Why, in this age of tolerance and religious non-discrimination, can’t people figure out how to avoid scheduling conferences on Jewish holidays?
No corporation or organization would consider scheduling a meeting or conference on Christmas, or even on July 4. And yet, I’ve missed meetings and conferences which were thoughtlessly scheduled on Jewish holidays more times than I could count.
I recognize the reality that there are just so many Jewish holidays that it’s difficult for event organizers to avoid all of them. However, that explanation begins to look suspicious when, in a year like 2006, when only six of the critical can’t-possibly-work-on-them Jewish holy days fall on week days, I’ve already been forced to miss two conferences my employer wanted me to attend, one of which was scheduled on Passover and the other on Shavuot.
A more likely explanation is simple ignorance. There is a great deal of complexity in the Jewish holidays: they fall on different days every year; they have different lengths, both between holidays and between Jewish denominations; they have different observances and restrictions; the whole concept of those “restrictions” is foreign to most non-Jews; and most secular calendars don’t accurately include all of them.
A year or so ago, when I ran into the problem of my own employer scheduling important all-company meetings on holidays, I set out to find a site on the Web to which I could refer my employer as a reference for determining which days to avoid in the future. I could not find a single suitable site. I found a few which looked like they were intended for this purpose, but all of them had errors — they over-stress the importance of some Jewish holidays, omit others, or both. I gave up and just offered to provide to my employer at the beginning of each year a list of the days that I couldn’t possibly work because of holidays.
After the two missed conferences (so far) this year, I decided that just wasn’t good enough anymore, so I decided to so something about it. The result is my Jewish Holidays and Event Scheduling page. You enter the year, and it tells you all the holidays you need to avoid when scheduling events. While it encourages you to avoid all the holidays, it concedes that this isn’t possible, so it breaks down the holidays by relative importance to give you some idea of how bad it would be to conflict with each one.
Please take a look and let me know what you think. Also, please feel free to forward the link to anyone whom you think might find it useful.
Thanks so much for “Jewish Holidays to Consider When Scheduling Events”. I annually create a calendar for our photo group meetings for the upcoming season. Once before I created a calendar and put a fair amount of effort into avoiding collisions with Jewish holidays, but because of day before/day after issues we still had a problem that had to be resolved. This year after I checked for conflicts other ways I recalled your tool and used it to identify a conflict that would have been a problem. Thanks for saving us from offending our Jewish friends and dealing with the grief that would have ensued.
Very interesting and informative.
(1) UX suggestion: write “Passover” rather than “Pesach”. This is a page for goyim, might as well use the terms we’re familiar with. If you want to be educational, perhaps “Pesach (Passover)”.
(2) You have “When Jewish holidays start” but no “When Jewish holidays stop”. It would be helpful to know if you can reasonably invite Jews to after-sunset events on a holiday date. It sounds like probably yes (for Passover anyway) based on your answer above to maxdaddy, but if there is a definitive-ish answer might as well put it on the main page.
Done and done. Thanks for the suggestions.
good list of holidays… but I think you have too many! the only ones that really matter in my mind is Passover and Yom Kippur for organizations to avoid when scheduling events. You cant expect them to keep 10 days in mind during the year. If we just emphasized the 2 key events we would have a better chance of avoiding event conflicts.
You’re really missing the point.
The purpose of the page is to give event organizers the information they need to know when they might be scheduling an event in a way that conflicts with some Jews’ observance of Jewish holidays.
Not listing all the holidays won’t make them go away. Not listing all the holidays won’t change the fact that some Jews observe them.
You are not the only Jew in the world. Your personal level of observance of Jewish holidays does not trump the rights of Jews who observe more of the holidays than you do.
Listing only Passover and Yom Kippur and telling event organizers that those are the only holidays they need to worry about would be lying to them, and it would be worse than not having the scheduling page available at all.
