There is a huge difference between taking off for Jewish holidays and living in a country where Jewish holidays are state holidays. Shavuot is an excellent example of this. Outside of Israel, you have to be a very committed Jew to take off from work for this holiday. Inevitably you have to face a co-worker who publicly tells you: “I’m Jewish and I’ve never heard of this holiday.” (Why do these co-workers never stop to think that the chance of their being ignorant is much greater than the chance of your saying “Surprise, I made the whole thing up”?) Everyone in Israel knows when it is Shavuot because the day is a national holiday. It is thus much easier to opt in to this Jewish festival—even if it’s just for a taste of cheesecake.
This year there is a rare overlap of Shavuot with Memorial Day Weekend, as the holiday starts on Saturday night, May 23, and extends through Monday evening of Memorial Day. It is thus possible to observe Shavuot completely within an American holiday period. But is this good or bad for the Jews? To get an answer to this question I consulted with my sister Marissa Fuller, who has become something of a Shavuot expert. For the past nine years Marissa has organized a Shavuot retreat for 25–30 DC-area families at the Cacapon Resort State Park in West Virginia. Marissa says: “We all look forward to Shavuot in a way that we never would have before. It is now the kids’ favorite holiday!” Marissa put me in touch with several of the families in her group.
Mark Katkov wrote to me: “My thoughts about Shavuot coinciding with Memorial Day apply as well to when Jewish holidays fall on the American weekend. Living in galut [exile] as an observant Jew means missing a great deal of work in the course of the year. So when holidays fall on Saturday/Sunday it’s convenient. On the other hand, when holidays fall during the work week yom tov feels particularly special—we’re calling a halt to our normal lives and making a real separation from the secular world. So both circumstances have pluses and minuses, and both let us know in a big way that we remain a people apart.”
Debbi Wilgoren wrote: “I am used to the Jewish holidays precluding some part of my American life—be it a sports event my kids would otherwise be involved in, a work get-together, a play I’d like to see, or a big game my son wishes he could watch on TV. So, missing Memorial Day is just one other version of that.” Bonnie Roskes added: “For my family it [the overlap] makes no difference at all—we’d be at Cacapon anyway, and since it’s Memorial Day that just means the lake is guaranteed to be open.”
Happy Shavuot, and have a pleasant Memorial Day weekend—however you choose to combine the two.