Comedian Richard Lewis appeared on Marc Maron’s podcast last week. At one point in their conversation, Maron asked Lewis if he was ever a Boy Scout. Lewis explains that while he wanted to be a Boy Scout, his mother forbade it after discovering that the troop in his town on Long Island had scheduled their first meeting of the year on Rosh Hashanah.
“This is how they keep us out,” his mother explained. She felt that scheduling a Boy Scout meeting on a high holiday was a clear sign that Jews were not wanted.
While this may have been true, I think Lewis’s mother failed to realize something important:
No one knows when the Jewish holidays are happening because they never, ever land on the same day. The use of a Jewish calendar, which in no way coincides with the calendar used by almost all of the world, makes it impossible to know where on the calendar a Jewish holiday may land without actually consulting the calendar.
Rosh Hashanah, for example, can fall anytime between September 5 and October 5.
Yom Kippur can fall anytime between September 14 and October 14.
This is quite a spread.
Lewis’s mother might have thought that the Boy Scout leader should’ve consulted the calendar before scheduling an event in a month that might contain a Jewish holiday, but one must also remember that only two percent of Americans are Jewish. It’s possible that the Boy Scout leader responsible for scheduling meetings didn’t have any Jewish friends and simply wasn’t as cognizant of the Jewish holidays as someone who has Jewish people in his or her life.
Though I’m married to a Jew and have many Jewish friends, I didn’t know a single Jewish person until I was 25 years old. Growing up in a small town in Massachusetts, I didn’t go to school with any Jews, and I didn’t make any Jewish friends until I moved to a town with a large community of Jewish people.
With only two percent of the population being Jewish, it’s not unreasonable to think that this Boy Scout leader simply didn’t know any Jews personally and was not even aware of these holidays.
For example, I knew nothing about Ramadan until I made a Muslim friend while in college. Had you asked me the month when Ramadan or any other Muslim holiday is celebrated, I would have had no idea, as I suspect would be the case for Lewis’s mother and most non-Islamic people.
In fact, when was the last time you consulted the calendar for Ramadan before scheduling an event for your company or community organization? About one percent of Americans are Muslim, and that number is rising. I had two Muslim students in my class this year. Does one percent not rise to the level where Muslim holidays need to be considered?
Here’s a perfect illustration of this problem:
I scheduled my book launch party for September 14 of this year. I decided upon the date with my publicist, who (like me) is married to a Jew. Confirmed the date with the bookstore. Announced the date on my blog. Sent the date to my mailing list of almost 1,000 subscribers. Announced the date at our most recent storytelling show.
Amongst these thousands of readers and listeners, there are a lot of Jews. My wife is Jewish. My in-laws are Jewish. I teach in a town with a large Jewish population. Many of my closest friends are Jews. They all knew the date of my launch party. Many of them had already marked their calendars.
Who discovered that September 14 also happens to be Rosh Hashanah?
Not my wife. Not my in-laws. Not my publicist or anyone at the bookstore. None of my Jewish friends or family.
None of them noticed that we had scheduled my book launch on one of the most important Jewish holidays of the year.
Because no one knows when Rosh Hashanah will be on any given year. Or Yom Kippur. Or Hanukkah. Or any other Jewish holiday. In a country where 98% of the population is not Jewish and nearly 100% (including Jews) use the Gregorian calendar, it is not anti-Semitic or even insensitive to lose track of the Jewish holidays.
It’s just easy to do.
So perhaps Richard Lewis’s mother was right. Maybe that Boy Scout troop was attempting to exclude Jews. But I suspect that it probably had more to do with a lack of awareness of Jewish holidays, a lack of Jewish people in his life, and a calendar that shifts the high holidays around like a game of musical chairs.
So go easy on the non-Jews. Give us the benefit of the doubt. Many of us would love to honor your holidays. It’s just impossible to keep track of them. For us, and in some cases, even for you.
Oh, and we rescheduled my launch party for September 17. 7:00. Barnes & Noble in Blue Back Square in West Hartford. You should come. I’ll be telling stories. Giving away prizes. Answering questions. Signing books. And I’ve got two students reading hilarious bits that they wrote earlier this year. It will be a blast.