[Sorry, I’m not sure I already sent this, so I am sending it again–or, better, a reconstruction, since I do not have an exact copy of what went off to you previously, if anything.]
First, this is a great site for anyone trying to be sensitive about scheduling events.
My organization, a community not-for-profit in Boston, wants to have a fundraiser on the evening of April 20. I understand that Passover starts before sunset on April 18 and that American Jews typically celebrate Seders for two nights, thus presumably the nights of April 18 and April 19.
There seem to be two questions to be aware of. First, is April 20 in the evening objectionable for scheduling an event? I see extended discussion in this blog about Jewish holidays starting around sunset of the previous night. Does this mean that each day of the holiday, if there is more than one day, starts the previous evening around sunset and ends the next evening around sunset? And does this mean, in turn, that an event where the meal portion starts after sunset on April 20 (7:31 PM on that day) would not offend Jews observing the two-day Passover tradition? (The event would start at the Museum of Fine Arts late in the afternoon.)
Second, if April 20 after sunset is all right, what, if any, restrictions should the meal try to observe? The no-chametz restrictions only? Is a buffet all right, from which each guest can choose what he or she wants? Or might this be a problem? Should our organization try to comply with restrictions on meal-preparation equipment? The meal portion of the event will be held in a private residence; the hosts are not Jews. Almost certainly, it will be done by a caterer.
Please let me know if my questions are on target, and if I am missing anything, too.
Plainly, one easy way of addressing this would be having the event on April 13!
[You did post it twice, so I deleted the first one since it was redundant.]
These are all good questions! Thanks for asking and for trying to accommodate your Jewish supporters.
For Jewish who observe both of the first two days of Passover, they are a single, uninterrupted holiday, so it’s sort of irrelevant when the second day “starts” per se. The second day ends 42, 50 or 72 minutes (depending on each location and individual and community traditions) after sundown on April 20, which in Boston means 8:12, 8:20 or 8:42. There probably aren’t many Jews in Boston who observe the latest time.
For people who strictly observe the dietary restrictions of Passover, nothing at your buffet will be edible, and complying with the restrictions on equipment, dishes, etc. will be impossible for practical and cost reasons, so don’t bother trying. Your best bet is to contact one of the local Kosher caterers (Catering by Andrew is probably your best bet) and ask them if they can prepare Kosher for Passover boxed meals for your guests who need them.
However, given how late the holiday ends that night, it seems unlikely that any Jews who observe both days of the holiday will be able to attend the fundraiser, so having it on another night may be preferable.
Wow! I started off finding your site because I had an issue with Dell. Now I see we have even more in common. I’m an Orthodox Jew, and for years I’ve had exactly this same sentiment. I remember getting on some mailing list for some motivational-seminar thing, and they had a seminar scheduled for Rosh Hashanah. Well, I got on the phone and tried to explain just the way you put it – that they would never have a seminar on Christmas, so why on a (very holy) Jewish holiday? People are so clueless. By the way, several of my kids (they’re all Orthodox also) live in Israel, and even with the situation there, I am so glad they do, because they don’t have stuff like this to contend with. Over there, Shabbat is Shabbat, even to the non-observant Israelis. Anyway, Yasher Koach, Kol HaKavod, good for you, keep it up!
A response to some comments I received today via email…
FYI, the only reason I require registration on my blog is to reduce the amount of “blog spam” I get. I don’t use the registration information for anything. Really.
Thank you very much for your feedback! As you will see from my responses below, I’ve made some significant changes to my holiday page based on it.
I’ve added an entire section about when Jewish holidays actually start, and I’ve added links to this section from the actual holiday lists.
I’ve already addressed this in previous comments, and I’m going to stick with what I said before.
I’ve added sections about food on Pesach and about fast days and made links to those sections from the lists of holidays. I’ve also added a link you can click on in the section about fast days to add the minor fast days to the holiday lists.
Your feedback is very much appreciated, and I hope that the changes I’ve made help to address some of your concerns!
