On the Lighter Side

Go calendar shopping for a kid sometime, and you’ll find yourself in a world of nostalgia, joy and surprise.

Hello Kitty! I adore Hello Kitty. Ooh! And a Harry Potter calendar! Man, Zev would love that! Batman, Superman, Spider-Man. The selection is dizzying! Colorful! Fun!

So what calendar have I pinned up to Zev’s bedroom wall?

The one handed out for free by Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary.

No, it doesn’t boast any cool scenes of the Tomorrow Knight defeating the radioactive Blight. But it does have a nice image of a miniature painting by 19th Century Polish artist Arthur Szyk. And if Zev ever gets curious about the burial business, each page includes the contact information for Mark A. Friedman, chief executive officer of the LA-based Jewish mortuary.

Am I a bad mommy for giving my son a free, funereal calendar? No. I’m a bad mommy for a whole host of other reasons. But on this, I think I’m doing the right thing.

I was all set to get Zev a happier, kid-friendlier calendar, until I attended a lecture about Karaite Jews in the Byzantine Empire. (Yep, you’re about to read about Karaite Jews in the Byzantine Empire, so strap in.)

The Karaites, see, stuck to a purely literal interpretation of the Torah. If G-d didn’t say it to Moses on Sinai, then it has no place in Judaism. So, no Midrash, no Talmud and no, heaven forbid, lunisolar calendars. Karaites believed Jews should figure out when each month started the old-fashioned way: by waiting until two people, independently, observed the new moon in Israel.

Of course, the Byzantine Karaites weren’t in Israel, and this posed a bit of a problem. Eventually, out of a need to know what the heck day it was, they adopted the lunisolar calendar used by those hateful rabbinic Jews.

The effect of this capitulation was two-fold: one, it illuminated such important Karaite phrases as, “See you next Tuesday.” Two, it hastened the death of an already weak sect of Judaism.

A calendar unifies a community, the lecturer explained. If we lose our calendar, we lose our identity (something the Soviet Union knew when it banned Jews from owning Jewish calendars).

Will Zev know why it says 15 Shevat in small print in the box labeled January 20? Not right away. But that little typeface – and the bolder type that tells him that that same day is Tu B’Shevat – gives him small hints and reminders that there is more going on to his days than just the march of time. There is literally something different inside each day that is special to him and to his community.

It’s not “Spy Kids,” but it’s a kind of secret code that my little super sleuth could get behind. When is the new moon each month? Wherever your calendar is labeled, “Rosh Hodesh.” Why is this night different than all other nights? Because it’s Erev Pesach. Says so right on your calendar.

Now, I don’t think Zev would start scarfing bacon and change his name to Christian McPopes-a-lot if he got a Gregorian Garfield calendar. But I love the idea that something so simple, so easily overlooked, can be such a significant source of identity-building.

Still, if anybody reading this has pull at Pixar, please tell those people they’d have a ready market for a “Cars” calendar in 5772.

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