Is it just me or is this year of chagim more difficult than previous ones? I’m completely burned out and done with celebrating. No more cooking, shopping, cleaning up and entertaining guests. No more giving up my bedroom for relatives and sleeping on an inflatable aerobed with ridges that make me feel like I’m rolling down a hill. No more carpooling to sukka socials for my kids, sukka hopping on yom tov, working at my day job each day of chol hamoed, and driving home with my eyes all slanted from fatigue. Not to mention that when I actually make it to shul (any shul!) it’s a complete madhouse, capped off with the no-holds-barred Simchat Torah kiddush.
Do I sound bitter? Unappreciative? Whiny? (don’t answer that!). If I do, it’s because I feel the whole meaning of the holidays has been lost in the modern, frenzied times we live in.
While Rosh Hashana was pleasant enough (any chance to see my 21-month-old niece is welcome!), it went downhill from there. I spent Yom Kippur freezing my tuchas off in shul, fell asleep during the reading of the Ten Martyrs (I blame that partially on caffeine withdrawal), and overstuffed myself with bagels and kugel once the fast was over. It’s no wonder I woke up with a headache the next morning.
But, I hear you all proclaim, Sukkot is supposed to be an uplifting antidote to the sorrows of Yom Kippur, right? Except I had an out-of-town family bar mitzva the Shabbat before, spending more time on the road than with my cousins and battling rain and Friday traffic. Knowing I would be busy that whole weekend before Sukkot, I decided to plan ahead. I made a giant pot of chicken soup and cooked and froze some meatballs.
And thoughtfully, my cousin’s wife gave me a tray of chicken and rice from the simcha to take home for Sukkot. But life just became much more complicated from there. My in-laws arrived the next day to spend the first few days of Sukkot with us, hence the giving up of our bedroom (I agree there was no alternative and that it simply would be wrong to have them sleep on an uncomfortable mattress!). And although there was plenty of food, it seemed there was little time to relax in between the meals.
And then as soon as yom tov ended again, it was time to get on my computer to check work e-mail and spend the next couple of days catching up. And we get to do it all over again this weekend, with Shabbat, a day of chol moed, and then the last two days of Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah.
Somehow I just don’t envision my ancestors living like this in the midbar or in the shtetls of Eastern Europe. I imagine the women cooking together over a fire in the desert during biblical times and baking fresh pitot and, centuries later, sending the men to the town square to retrieve the cholent pots. Relatives all lived near each other so it was easy to socialize yet still go home at night, and kids played together for hours at a time without the need for prescheduled playdates. Of course, there were plenty of hardships, but life was just so… simple!
How to remedy this situation? It would help, as at least one friend pointed out to me, if two-day holidays in the Diaspora could follow the one-day model in Israel (Yes, I’m aware of the traditional rabbinic explanation about how holidays were announced in ancient times), but I still don’t see the relevance of celebrating one day of chag in Israel and extra days of yom tov here — and with it the added expenses and time for cooking and shopping.
And well, the community needs to be more supportive of working moms and dads trying to navigate the demands of observance, family, and one’s profession. My children’s school, Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus, NJ, is one such example, as they hold homework-free and chagiga-style school days during chol hamoed Sukkot.
There’s always one other solution, I know — making the big move to Israel — but that’s, ahem, for another post.