I have always attempted to instill in my children a sense of pride in their Jewish heritage. As a Jew living in America, I want my children to be comfortable and confident with their Jewish identity. It goes beyond sending them to yeshiva day schools and Jewish overnight camps. The ultimate goal is for my kids to feel fulfilled in their spiritual and cultural existence.
Along comes the beautiful chag of Sukkot. What better way to celebrate the fall harvest than to give our children a week of undivided attention with family outings galore! But, unfortunately, this is not the case for all of us. Trying to balance the fun activities and family time with work obligations on top of cooking six-course gourmet meals for yom tov requires a great deal of agility. It can quickly turn “z’man simcha teinu”into “z’mant zaroteinu.” Whether your household has one or two working parents, providing entertainment for your children while they are home from school for almost two weeks is challenging.
On a personal note, it is the start of the fourth quarter and busy season for me in the online marketing world. Missing work days for Yom Tov has already set me back while the guilt is eating away at me for attempting to work on chol hamoed instead of taking my kids on outings.
When I compare this experience to that of my friends in Israel, the realization sets in fast that although I appreciate living in America, where I can openly practice my religion freely, alas I am an American Jew. As long as I live in this great country (and it is a great country with so much that we take for granted every day), it is still the Diaspora—chutz la’aretz—and we are at the mercy of the secular world. My friends in Israel are off from work for all of Sukkot. The country observes a national Sukkot celebration with many events geared to children. In the United States, most businesses cannot shut down for the holiday week sincethe consumer world expects immediate responses in this fast-paced digital age.
Juggling motherhood and a career is difficult even under the best of conditions. It becomes that much harder when I crave giving my children lasting memories of a fun and enjoyable chag. I am saddened that I often end up celebrating the holiday of Sukkot quite perfunctorily, enjoying eating in the beautifully decorated sukkah and shaking the lulav, but otherwise engaging in my regular mundane tasks. This challenge becomes more pronounced when I think about the meaning of Sukkot. A focal point of Sukkot is about appreciating the land of Israel. The harvest we honor is Israel’s harvest. The rain we pray for is for Israel. Sukkot is about the actual earth and the land. And when it comes to Sukkot in America, we are a little bit out of sync.
So how can we provide our children and families with a fulfilling holiday while struggling with our “real world” obligations? There is no simple answer. However, I do believe that we should strive to teach our children about the importance and centrality of Israel within our lives here in the United States to help put this holiday, and every other aspect of our daily living, into the proper perspective.
P’nina Seplowitz lives in Bergenfield with her husband and their three children. She is actively involved in the community and works as the VP of Sales & Marketing for an online magazine subscription company. P’nina recently authored her first book of juvenile fiction and hopes to release her second publication before the summer.
By P’nina Seplowitz