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NOTE: None of the following applies to Yom Kippur.

I am a chozeret b'teshuva who has found most of the mitzvot to be positive challenges: within my reach, if only over time.

However, one absolutely mainstream thing that I cannot, cannot, cannot do is keep Yom Tov.

My main problem is with observing the Laws of Yom Tov on random weekdays, sometimes for two (-three) days at a time, in addition to my commitment each Shabbos.

It drains me, it runs me down, it plunges me into depressions that last for months after Yom Tov. (The fall Yom Tov marathon is especially bleak, and Pesach is awful for its own reasons.)

I never get used to it, as with Shabbos, kashrus, etc., because it doesn't happen frequently enough. It's always a new, immensely painful drama.

My rov does not seem willing to write a new chapter of the Shulchan Aruch for me. Every Yom Tov, I try my own modifications of the law to see what could work. The only thing that has allowed me to get through Yom Tov unscathed is to keep only the Biblical prohibitions; that is, to avoid doing avodas, but not melachos. (For example, I might turn on my light switch and take a nice hot bath, but I don't do my weekday "laborious" job.) Yom Tov is genuinely enjoyable that way (as one might imagine). However, this involves so much secrecy and scurrying around that it feels dishonest and not exactly like a sustainable connection to religious Jewish life.

What do people actually do? Does everyone actually cheat? I can't imagine this is easy for everyone. Why don't I hear other complainers?

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    Settlers of Catan – Clint Eastwood Nov 26 '15 at 1:48
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    From your question, I don't understand what it is about observing Yom Tov that is so draining and depressing. Is it the problems with missing work and getting behind? Why is it so difficult to avoid switching on and off lights? Maybe you need more Shabbos lamps? Or is it the food? The lack of things to do? Maybe keep searching for things you enjoy doing (perhaps certain seforim you haven't learned before -- there's amazing array now, everything from frum novels and biographies to inspiring hashkafic books like those of Rav Arush). Going on an hour walk each day is another option... – Kordovero Nov 27 '15 at 2:33
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    Discussion of the fitness of this question, in Chat: chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/468/conversation/… – Isaac Moses Nov 30 '15 at 16:41
  • move to Israel. – ray May 30 '16 at 11:05
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Yeah, especially when a diaspora yom tov is adjacent to Shabbat, it sometimes feels like a long slog. I sometimes feel like I'm fighting an uphill battle because I didn't do this from birth -- it isn't a life-long routine. Here are some things that help me. (Some of these are dependent on your family and community situations, which I don't know.)

  • Board games. While some games are hard to play without violating laws of melacha, many are just fine. In a comment somebody suggested Settlers of Catan; that's one of many. (This isn't Board & Card Games, so I'll refrain from giving you a list of recommendations.) My husband and I are board-gamers and have several games that work well for two players; in addition, we often have friends over. Secular friends aren't generally available on a Thursday afternoon (they're at work), but Shabbat afternoon we can often get a crowd. (And the Jewish board-gamers often are available on yom tov afternoon.)

  • Read.

  • Visit with others, particularly around meals. Extend those meals (in honor of the festival). So what if lunch lasts three hours -- where else did you have to be? If you've got the right kind of crowd, singing enhances this.

  • Try to organize a small study/discussion group on the Jewish topic of your choice. My congregation's Rosh Chodesh group reads and discusses short stories (by women) each month, as one "beyond torah" example.

  • Nap. The rest of my week is pretty busy; it's nice to get a break from that.

See also: How can I make a long summer shabbat a delight?

Do many other people "cheat"? That's going to depend on your community, of course, but odds are, no -- those who commit to torah commit to doing their best to fulfill the mitzvot as understood by tradition. I mean, you're being judged by the One who sees all, so sneaking around isn't going to help, right? Does everybody do it all perfectly? No. Is everybody completely happy with how they're doing? No. As for why you don't hear about this from more people: people do talk about these challenges sometimes -- discussions about the press of preparing for yom tov aren't uncommon, for instance. But my guess is that most people are not comfortable talking in detail about any struggles they're having in public, so even if people in your congregation do struggle, you might not hear.

