Enough With the Isru Chag Folly

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A decorates a Sukka ahead of the pilgrimage holiday Sukkot

Wednesday is the day after a holiday, in this case the day after Shmini Atzeret. It is not a holiday, or even an intermediate day of a holiday. Everything will operate as normal, or nearly so: Schools will only reopen Thursday. The Education Ministry website explains that “the day after each of the three [weeklong pilgrimage] festivals” – Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot (which is followed immediately by Shmini Atzeret) – “is called isru chag. The name comes from the Psalms – ‘[B]ind the festival sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar’ (Psalms 118:27). In this context, the intent is to express the difficulty of taking leave of the holiday: They bound the festival for just one more day.”

It’s easy to identify with the difficulty of taking leave of the holiday. Who wouldn’t want to stretch the vacation a bit more and delay the return to work? But reopening workplaces – and not schools as well – not only fails to take into account parents’ difficulty in taking leave of the holiday and its vacation, but makes it twice as hard (especially in this holiday-riddled month). Many parents of young children are left to hunt for childcare arrangements on the days that school is still out while they have to go back to work.

The Bank of Israel estimates that almost 30 percent of Israeli households with children ages 3-11 are affected by these gaps between school and workplace schedules. They clearly reduce labor productivity. Isru chag is an unnecessary holiday that adds three absurd vacation days to the schedules of teachers and students (after Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot). This is an outdated vacation schedule that hasn’t been changed in decades. Every year, the number of school days and the scheduling of vacation days are determined and then published by the Education Ministry in consultation with the teachers’ unions. But contrary to what is commonly thought, this practice isn’t enshrined in the teachers’ collective bargaining agreements.

Over the years, various public committees and initiatives by parents have sought to reduce the gap between students’ vacations and those of their parents, but they have always run into fierce opposition from the teachers’ unions. This opposition is understandable. The teachers fear a worsening of their work conditions and don’t want to lose vacation days. But consideration for their employment conditions can’t come at the entire country’s expense. Possible ways of fixing this situation include moving to a five-day school week, from six, or adding vacation days for parents. We need a rational vacation system that will be relevant to the current era in which both parents often work – one that seeks to make parents’ and children’s vacations overlaps as much as possible. It’s certainly possible to come up with ways to compensate the teachers and find different ways of taking their needs and rights into account.

Upon taking office, Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton announced that “the revolution begins today.” A good place to start that promised revolution would be with teachers’ vacation schedules.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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