Timekeeping on the Jewish Calendar

While it’s easy enough to copy down Jewish dates into a secular planner, those fixes still prioritize the secular rhythm of time. Yes, the issue of knowing exactly when the holidays fall is solved, but those changes still mark dates first and foremost by their Gregorian date and highlight Sunday as a day of rest rather than Shabbat.

Could a physical planner make it possible to schedule a life fully in the secular world, while also respecting and appreciating the unique cycle of Jewish time?  Many different artists and creators from across the streams of Judaism have envisioned different answers to this same problem.

Almost all of these calendars share a few, basic, features in common. They tend to start the year in Tishrei, the first month of the Jewish calendar, rather than January, and note the weekly Torah readings and important Jewish holidays for that year. But beyond those basic similarities, the approaches that different creators have taken highlight radically different priorities in combining and assimilating those two calendar systems.

Some designs prioritize functionality – the Women’s League’s for Conservative Judaism’s Calendar Diary is almost entirely blank, with lots of space to fill in your own schedule for the week, and the Balabusta’s Daily Organizer includes a pre-Shabbat checklist and extra space to write down meal preparations before holidays.

The Radical Jewish Calendar, on the other hand, takes the opposite approach. Its monthly spreads are packed full of artwork and important dates (in both the Jewish and secular world), leaving far less room for customization and personal additions. In keeping with its “radical” mission statement, the Radical Jewish Calendar also chooses not to mention certain dates, such as the Israeli Day of Independence, because of its “ties to contemporary militarism and nationalism.”

Somewhere in between those poles lies The Jewish Planner, which includes pages for journaling (with prompts based on the cycle of the Jewish calendar) and educational information about the holidays as they occur. The Jewish Planner even features a radical redesign of a traditional planner page, putting a week in a circle, rather than a grid.  For even more freedom, some plan-ers have moved away entirely from these pre-designed versions, and are creating their own Jewish schedules in bullet journals. Instagram accounts like “jewishbulletjournal” feature weekly spreads that outline a Rosh Hashanah schedule and a diagram of different values that the user wants to focus on during the month of Elul.

Across the board, one striking similarity of these planners is that they almost all are created by women. Historically, women have been responsible for scheduling and planning their family’s events, an often thankless and always unpaid job. The majority of these planners feature not only creation and design by women, but also showcase additional art by Jewish female artists, allowing consumers to support rising artists as well. Maybe the newfound abundance of calendars that are envisioned, created, and designed by women provides an avenue to acknowledge and materially appreciate the amount of effort that goes into managing a life that straddles two different calendars.

Elana Rebitzer is an intern at Lilith Magazine and a student at Barnard College.