By all accounts, August is an especially difficult month for Israeli parents who have to entertain their kids during summer vacation in the smoldering heat. One recent summer, I remember seeing a cartoon, published in one of Israel’s daily newspapers, that depicted a sweaty, unkempt, tired mom holding an infant on her hip, while schlepping two more kids behind her, being awarded a medal by an army general. “This is for August,” the general informs her as she weakly smiles.
And one might think this challenging time ends come September when the kids return to school, but oh no! Just two weeks after school starts, Israelis are faced with yet another ungodly challenge: the Tishrei Holidays. In fact, the start of the school year provides Israelis with a very false sense of calm. False because just a short time later (sometimes a few days or a couple of weeks), Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah all bring with them the specter of endless days-off.
First of all, children roam the streets again, which means that you can’t go outside in Israel without bumping into groups of smug pre-teens. And you’re in big trouble if you happen to have kids that still need supervision. Chances are you used up all your free days from work during the summer holiday, and since the number of days the kids have off always outnumbers the remaining days you have off, grandparents, relatives, or pricey professional caretakers need to be whistled up to come babysit.
And what’s even more difficult is finding out when exactly you definitely need them. Our kindergarten, for instance, provides “day camp” during some of the days there is no scheduled kindergarten, but strangely, not during others. “Day camp,” it should be noted, is exactly the same as kindergarten, and in the same place and with the same teachers, only it costs money, starts later in the morning, and ends earlier in the afternoon. Trying to figure this all out is a difficult task that requires endless discussion and speculation on the kindergarten-parents’ WhatsApp group.
The same kind of scheduling mystery applies to banks, stores, the post office, government offices, public transport, cinemas, drugstores and pretty much everything else. During the Tishrei Holidays, each of the above are closed three days, then open one day, then open a half a day, then closed five more days, then open three days, then closed half a day—or maybe the other way around (This continues, maddeningly, ad nauseum.) Each business’ hours works a bit different, you see, by different logic.
Let’s say you succeed in understanding the basic bureaucratic differences between Erev Chag, Chag and Chol HaMoed, and sort of remember when each holiday ends and when the next one begins—and you even don’t forget Hoshana Rabbah and Shemini Atzeret and calculate Fridays and Saturdays correctly—you still won’t know at what time the buses stop running on Erev Yom Kippur, or if the Pizza place next to your house will be open on the third day of Sukkot or not. The fact that the holidays are celebrated according to the Jewish calendar while everything else corresponds with the Gregorian calendar, doesn’t help either. Yesterday my four year old asked me what day it is, and I shamefully had to admit that I had no idea.
But wait, there’s more—much more: Being stuck for hours in line to buy the same boring presents for whoever is hosting this year’s holiday dinner (let’s say a Pyrex 10-piece glass food storage set or a wine-and-chocolate gift basket, in an actual basket); being stuck for hours in traffic on the way to each holiday dinner since the entire country commutes at the exact same time; and, of course, the classic holiday weight gain, for which women’s magazines claim each year to have the perfect diet (trust me, they don’t).
And so, to cut a very, very long and frustrating story short, I give you this: If Rosh Hashanah fills most Israelis with a festive sense of excitement and a desire to bake honey cake, by Sukkot even the good-natured of them are bound to experience a nervous break down. And each damn year they say the exactly same thing: “OMG, This is the hottest Yom Kippur EVER!”