My high-school educated mother came of age in the days when “gentleman’s agreements” limited Jews’ access to higher education, housing, and the professions. One of her formative experiences was an interview at what we would now call a major telecommunications corporation. A clerical position with a decent salary, benefits, even vacation, it was a “good job” for a woman with limited education. However, there was one catch: she had to work on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. She didn’t have a great deal of formal education but she was no dummy–she knew that this was a less than subtle way to keep Jews out of that particular workplace. Having been raised in an Orthodox household, she also knew that the choice offered was no choice at all.
We rightfully celebrate that Jews now have full access to higher education, housing, and the professions. But I wonder if we fully appreciate how, at the holiest time of the Jewish year, Jews are still routinely, subtly and powerfully required to make choices between their Jewishness and their wholesale belonging in various professional, communal, and organizational worlds. Look at all sorts of calendars (and our rationalizations for them) and you have an important Jewish story in the 21st Century.
One place to start might be an international body, the United Nations. For some odd reason, the Jewish High Holidays are not on their list of official holidays. Of course, Christmas and Good Friday grace that list; Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha were happily and rightfully added in 1998.