Everywhere you looked around yesterday you saw it. Everywhere you went in the country, it was omnipresent. It obviously got plenty of media coverage as it mobilized Israelis nationwide. Naturally, today people couldn’t stop talking about it either. And believe it or not, it had practically nothing to do with the elections themselves.

What I’m talking about is everyone’s sheer joy of having had a real day off.

In need of some more time off

In need of some more time off

Israelis are overwhelmingly a hard-working people. It’s our tireless work ethic that has garnered us all our illustrious national achievements in our 64 short years of existence as the Jewish State. Indeed, it seems as though we take quite literally the Torah’s dictums of “by the sweat of your brow you shall eat food” and “for six days you shall labor and do all your work, while on the seventh day you shall rest”.

We Israelis Could Really Use A Break

We live in an intense society. The daily routine for most of us is long, and takes a heavy cumulative toll. On top of that, constant security threats often keep us all on edge and the cost of living is prohibitive to say the least.

Observant, non-observant, Atheist, immigrant, native, single, married, or gay, the bottom line is that if you live in Israel you need to have the ability to come up for air once in a while.

The Current Situation Divides Israeli Society

While the word “weekend” does have a literal translation in the Hebrew “sof shavua”, the Western world’s concept of a weekend is far different from the “sof shavua” experienced here in Israel for a large part of the populace.

The fact is that a very significant percentage of the public here identify themselves as either observant or traditional. For them, Friday is not a day off but rather a day of preparation for Shabbat. The days before Sukkot, Pesach, Shavuot, Simchat Torah, etc. are spent in preparation for those holidays. And, of course, Shabbat and those Holy days are spent in some form or another of religious observance.

For non-observant Israelis, Fridays and Saturdays mean hiking on Israel’s trails, visiting National Parks, and crowding malls, zoos, movie theaters, and beaches nationwide. For observant Israelis these activities are limited to days taken off at our own expense (usually during Chol Hamoed and summertime).

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday! Um… No.

Many observant immigrants to Israel, like me, recall with great fondness the true weekends we used to have “back in the old country”. “Sundays!” we say, “that’s the answer – we need Sundays off!” Sure, we used to work on Fridays (and holiday eves), but it’s not as though that prevented us from our Shabbat (and Holy day) preparations. We simply adjusted our schedules – and then we still always had our Sundays to fall back on and relax a bit.

The “Sundays off” issue has been brought up quite a few times by many a local politician over the decades, most recently Silvan Shalom. Typically, however, the issue dies almost as soon as it appears in the papers the following morning. Both sides of the issue having been debated ad infinitum with no progress whatsoever, it just seems as though there are just too many encumbrances to change the status quo.

Fine. Let’s not rock the boat.

So essentially we’re stuck with the only national days off on our calendar being religious in nature, the lone exception being Independence Day.

Independence Day – Rejoicing in Our Freedom

Ah, Independence Day! The ubiquitous smell of barbecues; the national sense of pride and joy. Who among us doesn’t have fantastic memories of Independence Day celebrations? Whether you go to parties, have a family get-together, or whatever, the bottom line is that you were off for the day; and thus it was a good, happy day.

It’s the great equalizer in our Jewish State – the one day on our calendar where everyone is completely 100% free to do as they please.

And we had that fleeting feeling yesterday too.

And everyone was smiling, enjoying … free.

And everyone was saying (and still is saying): “we really need more days like that”.

To be free in our Homeland

To be free in our Homeland

Let’s Make Rosh Chodesh a National Holiday

The “Sundays off” issue has forever stagnated because of the “all or nothing” mentality of its proponents and adversaries. As with most things “Israeli”, out-of-the-box thinking tends to have the best chances of success. Therefore, I humbly propose that we try and make Rosh Chodesh a National Holiday.

There are 12 months on the Jewish calendar and some months have 1 day of Rosh Chodesh while others have 2. Let’s not get greedy and just call it 12 extra days off per year. Let’s further go ahead and discount Rosh Hashana (the first [and second] of Tishrei) and all months where Rosh Chodesh will fall on a Friday or Saturday, which inevitably happens once or twice a year. So, in essence, the proposal calls for an extra 9-10 days off.

Those people who need to work (e.g., public transportation, the media, hospital staff) or choose to work (e.g., private sector service jobs) on Rosh Chodesh could be compensated with either an extra 25% day’s pay or be given an extra personal vacation day in exchange. Employers who stand to benefit from these employees’ work could surely afford this relatively minimal extra expense.

The advantages:

  • It serves as a bridge of unity among observant and non-observant people, as it’s just as much of a “free day” for everyone to do whatever they please be it leisurely relaxation, learning Torah, family time, or anything else. Lingering tensions will thus completely dissipate in all matters related to the “Sunday issue” and the weekend status quo can be preserved without resentment from either side.
  • It further strengthens the Jewish character of our State. Legally we are allowed to sign off on checks by using the Jewish calendar date, but those who do so are the very rare exception – even among Orthodox Jews. With Rosh Chodesh as a day off, it would increase awareness and love for the Jewish calendar. In short, it’s an incredibly positive way to embrace and revel in our Jewishness. For the Orthodox, it’s also far more palatable than having a “Christian” day off.
  • It’s the best possible social justice you can give the country’s citizens at practically no cost. They say that time = money; thus, by giving people free time…
  • It’s even better than Fridays, which are typically full of errands and don’t allow for family time because kids (and teachers) are in school.
  • Having 9-10 extra National Holidays is not economically hurtful. If anything it will only boost the economy. Case in point: just look at how much money hotels, activity centers, mall stores, and other leisure destinations took in yesterday.
  • People who also receive in return for everything they give are happier people. Happier, well-rested people are more productive people when working.

Time for Some Action, Then Some Relief

The fact is that if everyone in our country seems to agree that having a few extra days of real freedom each year is a good thing, there’s no good reason why the will of the people should be denied.

The Knesset

The Knesset

I call upon all our newly-elected representatives to take this issue to heart at enact the appropriate legislation. If the issue were brought to a referendum I’d vote in favor, and I’m reasonably sure that almost everyone reading this article would too.

Dozens of new representatives were voted into the Knesset for the first time because the people of Israel are hungry for change. After being bombarded by all of your phone calls, commercials, op-eds, text messages, and TV appearances, perhaps a big thank-you for our votes is in order.

This is your chance.

Please start off the upcoming parliamentary session on a high note, with cross-partisan legislation to make Rosh Chodesh a National Holiday.

Until then, back to the grind…

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