  • You have offered the OP some very good suggestions. While rituals are a major part of Shabbat and Holy Days, some of us often forget that there are many things that are NOT a violation. Some of us were brought up on a Judaism consisting of ABSOLUTELY NOTHING other than volumes of "thou shalt not's" To this day, I personally cannot view Shabbat in any other way. – JJLL Nov 26 '15 at 3:33
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    One more thought. An Orthodox friend once addressed the "shall not's" by telling me all the things that one COULD do. He was quite excited that he could recite Hallel, wear a nice suit to shul, 'learn' a for a few hours during the afternoon, etc.. While such things truly excite many Orthodox Jews, some of us perceive such things as watching paint dry. Sometimes these things extend beyond religion. As we post, my neighborhood is being invaded with thousands of people set out to watch 'them' blow up the balloons for tomorrow's Thanksgiving Parade. I absolutely cannot see what is pleasurable.. – JJLL Nov 26 '15 at 3:48
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I will start with the disclaimer that when I became religious, Yom Tov was a highlight for me, so I don't know how you will relate to what makes Yom Tov exciting for me.

I am generally more of an intellectually-stimulated person, but something I found exciting about many mitzvos, but perhaps more so by Yom Tov, was understanding the meaning of the theme and halachos of the Yom Tov.

First, there is the general theme of Yom Tov - what is the idea of a Yom Tov as opposed to a Shabbos? Rav Hirsch, in classic form, develops an approach that each Yom Tov has a unique quality which it is meant to imbue and reinforce in the Jewish people. Thus, Yom Tov has the prohibitions of Shabbos which prevent a person from getting distracted by every day involvements, but has an allowance of ochel nefesh - broadly, that which facilitates enjoying the Yom Tov - because the point of the day is to focus on and appreciate the day, not to abstain from involvement in the world for the sake of abstention (as opposed to Shabbos, where the goal of the prohibitions is abstention, with its own take-home message to that abstention).

Then, there is the meaning of each individual Yom Tov. There is so much to delve into! There is the theme that our Sages have given to each Yom Tov, which we describe in the specific prayers of each Yom Tov. There is its place in the calendar. There are the myriad halachos of each Yom Tov. And each of these points has so many facets to it!

So to sum it up, for me, appreciation of all the "tediousness" of Yom Tov makes it into something meaningful. As the Ramchal writes, a person doesn't appreciate something if they don't understand how it fits into a structure. Appreciating that all of the details of Yom Tov are part of a much bigger picture, and are an active part of taking out everything that Yom Tov has to offer, is what made (and still makes) Yom Tov exciting for me.

Some places I would recommend to start - Horeb, of R' S.R. Hirsch. Works of R' Shimshon Pincus (accessible to the Hebrew speaking audience, but some works have been translated). The Book of Our Heritage, by Eliyahu Kitov. These are a good start, but there's always more to learn!

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    Thank you for this fantastic answer; along with Isaac Moses's answer below, it makes a very nice diptych on the subject. – SAH Nov 26 '15 at 6:17
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My parents were observant from before I was born, and I have been Shabbat- and Yom-Tov-observant my whole life. I can honestly say that I don't believe I have ever intentionally violated either. So no, based on one counterexample from personal testimony, for what that's worth, not everyone cheats.

I do find that observance of Shabbat and Yom Tov, especially together, presents difficulties. Observance of Yom Tov takes up most or all of my vacation days at work, making it difficult to take off for other, discretionary purposes. Preparing for Shabbat and Yom Tov in time is frequently a source of tension, and picking up the load of chores that couldn't be done during those times is frequently a source of distress after the holidays.

However, I find that it is not difficult to bring myself to comply with the rules. I'm sure it helps that such compliance is a habit I have been reinforcing for literally my whole life.