None of the holidays listed on my holidays page are “minor.” As the page itself notes, “Note that even the biggest list doesn’t contain all the Jewish holidays. Trust me, you don’t want to see that list.” It further states at the beginning of the biggest list of holidays, “If you schedule something on any of these dates, you will prevent some Jews from being able to attend your event. It may be hard to avoid them all, but please try!”
A supervisor who isn’t able to understand this after looking at my page and having it further explained by his/her employee is beyond help. 🙂
I don’t want to get into a drawn-out discussion of user interface design, so I’m just going to say that I think the current UI is more appropriate for the target audience than your suggested UI.
I may certainly be wrong, but it does not seem likely that I will be able to conduct the usability study that would be necessary to figure out whether that’s the case. Absent such a study, someone’s got to decide what the UI should be, and since I wrote it, I get to be the someone. 🙂
In my experience, for families with children, missing the first night of Hanukah is a Big Deal. Missing the other nights isn’t so great either, but I think missing the first night is worse. This is a social / cultural consideration rather than a Halachic one; I did take such considerations into account when categorizing the holidays.
I am under the impression that Reform Jews observe Simchat Torah on the day that Conservative and Orthodox Jews observe as Shmini Atzeret. If I am wrong about that, then I need to swap Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. At http://urj.org/holidays/jcal/, the Union for Reform Judaism lists “Atzeret / Simchat Torah” for 5767 on “Sat OCT 14”.
Someone else made a similar suggestion. I put Tisha B’Av in the weakest category for three reasons:
1. I am trying to make this tool applicable to all Jewish denominations, and it is my impression that Tisha B’Av is not an important holiday to most non-Orthodox Jews.
2. I want to make avoiding the holidays easy enough to do that people will actually be willing to do it, which means that I lean toward categorizing holidays more weakly when there is justification for doing so.
3. I believe that it is permissible for even Orthodox Jews to work on Tisha B’Av if refraining from doing so would harm their parnassa. I am open to correction on this matter, but even if I’m wrong, I’m not sure it would outweigh the other two reasons.
The list of holidays is already way too daunting for a non-Jew trying to schedule an event. Most non-Orthodox Jews don’t observe any of the minor fasts, and there’s no reason why an Orthodox Jew can’t work on a minor fast day. I therefore believe the minor fasts do not rise to the level of even the “green” holidays on my list.
A religious Jew who knows in advance that he will have to attend an event on Erev Pesach can work around it and manage to do it. The purpose of this page is not to make it convenient for Jews to attend secular events; it’s to make it possible for them to do so.
On the flip side, you’re not the first person to suggest this, so I confess that I’m still considering it.
Others have raised the question of how to make it more obvious that holidays start the previous night. An earlier version of the page was less assertive about it, and I beefed it up in response to feedback. I am still debating with myself whether more needs to be done, and if so what the right way to do it would be.
Listing the nights separately as you suggested would introduce a different ambiguity — would such a listing block off the whole day, or just the evening? Sure, you could say that the names on the listings would make it obvious, but if we could rely on “obvious” things, then we wouldn’t need to list the evenings at all, since the fact that we’ve bashed the user over the head about when holidays start should also be “obvious”.
I’ve toyed with adding an additional column with the previous date in it, i.e., instead of just a “Date” column, there would be “Starts 0:18 before sunset” and “Ends 0:42 after sunset” columns with two consecutive dates in them. However, once I do that, I open up other cans of worms. What about people who observe 72 minutes instead of 42 minutes? What about holidays on consecutive days? Etc.
In short, I’m still thinking about it, but right now, it seems to me that any additional changes to display when the holidays start would hurt information transmission more than help it.
I’m reluctant to mention this on the holidays page page. As you point out, the information that Outlook provides isn’t good enough. If I thought “not good enough” was good enough, I wouldn’t have bothered to write my application. I think telling people to put the Outlook data onto their calendars will give them enough of a feeling of “security” about the Jewish holidays that they won’t bother to consult my list, thus defeating its purpose.
