shorter. Yom Kippur and all Chag days of Succot and Pesach are paid vacation, and the day of the Seder is even a little shorter. Different companies have different policies regarding Chol Hamoed days, but when it comes to actual days of Yom Tov, you never have to worry. And don’t forget, in Israel you only have one day of Yom Tov!
Even if you have work on Chol Hamoed, many companies offer half-days. If there are four days of Chol Hamoed, some companies who have a half-day policy will even let you work two full days and take off two full days. In Israel, Succot and Pesach both fall out during seasons with incredible weather, and the entire country seems to head outside for hikes, BBQs, and other outdoor activities. And the fact that you basically never have to worry about cold or rain while you’re eating outside in the Succah is a great bonus.
Israeli workplaces are a big melting pot of Jews from all over the world, from all backgrounds and affiliations. In most workplaces in Israel, Rosh Hashana and Pesach are celebrated with an office-wide “Haramat Kosit” which literally means “raising of a glass.” The employees all get together to toast the upcoming holiday. It is common practice for companies to give the employees a small gift for the holiday, and the festive spirit is palpable. No matter how you and the people around you practice religion, there is an awareness and appreciation of the holiday season.
Whether you spend hours in shul followed by festive meals with friends and family, or you spend Yom Kippur riding bikes through the empty streets of Tel Aviv, one thing is for sure: no one will question the validity of the holidays, and that is truly special.