Scheduling Shavuot

For weeks I’ve had two flyers up on the fridge. The Toddler keeps rearranging them with antique wooden fruit magnets, so I’ve had many opportunities to notice them and actually read what they say. But what I failed to see until yesterday was that they advertise Must Attend Events scheduled for the same day, same time: the beginning of Shavuot.

One is an advertisement for Shavuot services at our synagogue—a Tikkun Leil, or all-night study session—which includes my husband in the lineup. He is giving a lecture called “A Mountain Held Over Our Heads: On the Joyful Difficulty of Revelation?” The question mark is courtesy of the nice man who printed the flyer, and who probably didn’t understand the title, thought he needed confirmation, and forgot to get it. I understand the title because I understand my husband, who finds joy in any difficulty. He craves complication. (Opposites attract.)

The other notice is a postcard for an End of Year Mixer, inviting all incoming and outgoing Eighth graders to a gathering at Teenager’s school. Parents are invited. Food is involved. It is a way to meet new families, say goodbye to families moving to cheaper tuition, and to let our post-exam students unwind with peers. Eighth grade exams at Teenager’s school are not taken lightly. Nor given lightly. And for my kid in particular, having a group excuse to hang out and decompress after a grueling five day exam schedule is a valuable thing.

Candlelighting time for Shavuot is a bit later than the start of the Mixer, so we will be able to hit part of both events in theory. In essence, though, this kind of conflict is typical. It is what I expect from living Jewish in a nonJewish community. If I wanted zero conflicts, I’d enroll my kids in the Jewish Day School or better, move to some place with more than a 0.2 percent Jewish population. But, for reasons I shan’t disclose, I prefer Teenager’s school and I pay the price: outrageous tuition and conflicts with the Jewish calendar. Her school really, truly tries to be aware of all religious holidays when scheduling events, but they do mess up pretty often. It would be hard not to, given the shifting nature of non-Gregorian calendars, and the oft-forgotten factoid that Jewish holidays begin on the night before the date stated in everyone’s Week-at-a-Glance. And don’t forget the absolutely mystifying conundrum of different Jewish families observing the same holiday in different ways. Why do the Steinhardts do Rosh Hashana for two days and the Kleinhardts only one?* Why will the Rosen kids eat cupcakes at a classmate’s school party during Passover week, but the Rosenthals abstain?** And speaking of the Rosenthals, why is the Everything Matzah provided by the school cafeteria kosher enough for everyone else, but not for them?*** The answers to these and similar questions will make even the most conscientious school administrator surrender.

We’re lucky. We have the most conscientious school administrators imaginable, but we still have to make gentle phone calls and polite email requests to take another look at the date for that field trip, that outdoor education sleepaway, that party, that concert. I’ve been doing this so long I look at these inevitable exchanges as learning opportunities: I can learn patience and gratitude, and they can learn that living Jewish is a complicated thing—a joyful difficulty—for all of us.


* Outside of Israel, in the Diaspora, Orthodox and Conservative Jews celebrate some holidays for two days rather than one. Rosh Hashana, for example. explains it better than I can. (Rosh Hashana is fine: It’s the two days of seder that kill me.)

** Every family makes its own decisions about what is or isn’t kosher, or if they care. Kashrut during Passover is kashrut cranked up to levels so high most families can’t or won’t reach. Nowadays, by the way, it is perfectly simple to make tasty birthday cupcakes completely kosher for Passover. It’s just not many people are going to do it. Around here.

*** Bless the Cafeteria’s heart. Every year they provide peeled boiled eggs and boxes of Everything Matzah for the Jewish kids during Passover. First of all, the eggs may have been kosher to start with, but once they got boiled in a non-kosher pot, then peeled and placed in a non-kosher serving dish, they became treyf. Might as well serve us pork chops. And second, not even Manischewitz has invented kosher for Passover Everything Matzah. Year-round matzah is not automatically kosher for Pesach: a fact which still surprises some of my Jewish friends. Passover matzah requires obsessive-compulsive preparation starting from when the wheat is still growing in a field to when the boxes sit on a paper-lined shelf at the store. Look it up at Will I ever tell the Cafeteria any of these things? No. They do their best, and my kid brings her lunch all week anyway.

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