15

I have a team summit which unfortunately falls on Rosh Hashanah and I will not be able to attend.

It is not mission critical that I be there - it is more for team building but still the team spent a lot of time organizing it. It is at a very nice hotel and everyone is expected to be there.

My manager and I think 99% percent of my team are gentiles.

I have already taken vacation for these days which have been approved by my manager but I'd like to notify my manager that I won't be attending the summit, explaining the significance of Rosh Hashanah, in a way that he would understand why I cannot attend the summit.

I imagine other people have faced similar issues before. How would you recommend I go about saying I can't attend, explaining the significance of the holiday, and also explaining that I cannot do work on those days?

  • 1
    While you're not asking for Rabbinical advice, it seems close that this question may be voted for closing. I think you can add a few items that may get you better answers. Is your company and / or manager Jewish or Gentile? What are your state laws regarding being out from work for religious days? (Most states allow it by law, meaning you can't be penalized by your employer.) Does your company allow you to make up hours or take the days non-paid? Also, is the problem taking off for Jewish holidays or specifically that you won't attend the meeting? – DanF Aug 6 at 15:06
  • 2
    Definitely tell your team about ALL the holidays in advance so they can plan ahead. You don't want to spend the next 3 weeks going "Remember my holiday last week? Well there's another one this week." – Heshy Aug 6 at 15:23
  • 1
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because either it’s been used as practical advice (see comment of OP) or it belongs on that other SE site. – Dr. Shmuel Aug 6 at 19:16
  • 5
    @drshmuel practical advice isn't automatically a problem. We have others too. P'sak is the problem. This question does not ask for p'sak. – Monica Cellio Aug 6 at 19:48
  • 3
    Glad to hear this was resolved! For future readers with a similar question: Likening this to scheduling a meeting on, for example, Christmas Day is usually a relatable metaphor to which an employer will be sympathetic. "New Year" sounds to many people like a celebration which you could certainly miss if you needed to. – j6m8 Aug 8 at 0:42
25

I have faced this problem several times - sometimes a holiday and sometimes Shabbat (directly, or not having time to get home). How I handle it depends in part on whether the plans can still be changed, but the broad outline is the same. It goes roughly like this:

(Name), I'd really like to be able to attend this event. (Something about why it's important.) Unfortunately, it is currently scheduled on an important religious holiday and I cannot attend. I'd like to find a way to avoid scheduling conflicts in the future; how can we work together to do that?

Key points:

  • You want to fully participate; you value the activity. Sometimes people make excuses to get out of things they don't want to do; this is not that.

  • It's a scheduling conflict, not an accusation. Don't say "but you scheduled it on Rosh Hashana"; that can sound like personal criticism. This is a time for passive voice.

  • "Currently": if you think it can still be changed, leave that opening and ask if changes are possible.

  • You offer to be part of the solution. We are a minority and even if they know about our holidays they might not know about two-day days or days starting the previous day (from their perspective). At one company I maintained a calendar and included some time info when especially important (like erev Yom Kippur). Expect the burden to fall on you for a while, though they might learn in time. (After several years I changed a culture of Friday-evening gatherings at one place.)

I usually don't try to explain specific holidays unless they ask. I do explain that it's very important to observe those days and that work on those days is a violation of religious law. That's been sufficient for me so far.

  • Thanks! I have emailed my manager adding the key points you mentioned. – gimp770 Aug 6 at 16:18
  • 1
    Communication is key and Monica's suggested approach is perfect, you can't expect your Manager to know all of the ins and outs of your religious requirements but a good Manager will be willing to work with you if you display the right attitude. – Alan Dev Aug 7 at 6:29
14

I have faced this issue many times myself - or advised younger colleagues facing the same. A few thoughts

  • I have found it critical to be very clear, direct and consistent. If you can explain that you are a religious Jews, never work/use electricity/travel on Shabbat and religious holidays, and consistently take off all holidays, then most non-Jews will understand and respect it. The minute someone makes an exception, (s)he loses a lot of leverage
  • It typically helps to share in advance a calendar of the upcoming year with your direct manager, or whoever approves absences (e.g., HR), laying out clearly all normal working days where you cannot work
  • I have found that, when relevant, offering to work on non-Jewish holidays can be a wonderful way of showing you care about the team/organization - and can help gain much credit with colleagues

  • many non-Jews don't have the same relations to their holidays, for them it is often a social event that can be skipped. They also have a different understanding of "New Year" than ours. As such it is important to avoid the parallel. Mentioning Rosh Hashana is the new year is typically not helpful

Good luck !

