This past month, Israeli Minster of Education Yifat Shasha-Biton, attempted to shift the Israeli summer vacation from July-August to follow the Hebrew months of Av- Elul. Dr. Peri Sinclair, the Susan and Scott Shay TALI Director General, published an opinion piece in Israel Hayom on June 20th, regarding the timing of the summer vacation and its proximity to the High Holiday season.
Our Jewish cultural identity in Israel has two tangible characteristics: the Hebrew calendar and the Hebrew language. In the early 2000s, I found myself living in the U.S. The Yom Kippur experience in an American suburb was an experience like no other. I would not have felt the weight of the holiday were it not for my desire to spend the day in the synagogue and wear white. I could not imagine what it is like on holidays such as Purim, Hanukkah, or Tu B’Shvat.
When the Jewish people sought to deal with the memory of the Holocaust, some believed that Remembrance Day should be attached to something already existing. One of the fasts in the calendar or even the Ninth of Av – commemorates the destruction of the First Temple, the Second Temple, and other disasters that befell the Jewish people for generations. If they had done so, Israeli society would, in the long run, treat the memory of the Holocaust in the way that the Israeli public treats the memory of the destruction of the Temple. That is, it does not address it, except for the anger and frustration of a significant portion of the public because restaurants close for one evening in the middle of summer.
Only in recent decades has the eve of Tisha B’Av begun to have a place in the public space in discourse circles and individual events. But if we admit it, the number of participants in the meetings across the country is insignificant. Not to mention Tu B’Av – the Israeli day of love is almost absent from the Israeli consciousness.
Recently, Yifat Shasha-Biton, Minister of Education, started an initiative to change the summer vacation and replace it with an August-September break. This initiative has two main faults. First, in my opinion, it is illogical since there are years when Tishrei falls as late as October, and this reform does nothing to help in these years. Second, it could be a nail in the coffin of our collective cultural identity. My concern is not “only” for children’s education or the question of when they will learn in school about the shofar and repentance, but first and foremost about our cultural identity in the country.
We have been privileged to live in a generation where the holidays take on different meanings and diverse expressions in cities and communities. Although these are three weeks in which work and studies are sporadic, most of the public is in the country, in contrast to the months of July-August. Some people mark the High Holidays in synagogues, and some celebrate them with trips, family reunions, and camping. The week of Sukkot is one of the only periods in which the full spectrum of the Israeli public meets in parks and entertainment complexes. Tearing this period from “sacred” and into a “vacation” will harm our cultural identity, language, and unique Jewish-cultural discourse in Israel.
Many Israelis are comparing students’ vacation days to vacation days in the working economy regarding the number of summer vacation days. However, working adults required to give many hours above the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average are compensated with extra vacation days. We should stop referring to the education system as a babysitter. The religious public will discover that half of the August-September vacation is spent in synagogues rather than on trips.
Dr. Peri Sinclair is The Susan and Scott Shay TALI Director General. She received her doctorate in Midrash from the Jewish Theological Seminary and her MA in Jewish Education from JTS’s Davidson School of Education. Peri is a graduate of the TALI School in Hod Hasharon and a proud alumna of NOAM (the Masorti Movement’s youth movement). She has spent 15 summers in senior staff positions at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires. She is married to Dr. Alex Sinclair and together they are raising three inquisitive kids in Modi’in.