More generally, though, and hopefully more accessibly to those heroes who were raised without observance and are trying to bring themselves into it, I think that part of what makes it easy for me to bring myself to comply is that I don't consider it to be a choice: I am obligated to refrain from creative labor on Shabbat and Yom Tov, so I do; end of story. If I was deciding, in each instance, between observance and non-observance, I'm sure I would have to make many agonizing decisions, but because I consider the rules to be binding, I don't have to make any.

One aspect of this Ulysses pact that was particularly valuable to me: When I was in high school and college, I understood/assumed (correctly or not) that I should not do homework for my secular classes on Shabbat, even when it was just reading. As a result, I never did. I attended a college that presented an intense workload, and I know that if I had considered avoiding study on Shabbat to be optional, I would have succumbed to the pressure and studied on Shabbat occasionally, and then routinely, as I saw other Shabbat-observant people around me who didn't make the same assumption about studying doing. Because I did absolutely no school work on that one day each week, it felt like a real sanctuary to me and did a great deal to keep me sane through college.

Similarly, I heard a story once (OK, probably more than once) in R' Rakeffet's lectures about when he participated in a panel discussion about marriage, along with a non-religious marriage counselor. (Please excuse my imperfect paraphrase from memory.) In his remarks, R' Rakeffet described the great benefit to the health of a marriage that taharat hamishpacha's regular rhythm of physical separation followed by joyous reunion provides. The marriage counselor was very impressed with the concept, and told him that she might start suggesting observing such a regime to her clients. R' Rakeffet told her that unfortunately, it was unlikely to work. Observant couples keep to the rules, and reap the associated benefit, because they consider the rules to be mandated by God. If a couple would try to comply just for the sake of the anticipated benefit to their marriage, they would inevitably reach a situation in which they felt they had to rationalize setting aside the rules just once, which would naturally lead to the discipline of the overall regime breaking down.

So recognizing and committing to the set of rules as an absolute mandate from God is an important, possibly crucial, aspect of enabling oneself to actually comply with them in each instance and of avoiding the agony of repeated decision-making.

Of course, achieving such a recognition and making such a commitment is far from trivial. To that end, I think that, as yEz's answer suggests, studying the "what"s, "how"s, and "why"s of the mandate could make it easier to understand and accept. Like yEz, I recommend Horeb, by R' Samson Raphael Hirsch, as a great distillation of the "what"s, "how"s, and "why"s of all of the Torah's laws. He goes into great detail about the nature of the prohibitions of labor on Shabbat and each of the holidays, and the particular rules and meanings that apply to each individually and to all of them collectively. I'll close with part of his explanation of the overall theme of the cessation of labor on the holidays.

The common factor of all of these days is that they all interrupt our active life in order to consecrate and equip us by obliging us to contemplate the truths lying at the foundation of our existence; and to endow us with strength for the remaining activities of life. This is just what makes them into Mo'adim. From this general Mo'ed characteristic arises the prohibition of work on all of them. For every activity which the Torah calls 'servile work' (מלאכת עבודה) transforms the objects around us, a process which the Mo'adim should interrupt. Therefore, every activity which continues life in a workaday fashion, through which the world around one is transformed and its future preserved, is forbidden on the Mo'ed.

Horeb, sub-section 171, p. 90

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    Really wonderful, and, again, a great complement to what yEz wrote earlier. These should give me a lot of inspiration next Yom Tov. Thanks. – SAH Nov 26 '15 at 6:17
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I sympathize with your story, but let's focus on the questions you stated:

Does everyone actually cheat? Absolutely not. Most people who keep Yom Tov follow the normative Halacha.

Why don't you hear other complainers? Try looking harder, as there are people willing to complain about anything and everything ; )

What do people actually do? They learn how to enjoy Yom Tov with its unique benefits and pleasures. They immerse themselves in the Holiday instead of trying to escape it. They engage with family and community to try to maximize their Yom Tov experience, physically and spiritually. Keeping Yom Tov fully is not easy, but it is an immensely rewarding experience.

