When the High Holy Days come, I always think about how different things used to be for Orange County Jews. In 1978, our first year in Irvine, a fellow Jew actually suggested that I not take off for the holidays, because “it just isn’t done here.” I worried that starting a job in September and immediately asking for time off might be a problem. Fortunately, as it turned out, my predecessor at my job was Jewish, my supervisor had no problem with my taking the time off, and I could do what I knew was right.
Still, the High Holy Days posed problems for children, including mine, many years later. There was one Yom Kippur in the late 1990s when I had to talk to three teachers about postponing tests or making alternate arrangements for my daughter to take them. The third one was especially hostile, so much so that the principal overheard the conversation and decided to fire him.
For the past five-plus years I have lived in a cocoon. As editor of Orange County Jewish Life, I spend hours before the holidays sending and receiving High Holy Day greetings. People take those days off without question, and my personal and professional life are part of that tapestry.
I figured that the days of ignorance about Jewish holidays in Orange County were over. We have more than 100,000 Jewish residents, we have wonderful institutions, and we are an accepted and respected part of an eclectic mix of ethnicities and religions in this area.
A few months ago I joined a networking group. I rarely get to the monthly mixers by 7 a.m., but I thought I might do so in September. Lo and behold, the date was changed to accommodate Labor Day. Someone unaware of the significance of the date on the following Thursday switched the meeting to Rosh Hashanah.
When I saw the meeting notice, I wrote to the person in charge. She said that her Jewish friends could not understand why I thought it was a problem. Not only did she refuse to consider changing the date, but she wanted me to tell her what kinds of placards there could be to wish all of the Jewish people in attendance at the mixer a happy holiday. Balloons perhaps?
When I told her that nothing short of an apology and/or a date change was acceptable, she said that she would take it up with the Jewish Federation. When I reminded her of what I did for a living, she did what any contrite adult would do – she took me off of the mailing list. I have asked to be restored to it but to no avail. No balloons for me.
I know that this is an isolated incident. Still, it reminds us that there continues to be ignorance in the world, possibly closer to home than we realize. It also reminds us that we as Jews have to stick together, even when we disagree, even when we compete, even when we have to count to ten in order to be civil. We also have to learn to share.
An opinion piece for JTA, written by marketing expert Gary Wexler, urged the Jewish community to use the role model of Alzheimer’s researchers to share information. He said, “Jewish organizations rarely share their internal data, except for research commissioned by Birthright Israel, Jewish camping, and Jewish education. They almost certainly never share mailing lists. Even though they are public trusts, they hide their failures. And, in many cases, they don’t talk openly about their successes, lest their methodologies be stolen by the perceived competition or taken credit for by other people.”
Let’s make 5771 the year in which we not only share our successes but learn to hear the other side of a debate. Let’s make it the year in which we go into discussions without being dominated by preconceived notions. Let’s make it a year in which we truly see the big picture from all sides. If we are going to educate others, we have to be open to educating ourselves.