Last week it felt like two simultaneous preparations were happening. People were prepping for Passover, getting boxes of matzo, choosing recipes, sending and accepting invitations to Seder. And people were prepping for Olympia Spring Arts Walk, hanging art in downtown businesses, tuning up instruments, putting last minute preparations into Procession of the Species costumes.
And with the simultaneous preparations came from some corners grumblings or disappointment at the confluence of the two. Because this year, the beloved institution of Arts Walk—always on the last weekend in April—fell on the first night of the important festival of Passover—always on the 15 of Nissan but variable according to the Gregorian calendar.
This is not the first time something like this happened. Two years ago Fall Arts Walk, which occurs on the first weekend in October, coincided with Yom Kippur, the most sacred day of our calendar. And when this happens, we in the Jewish community are one, reminded how our calendar and sacred celebrations are not normative, and two, forced with the need to either make choices or accommodations as to how we wish to participate in either our Jewish traditions or community celebrations (or both). It is a conflict I wrote about recently when the Democratic caucuses fell on Shabbat morning.
So to channel expressed frustration and to raise awareness, I created a petition on change.org. While I’ve signed petitions before from this site, I’ve never made one, and gave the technology a whirl. I created a petition and shared it on social media. Unbeknownst to me it was also passed along to the Olympian, which ran a story about it.
The gist of petition is that while the Jewish holidays are variable in relation the Gregorian calendar, they are not random. We know when the holidays will fall in perpetuity. Now we can just look up on line, but one of my prize possessions is a book of a perpetual Jewish calendar that tells the corresponding Jewish date for the years 1900 to 2100. (My dad first got it before the advent of the Internet to track the date of his mother’s, my grandmother’s, yahrtzeit). I keep it open on my desk.
So in other words, we know when the holidays and Arts Walk will conflict again. And we know far in advance. On a whim I looked it up, and found that in 2027 Fall Arts Walk will conflict with Rosh Hashanah, in 2041 Fall Arts Walk will conflict with Yom Kippur and in 2043 Spring Arts Walk will fall on Passover. The “ask” of the petition is that the city officials in charge of making those scheduling decisions take into account those conflicts and consider rescheduling Fall and Spring Arts Walk in those years. The petition is active, and as of this posting there are over 160 signatures.
I’m not sure what will come of it, though I do intend to pass it along to city leadership and maybe open up a conversation. For again, it wasn’t meant to be adversarial. And I don’t know if it will be successful in its stated goals of changing the event in 25 years. But, it was meant as a reminder that we live in a diverse community, diversity is difficult, and we need to be continually thinking through and evaluating how we can embrace evolving inclusivity.
I was torn in creating and promoting the petition. I recognize that our secular calendar is based around a Christian flow of time, and part of me just accepts that. At the same time, it is important to remember that not everyone fits, and that we as Jews are governed by two calendars that conflict at times (having to take off school or work for the High Holidays is another issue). I know too that it shouldn’t be my place to have to continually educate, that general knowledge of world religions should be standard. And at the same time, I know that we must advocate for ourselves, share our experiences and point out when we feel challenged and excluded.
Through the petition I hope to express personal concerns and widen the experience of the Jewish community so that others feel empowered to express the same (whether one identifies with Judaism religiously, culturally, ethnically or a combination, this issue with the calendar conflict served as a reminder of “otherness.”) And it gives others in the greater community to show their support and reminds us in the Jewish community to lend our support to others who feel similarly challenged and excluded.
So in some ways, while I started it on a lark, the petition is already successful, for the goal was not necessarily accommodation, but mindfulness. And mindfulness is the first stage of any movement of liberation.
Tonight ushers in the 7th day of Passover, our festival of liberation. It was the 7th day that tradition teaches was the day of the crossing of the Red Sea. In the story of the Exodus in the Torah we are told that it wasn’t just the Israelites who left Egypt, but the group that left was an erev rav, a “mixed multitude,” a group of people that represented a variety of backgrounds and communities. Israelites, yes, but also Egyptians who found common cause with them.
Thus from the very beginning a liberated community is defined by diversity. When we create community, there will be people with different attitudes, ideas, mores and narratives that we need to take into consideration. We can go on thinking and pretending we are all the same, or we can say, wait a minute, something else is going on here that we need to think about. And the challenge, then, is to navigate this diversity to truly create a society that welcomes and celebrates all.
And if you are up for the challenge, please sign.