Early on in the 1984 comedy film “Top Secret” (from the Jewish filmmakers who created “Airplane“) the protagonist Nick Rivers (Val Kilmer) meets Dr. Paul Flammond when they are both being held in the Flurgendorf prison.
Doctor Flammond: They are forcing me to create a horrible weapon.
Nick: Can’t you refuse?
Doctor Flammond: I wish I could. But they are holding my daughter. They’ll kill her unless I complete the Polaris Mine by Sunday.
Nick: Sunday? That’s Simchas Torah!
Join us for a hands-on experience with the Torah on Sunday at 7pm at our Simchat Torah celebration!
Posted by Adath Emanu-El on Friday, October 21, 2016
I had my own “That’s Simchas Torah!” moment two years ago, but it didn’t happen with Simchas Torah, but with the “minor” Jewish fast day, The Tenth of Tevet.
Each year WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organization, where I worked from 2018-2021) would hold a festive “Boker Tarbut”, a cultural morning at Cinema City for all the employees at which they serve a nice breakfast, present awards to outstanding workers of the year, and show an inspiring film (I remember one year it was the Best Picture Oscar-winner “Green Book”).
This year the event was going to be held in December, then it was moved to January 7th. As soon as I got the “Save the Date” email about the date change I picked up a pen to write it down on my Snoopy mouse pad desk calendar (yes, I had a Snoopy mouse pad desk calendar at my desk at work). On the calendar it said in Hebrew on that date “Tzom Asara B’Tevet” (Tenth of Tevet Fast Day), and I reacted just as Top Secret’s Nick Rivers did when he exclaimed, “That’s Simchas Torah!”
After double checking other calendars to make sure I was not mistaken, I sent an email reply to the people in charge at WIZO’s HR division and informed them that the day they selected was a “minor” Jewish fast day (it only lasts 12 hours, from sunrise to nightfall, from around 5am-5pm in winter time), the Tenth of Tevet, and asked if they could please move the event to a different date.
It’s funny, but this was not the first time something like this occured in my work career, albeit at a different company. When I worked at the IDC (now called Reichman University) , they were arranging a movie screening day (also at Cinema City) for workers and the date they selected turned out to be the day Tisha B’Av (a very major and well-known fast day) was observed. I sent the organizers a quick email about the conflict and they immediately rescheduled it for another day (but I believe they wouldn’t have had a choice but to reschedule it as in Israel all movie theaters are closed on Tisha B’Av).
This time I waited a couple of days, but got no reply for WIZO’s HR team. I decided to poke my head into the HR offices and ask about it. They replied that they got my email, they appreciated my dilemma, but they were not sure they would be able to move the event to a different day. They even suggested that perhaps I attend only part of the event – the non-eating part I guess – but that nothing had been finalized yet.
I went back to my desk hopeful it would work out, but after a short while I received an email apology from HR saying they were unable to move the event to another date, but hoped I would still take part. Less than an hour later the official invite for January 7th was sent to everyone at WIZO.
I was troubled. I called my sister that evening (she always has good advice) and she told me that even if I was right, it’s not always wise to make waves. She suggest maybe I should attend only part of the event.
The more I thought about it, the more I was troubled. I am a “team player” but I didn’t feel I could fully be part of the team on that specific day that is important to the Jewish people as a whole. Then I thought of another element of the fast of the Tenth of Tevet, an element I had failed to mention in my initial email to HR. The Tenth of Tevet is indeed a fast day to mark the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylonia—an event that began on that date and ultimately culminated in the destruction of the First Temple and the conquest of the Kingdom of Judah.
But their is an added significance to Tenth of Tevet, which I was at fault for not mentioning, (the source for the the following is Wikipedia): The Chief Rabbinate of Israel chose to observe the Tenth of Tevet as a “general kaddish day” (yom hakaddish ha’klalli) to allow the relatives of victims of the Holocaust and whose yahrzeits (anniversaries of their deaths) is unknown, to observe the traditional yahrtzeit practices for the deceased, including lighting a memorial candle, learning mishnayot and reciting the kaddish. According to the policy of the Chief Rabbinate in Israel, the memorial prayer is also recited in synagogues. To some religious Jews, this day is preferable as a remembrance day to Yom HaShoah, since the latter occurs in the month of Nisan in which mourning is traditionally prohibited.
So, maybe I should have mentioned that as well, that it was the Tenth of Tevet AND the Yom Hakadish Haklali for the Holocaust. I had thought just bringing to their attention the fact that it was a Jewish fast day was enough (I mean, I know I wasn’t the only one troubled by this, but I may have been the only one actively trying to do something about it.)
I was unsure what to do, but that Saturday night I shared my dilemma privately with the rabbi of my parent’s shul as we were walking out of the maariv service. He fully agreed with me that it was not fitting for a Jewish-Zionist organization like WIZO to hold such an event on such a somber fast/memorial day and he encouraged me to try again, to go higher up the ladder.
I was very unsure what to do, but suddenly I remembered that at WIZO we had a rabbi on staff. He was in charge of the kashrut supervision at all the WIZO day care centers across Israel, he would sell the chametz of the entire organization each year before Pesach, he put up the mezuzas at all the dedication ceremonies of new buildings, surely he would be the right person to bring this to.
So, that same Saturday night I found his work email (he knew me pretty well, we’d run into each other at WIZO headquarters often) and I sent him a short email about the conflict.
He sent me a reply within minutes. He thanked me for bringing the matter to his attention, as he was unaware of it, and he promised me he would take care of it.
The next morning at work ,an email from HR was sent to all workers that the event had been moved from January 7th to January 9th due the 7th being “The Fast of the Tenth of Tevet and Yom Hakadish Haklali for the Holocaust”. And when I saw the HR director later that week in the hallway she told me personally that it had been postponed and I told her I knew and I thanked her.
The matter was resolved. All’s well that ends well. I felt relieved, but also proud that I spoke up and that I did not give up on what I believed was right.
In fact, that’s also the story behind WIZO, which was celebrating 100 years since its founding at the time of this incident two years ago. It started with a group of British women a century ago who came to visit pre-state Israel and saw the very difficult conditions the people living here were enduring. They decided to stand up and make a change. If WIZO had taught me anything in the three years I was there it was that they stand up for the children, youth, women and the entire population of Israel to better their lives. WIZO stands up for what is right and so did I.
I love the organization. The error in scheduling was done innocently, but had I not pushed I am not sure it would have been rescheduled. The fact that the event was indeed moved to another date shows that they do correct mistakes.
So what’s the postscript to this story? I ran into the WIZO rabbi at headquarters after he sent his letter (or spoke to whoever needed to be spoken to in order to move the event), and I thanked him and he said, “No, thank you Yonatan! You gave me an opportunity to do a big mitzvah.”
“True, I told the rabbi, “but our work is not done. Once they moved the event so as not to fall on the Tenth of Tevet, you and I must make every effort to attend on the new date and fully participate and be present to show our support. It’s the right thing to do.”
He smiled and agreed. So that Tuesday the Tenth of Tevet we fasted and two days later we feasted in celebration together with everyone at WIZO.
Yes, the Tenth of Tevet is a “minor” fast days, it’s so quick it’s over before we know it, but I am grateful for the opportunity I had to defend the honor of this meaningful day.
I suppose the lesson I learned is that if you see something wrong, don’t treat it as a “Top Secret”, rather see it as an opportunity to “siege” the day.
Wishing you all a meaningful Tenth of Tevet.