  • 4
    If your workplace is one where you can work on their holidays, it's also a way to reclaim some of the vacation days you spent on holidays. – Monica Cellio Aug 6 at 15:55
  • 1
    Thanks! I have emailed my manager adding the key points you mentioned – gimp770 Aug 6 at 16:18
7

myjewishlearning.com has an article titled "How Do I Ask for the High Holidays Off?" which addresses how to handle this:

First, provide straightforward information. Say, “You probably know I’m Jewish, and the High Holidays are coming up in a few weeks.” Mention the exact dates you’ll need to have off, and explain that you’ll be at services/ observing the holiday during those days Initially, give only the basic information, but offer to give as much more as your boss wants, and I personally recommend telling your boss she can find out more right here on My Jewish Learning.

Next, outline your plan. If you’re hoping to take the days as vacation days then you want to reassure your boss that you’ll get all of your work done ahead of time and give her an explanation for why you’re taking your time in two-day chunks. If you’re asking if you can have the days off and not to have them count as vacation days, think about creative ways you can get your work done early, and other times you may be able to make up your hours. Can you come in on a weekend? Can you work later for the weeks leading up to the High Holidays? Can you offer to come in at a later time when you know a lot of other people in the office will be out?

Stay late if you said you would, get your work done ahead of time, and make sure that you’re on top of whatever you said you’d be on top of.

see also: TheMuse.com's suggestions

3

I've found that most Gentile managers understand the importance of religious practice. In my working history, sadly, I've had the most problems with non-religious Jews, so, hopefully, you won't encounter the same problem that I have.

I don't think you need to complicate things at all. If he's already allowed you to take off for your holidays, you can use that as a precedence for being out on Rosh Hashannah. Any backlash about this year occurring during a conference could be overridden by your stating that it was agreed that you could take time off for your religious holiday observance.

If he asks why the holiday is important, you could briefly explain what the holiday is about, if this may make some difference.

Start with that. I think it's simple and straight-forward. In the worst case, if he really resists everything, obviously, you just have to take off that day even if he is unhappy.

I would also offer a "compromise". You can't do X but you'd be willing to do Y.

  • 1
    Second your first paragraph - the key meeting on Shavuot was scheduled by a Jew. :-( – Monica Cellio Aug 6 at 15:40
  • @MonicaCellio I wish I could say "LOL" b/c the biggest hassle I had was from a Jew who angrily chided me about my being out for my "stupid holiday of Shavuot." I think they pick on that because it's an "unknown" holiday to them. It's definitely an egotistical attitude b/c they think they know religious observance better than you. It's almost impossible to reason with these people, unfortunately. In my case I had to threaten him with a possible grievance, at which point he backed away. – DanF Aug 6 at 16:41
  • 2
    My boss, who's Russian and not Jewish, signed up for a Russian Jewish mailing list in order to get holiday calendars. – Heshy Aug 6 at 16:44
  • 1
    @MonicaCellio my grandmother שת"י went to NY public schools as a child. One year, when she was in elementary school, the (secular Jewish) principal made a point of saying that Shavu'ot would not be an excused absence. My grandmother responded by successfully organising the Jewish students to be out for those days, regardless of level of observance (she went to schul with her dad, she made the argument that even going to the cinemas or to concerts was better than going to school and her non-fromm peers agreed). The principal ended up losing that fight. – Noach MiFrankfurt Aug 6 at 18:40
  • 1
    @DanF, early 1940s. I never had trouble with faculty (except for that one semester where the first day of class was 'erev R"H, and that wasn't really due to yomim tovim) and the most annoyance was from a professor who wanted a more last-minute emai. The one time I had a Jewish professor, she thanked me for the email and then announced that she had to cancel some classes (R"H/Y"K), even though she isn't fromm – Noach MiFrankfurt Aug 6 at 22:23

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .