On Turkeys and Geshers

1116teddyThere is an interesting Thanksgiving linguistic kinship between Israel and America. Just as Columbus mistakenly referred to native Americans as “Indians,” the Hebrew term for turkey is literally (and mistakenly) “Indian chicken.” Israel (per capita) consumes more turkey than any other country in the world. It’s true that the United States has been steadily gaining on Israel (the US over the past four decades has doubled its consumption from about eight pounds per person to 16 pounds), but Israelis are still well ahead with a per capita consumption of 22 pounds per person. Given the bird’s popularity here, whole turkeys are surprisingly absent from the typical supermarket in Israel. Unlike the American fondness for roasting the entire turkey, Israelis almost always eat theirs in processed form: in hot dogs, pastrami, schnitzel, and shawarma. Israeli Americans who wish to have a whole turkey on the fourth Thursday in November have to special-order it from their local butcher, and this comes with a special cost. Whereas whole (kosher) chicken in Israel is under $3 per pound, whole turkey sells for between double and triple that amount.

And now to finally solve an age-old problem for the American workplace: to declare a work holiday on the day after Thanksgiving, or to require employees to use a vacation day if they do not wish to come in to work? What has made this a problem for employers is not their hard-heartedness, but the lack of a suitable justification for their generosity.  If the reason to give that Friday after Thanksgiving off is nothing other than employee convenience, well that just won’t do will it?  You can’t just give your workers time off because it’s convenient for them to not come in to work. But if there was some way to give that Friday off without letting things get out of hand, most employers would jump at the chance. Well, corporate America, Israel has a one-word solution to your problem: gesher.

The gesher (or “bridge”) is how Israel addresses a situation when two periods of holiday time are separated by a small break. As an example of how this works, consider when Yom Kippur falls out on a Thursday. Ordinarily, most schools in Israel are open on Fridays (for a 6-day school week), but the Friday after a Thursday Yom Kippur is a classic gesher day since it bridges the holiday time of Yom Kippur and Shabbat. In this case, Friday is usually declared a gesher day and schools are closed.

The lesson for America is simple: the Friday after Thanksgiving is merely a bridge between the Turkey holiday and the ensuing weekend—it is a gesher waiting to happen. Employers could feel generous giving that Friday off, but secure in the knowledge that there was an official name to the holiday and that their workplace was not turning into a free-for-all. Happy Thanksgiving and Gesher Days.

Teddy Weinberger, Ph.D., is Director of Development for a consulting company called Meaningful.   He made aliyah with his family in 1997 from Miami, where he was an assistant professor of religious studies. Teddy and his wife, Sarah Jane Ross, have five children.

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