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    I don't think this is a very helpful answer. It's basically just "try harder" – Daniel Nov 26 '15 at 2:16
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    @Daniel I thought it was moderately helpful; in any case, it's probably what I need to hear – SAH Nov 26 '15 at 2:21
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    @Daniel Helpful or not, it answers the OP's questions as asked. If the OP modifies his question, I can modify my answer accordingly. I happen to think that a detailed explanation of what I was suggesting belongs in a separate question, such as in the one Monica quotes. – LN6595 Nov 26 '15 at 2:23
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    @LN6595 Not trying to stir things but how could you possibly know that "Most people who keep Yom Tov follow the normative Halacha"? Certainly there is some sort of selection bias about who's going to broadcast what they do for Yom Tov. Although I'll admit that I, too, was surprised the first time I saw a guy in a black hat leave shul early on Shavuos because he "had a call to take"... – SAH Nov 26 '15 at 2:24
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    True, I can't prove my assertion in any absolute way. I'm reporting a norm that I have verified with dozens of diverse people, some of whom made the best of Yom Tov and grew to appreciate it in their own way, many of whom cherish Yom Tov and look forward to it all year. That's the best I can do; if you have more accurate information, please correct me. – LN6595 Nov 26 '15 at 2:56
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B"H, I have solved my problem. I will post my experience here in case it could help anyone else.

It turns out that what was making Yom Tov impossible for me was the fact that I lived alone and spent most of the time alone, except for going out to shul and perhaps one seudah a day. I would not recommend this to anyone. If you have ever tried it--please don't--you will probably find it very depressing indeed.

This year I had the chance to spend most of Yom Tov in a group of people, and it was much, much easier in every respect. Neither the positive nor the negative mitzvot were an issue and the holidays were, for the most part, joyous.

So, the (deceptively simple) solution is: Find people and make sure you are among them for all of Yom Tov.

ברכה והצלחה

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    I'm sorry if I'm encroaching on your privacy. In your question you wrote that yom tov plunges you in depression that lasts for months. While being with people is definitely solving the issue, nevertheless, a few miserable days shouldn't be causing months of depression. There could be some underlying emotional that you may need to speak about to a professional. Unless you were just exaggerating. – user613 May 30 '16 at 3:16
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    @user613 No, I definitely wasn't exaggerating! Thanks for your suggestion, and your care :) – SAH May 30 '16 at 8:33
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    Very glad that your Yom Tov experience has improved. – mevaqesh May 30 '16 at 22:11
  • @SAH You are very welcome. – mevaqesh Sep 13 '16 at 21:46
2

Okay, I will share the one thing that has sorta-kinda worked for me...to plan reading marathons with massive goals for the 2-3 days of Yom Tov.

That way I don't feel like Yom Tov is חס לי a total waste, and I can take my frustrations out on the books.

To anyone in the same boat as me: try this.

1

i don't think there is an ideal answer for you, because you are basically saying "it's too hard for me, so i can't do it." And to certain Jewish groups, they would view this kind of statement as some sort of laziness, or lack of faith, rather than trying to respond to something very legitimate that a person is explaining. And so answers of "try harder" or "distract yourself with games so you don't notice how hard it is" probably won't be the most helpful. And modifying the rules of halakhoth and miswoth on your own isn't ideal either. Therefore I think the most ideal situation would be to switch to a legitimate halakhic practice that might be easier for you, allow you the space to grow, and may even prove to be more authentic for how you connect to Yom Tovim.

