Today is the second day of Rosh Hashanah, which means many Jews will choose to go back to work or school (although they might still observe the custom of eating an exotic fruit, symbolizing the new year's possibilities.) Wrestling with scheduling conflicts during the 10-day stretch known as the Days of Awe is such an iconic Jewish-American ritual that children's book author Steven Schnur a few years ago wrote a book called The Koufax Dilemma, referencing the Dodger's legendary decision to sit out the first game of the World Series.
Yom Kippur is tricky for baseball players and their fans, who are in the thick of pennant races when the Tenth of Tishrei rolls around. The Chicago White Sox recently switched next Tuesday's game start time so third baseman Kevin Youkilis, who's reportedly never played on Yom Kippur, could get off the field before sundown. While the Torah doesn't explicitly reference sports, work's prohibited during the Day of Atonement, as is eating - which means folks in the food industry have to make tough decisions too.
As American Muslims are yearly reminded during Ramadan, it can be difficult to fast when everyone else is eating. And in Seattle, the eating doesn't stop. Firefly Kitchens is hosting a "Fermented Happy Hour" just as Yom Kippur begins, and Marination is hosting its Ma Kai preview party just before it ends. Neither operation deliberately chose the date to annoy Jewish patrons; it appears organizers were unaware of its significance.
When I pointed out the timing to a Marination publicist, she responded "Happy Yom Kippur!," which suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of the holiest date on the Jewish calendar: In the most traditional congregations, services include a lengthy confession of sins accompanied by chest raps and prayers recited from a prostrate position. Even in synagogues without the body language, it's a seriously somber occasion.
It's surely unfair to expect restaurants and food producers to honor every religious observance involving a fast. As state Rep. Reuven Carlyle last year wrote in a blog post lamenting the number of local events scheduled atop the High Holidays, "as a member of a tiny minority of less than 0.7 percent of our population, I am of course appreciative that the Jewish holidays do not take precedence in any fashion."
And the idea that Jews would show up to eat Link Lab sausage at Firefly's party or Spam at Marination's shindig is perhaps silly (although far more Jews observe Yom Kippur than keep kosher, me included.) Still, most spiritual leaders agree no harm can come from a general awareness of other people's dietary restrictions, whether motivated by religion, political concerns or Celiac disease.
"It would be wonderful if more event planners consulted a calendar of major religious holidays," says Rabbi Jason Miller, a Michigan-based educator who has frequently returned to the Koufax question on his blog.
But Miller adds it's not secular society's responsibility to schedule around religious fasts. "We shouldn't judge others' choices and we shouldn't expect that there won't be events that we can't attend because we observe Jewish law," he says.