Last December, Frank Rich of the New York Times complained that because Chanukah had arrived so early last year - around Thanksgiving, he felt something missing when Christmas arrived. Rich, an assimilated Jew, felt left out of all the joy and pageantry of the Christmas season without Chanukah to fall back to. Rich, as a Jew in America, is not alone. Each year, countless Jewish parents face the "December Dilemma" in their efforts to make up for the lack of Christmas in their children's lives. The build-up of the minor holiday of Chanukah provides small compensation in a vain attempt to compete with Christmas. Even efforts to get local public schools to insert Chanukah melodies in their "winter concerts" (read: Christmas concerts) and to get a Jewish presence in local civic activities during the Christmas shopping season cannot protect the under-observant Jewish family from being overwhelmed by the majority culture. While such efforts may be helpful and necessary, they are ultimately futile in solving the December Dilemma.
The solution to the "December Dilemma" lies in the solving of this year's "October Dilemma." What is the "October Dilemma"? Once again, Jewish parents will have to decide whether or not to send their children to school on the Jewish holidays. While most schools will be closed for Rosh Hashanah, they will be open on Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. I understand the October Dilemma. Many parents in our congregation and elsewhere feel that they need to go to work on major Jewish holidays like Sukkot; so, what to do with the children? Synagogue services and junior congregation account for the mornings, but what about the rest of the day? In addition, many parents are concerned that their children will miss important lessons if absent on religious holidays. (Actually, it is illegal according to State education law to teach new material or to conduct examinations on religious holidays.)
I do not pretend to have the blanket answer for all working parents with public school children. I am available to advise individual families. Be aware, however, that the failure of any family to deal at all with the October Dilemma will mean failure with the December Dilemma, so allow me to offer a few suggestions:
Again, I know that the October Dilemma will not be easy for many families. But my fellow rabbis and I, together with the various Jewish agencies and political leaders, have worked hard to defend the rights of Jewish school children; please don't undermine our efforts. I do not expect perfection, but only that we all try our best. Failure to deal with the October Dilemma will leave your family with Frank Rich's feeling of emptiness when it comes time to face the December Dilemma. For the sake of your children, for the sake of your grandchildren, for your own sake, and for the sake of Jewish continuity, share in the richness, beauty and joy of Sukkot and all Festivals at the synagogue and in your home.