My suggestion to you would be to switch to following Sephardic Halachoth for the Yom Tovim, especially the halakhoth that were compiled before the Sephardic/Mizrahi Jews settled in Eretz Yisrael and started switching/matching to Ashkenazic customs. The religious Sephardic Jews that entered Israel in the 50s, 60s, 70s, etc, arrived with the religious practice of using electricity on Yom Tovim, eating Kitniyot, and kashering kitchens in a much simpler way for Pesach. This is not intended as an entire guide for how to switch to a comprehensive Sephardic practice for every aspect for your life, but to touch on the concerns you mentioned in your answer, like turning lights on and off during Yom Tov, bathing during Yom Tov, and a little information about Pesach.

Here is a list of many Sephardic (and some Ashkenazic) Pos'kim who allowed the use of Electricity on Yom Tov and which books you can find them in

1903 Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein (the author of the Aruch Hashulchan) in Bet Va'ad LeHakhamim allows turning lights on on Yom Tob.

1903 Rabbi Yosef Yehoudah Strazberg (author of Yad Yosef, & Ab Bet Din of Makasov, Galitzia) in Bet Va'ad LeHakhamim also allows turning them on.

1912 Rabbi Refael Aharon Ben Shim'on (Chief Rabbi of Egypt) (He wrote this in 1901) in his UMitzor Debash allows turning them on.

1913 Rabbi Binyamin Aryeh HaKohen Weiss in his Eben Yeqarah allows turning them on.

1924 Rabbi Yehuda Yudil Rozenberg in his Maor HaHashmal in Montreal, Canada allows turning them on.

1932 Rabbi Ruben Margaliot in his Nefesh Hayah allows turning them on.

1934 Rabbi Yosef Messas (Rabbi of Tlemcen, Algeria and Meknes, Morocco and Haifa, Israel) in his Mayim Hayim allows turning them both on and off and he reiterated his position in numerous other places.

1934/35 Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank (Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem) in Qol Torah allows turning them on.

1935 Rabbi Ben Sion Meir Hai Uziel (The Rishon LeSion himself) in his Mishpete Uziel allows both turning them on and off and he reiterated this in 1947.

1936 Rabbi David HaKohen Saqli (Rosh Ab Bet Din in Oran, Algeria) in his Qiryat Hanah David (volume 2) allows both turning them on and off.

1945 Rabbi Eliezer Yehoudah Waldenberg in his famous Tzitz Eliezer (volume 1) allows turning them on.

1948 Rabbi Masoud HaKohen in his Pirhe Kehounah (Casablanca) allows turning them on.

1964 Rabbi Shraga Faivel Frank in his Toldot Ze-eb allows turning them on.

1973 Rabbi Shabetai Sheftel Weiss in his Hilkhita Rabeta LaShabeta allows turning them on. Source: List compiled by Joseph Mosseri.

Note about this list: As you can see from the dates, many of these rulings are from 30+ years ago, and so most of their discussions are regarding things like lightbulbs. You would have to read the original sources to discover if their applications would carry over into other devices we now have today, and keep in mind the limitation of the author. And by that i mean that possibly one of the rulings could be said to apply to things like electric ovens, because the Chakham might have been able to imagine such things, or such things might have existed in his time, but a smart phone would have been inconceivable and therefore you could not apply his ruling to it.

Note about Modern Sephardic Pos'kim: In more recent times, many Sephardic decisors have begun issuing rulings more in line with Ashkenazi halacha (such as Chakham Ovadia Yosef) and are therefore now banning the use of electricity of Yom Tov. And without getting into a debate into the topic of "Asheknazifaction of Sephardim," let's just say that it's important to look at the slightly older works for certain sticky issues such as electricity on Yom Tov.

But for other things, like Yom Tov Kashruth in your home, you can easily follow the modern Sephardic sages, whose ps'ak is much more straight forward and easier. For example, here is a video for how to kasher your entire kitchen according to Sephardic halacha. To see the written guidelines this video follows you can read this Aish article that hosts this information for some reason.