Orthodox Jews are not the only Jews who “are concerned about Jewish holidays.”
The percentage of Jews across the United States is significantly lower than the percentage of Jews in white-collar professions who attend conferences and similar events.
As Shlock Rock points out in one of their songs, and they’re certainly not the first ones to do it, the contributions of Jews to science, mathematics, the arts, business, technology, and just about every other higher pursuit is extremely disproportionate.
Even if event organizers can get away with not caring about scheduling events on Jewish holidays because few Jews are interested in attending, that doesn’t make it right, and we shouldn’t take it lying down.
I have personally encountered event organizers who indicated that they scheduled events on Jewish holidays only out of ignorance and would have tried to avoid them if they’d known.
(Alas, I’ve also encountered non-religious Jews who have intentionally scheduled events on Jewish holidays, knowing that observant Jews would be unable to attend, out of hostility toward “those crazy ultra-religious Jews who make the rest of us look bad.”)
The fact that the holidays are a moving target is exactly why I wrote the Web page to list them.
Finally, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
I think you are focusing too much on the halachic issues and not enough on non-halachic issues. As you note, Purim is less of a concern for Orthodox Jews, but it is more of a concern for non-Orthodox Jews, many of whom celebrate Purim with their families but do not observe many of the other holidays.
It’s inevitable that some of the distinctions I draw on this page are going to be arbitrary and not exactly right. To make all of them exactly right would completely overwhelm any unknowledgeable person trying to use the information. I am comfortable with the distinction I’ve drawn.
This is exactly the opposite situation as Purim, which is why it ends up treated differently from Purim — the prohibitions of Tisha B’Av are more of a concern for Orthodox Jews but less of a concern for non-Orthodox Jews.
If someone had to go to a conference on the day before Pesach, they could — they would simply need to plan in advance to make it possible. My goal here is not to make it easy for Jews to attend events, but rather to make it possible for them to attend. As you point out, I’m asking schedulers to do an awful lot by asking them to avoid all these days, so I don’t think it’s appropriate to add a day which can be worked around by the attendee.
All of this is true. My goal is not to try to tell people that they must avoid these dates, but rather to provide them with the information they need to know what dates they should at least be trying to avoid. In my experience, most of the time they simply don’t know.
Yes, of course, but once you reach the point in the conversation of actually trying to explain what dates they should be trying to avoid, face-to-face conversation is no longer terribly effective, because it’s just so darn complicated. Hence this page.
I’ve never asked someone to change a date that had already been scheduled because I couldn’t attend, and I wouldn’t dream of doing that. My goal is to put the information in people’s hands to enable them to take it into account when they’re doing the scheduling.
I’m going to post some comments I’ve received about the holidays page and how I responded to them. Others can feel free to post their own comments here as well.
I intentionally treated the first day of Chanukah separately from all the others, because it seems like the one that adults with young children are most likely to want to spend with their families. It’s an arbitrary distinction, but there are a lot of arbitrary distinctions in this page.
This page is already way, way more information than unobservant or non-Jewish people ever want to have to deal with. I don’t want to overload them even more; the more information I include here, the less likely it is that they’ll pay attention to any of it.
All of the things you mention are things that can be dealt with by an observant Jew, one way or another. My intention is not to make it easy for Jews to attend events on holidays, but rather to make it possible for them to do so. I think it’s reasonable to expect Jewish attendees to meet event schedulers half-way, so I don’t think this information belongs.
I’ve added a mention of Shabbat to the complete list at the top.
It would be incorrect to mention Shabbat in the “Can’t Touch This” list, because in fact many people who observe the holidays on that list don’t observe Shabbat. This is why it is mentioned in the “It’s all about the numbers” list instead; the people who observe the additional holidays listed there are the ones who also observe Shabbat.
Again, I think this is Too Much Information.