Sephardic halacha also allows people to take hot showers on Yom Tov, especially when the Yom Tovs lead up to or follow Shabbat if you follow certain guidelines

There are objections to be raised regarding the issue of switching minhagim, but i'm not convinced that these objections are really as solid as people think they are. The people of Yemen did not say to themselves that they had no right to follow the Rambam because he was an Egyptian Rabbi, in fact nearly all the Oriental communities accepted Rambam in one stance or another, without arguing whether it was "their minhag" to do so. Jews in Germany did not object to Rashi being French, and people in Poland don't feel that any Germanic halakhoth aren't binding. And even in recent times, many Sephardic Chakhamim would include Ashkenazic opinions and customs in their works when they believed those customs/rulings to be more correct than their currents practices. For example, the Ben Ish Chai would include Ashkenazic opinions in his rulings. But if you are looking for a modern Ashkenazi posek that allows Ashkenazim to switch things like minhagim, pronunciation, or Kashruth, Rabbi David Bar Chayim advocates that one can (and sometimes even should) do so. Here are some videos on these topics:

Kitniyot and Hatarat Nedarim: Why All Jews May Eat Kitniyot on Pesach

Ashkenazim can switch to Sephardic S'lichot

Switching to Sephardic/Yemenite Pronunciation (and switching customs in general)

In the end i'm not advocating for you to just switch customs willy nilly and create your own pick and choose halakhic system. But we are supposed to be one people, and i'm not convinced that keeping ourselves divided is what our forefathers, or God, would have wanted. In the end I do think it would be more beneficial to choose one set of standards to follow for your halakhic practice, but as you grow into Judaism, you should be able to find a path that helps you move forward, rather than feel imprisoned by one that holds you back.

For a general shiur on the difference between Sephardic and Ashkenazic halakhic methodologies, you can listed to one here by Joseph Mosseri, an Egyptian Hazzan who teaches a lot about Sephardic Topics.

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    In your video youtube.com/watch?v=m1EQ58ePsqI at 11:36 R David Bar Hayim clearly says he is not Ashkenazi, Sefardi or Temani in terms of his patterns of deciding Halacha. Calling him an Ashkenazi posek is quite disingenuous to the reader, IMO. – Double AA Dec 9 '15 at 19:32
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    You implicitly claim that Sefardim who ban electricity on YT are a new phenomenon. Can you substantiate that? (Your list just shows some didn't.) (The claim is implicit from eg. "in more recent times, many Sephardim (such as Chakham Ovadia Yosef) are now banning the use of electricity of Yom Tov" "The religious Sephardic Jews that entered Israel in the 50s, 60s, 70s, etc, arrived with the religious practice of using electricity on Yom Tovim") – Double AA Dec 9 '15 at 19:48
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    @DoubleAA i've added some more clarifications to the limitations to my answer. i don't want to answer the debate on whether banning electricity is a new Sephardic phenomena, because it would open the "Ashkenazification of Sephardim" debate. It would be like asking to prove Sephardim wearing black suits and hats is a new phenomenon. The answers may be proveable, but often the conversation devolves into something not helpful. And this is a topic about helping someone with Yom Tov, not proving larger Jewish historical developments – Aaron Dec 9 '15 at 19:48
  • If you don't want to prove it, please don't claim it. – Double AA Dec 9 '15 at 19:48
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    Ovadia Yosef issues piskei dinim in line with Ashkenaz pesak? What? – Shmuel Brin Jan 26 '16 at 7:33
0

Yamim Tovim are designed for families, the family has a Seder, the family sits in the Succah, the family dances on Simchat Torah.

Family oriented holidays can be depressing for people without family because they are left out.

If you try helping out a family that needs help (e.g. Disabled child) over these periods you will find yourself more in the swing of things.

  • In some communities half the family doesn't sit in the sukkah or dance on simchas Torah. Are those holidays not designed for them? – Double AA May 30 '16 at 3:03
  • @pcoz This answer turned out to be right on with its suggestion to spend holidays with--wait for it!!--people. Thank you. Moreeover, I have found my holiday experience has improved by making a point of doing an act of chesed, as you suggest. – SAH Sep 13 '16 at 21:35

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