Israel should mandate one long weekend every month, in lieu of Sundays.
Published in Israel Hayom, May 28, 2012. Click here for a printer-friendly copy.
Nary an Anglo immigrant to this country hasn’t pined for “Sundays” in Israel. No matter how many decades we have lived here, every single one of us still misses our Sundays off, and is frustrated that veteran Israelis can’t comprehend how this additional vacation day would be good for the country. This is especially true for Sabbath-observant, religious Anglos, for whom Saturday is a day of study and prayer but not a day for Sunday-style sports, shopping, ball games in the park, or travel.
Over the years, a number of initiatives have been launched to make Sunday a vacation day, first by Natan Sharansky (when he was Minister of Industry and Trade) and more recently by Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom. But vested industry and labor interests, along with officials of the finance ministry, have always colluded to kill these efforts. Silvan still has an actual committee investigating the Sunday-off option, but it’s a dead-letter.
The serene beauty of a long weekend in this intense country – where everybody works at three or more jobs, around-the-clock, all-the-time, and yet can barely make ends meet – cannot be overestimated. A long weekend creates true leisure and rest space that we don’t otherwise dare allocate to ourselves.
This point was driven home recently so well by the occurrence (last month) of Yom Haatzmaut on a Thursday – which created a rare 3.5-day weekend (Wednesday afternoon through Saturday). It was so good that the government is now legislating this arrangement into law. The Ministerial Committee for Legislation has decided that instead of falling on a different day of the week each year (depending on its Hebrew date), Independence Day will in future always be celebrated on a Thursday.
The bill’s sponsor, Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov, said that “the goal of the bill is to allow bereaved families to plan and prepare for the events of Memorial Day and Independence Day with the greatest possible ease, to get the most out of the workweek, and to avoid desecrating Shabbat.” But I’m sure that he also meant to give all Israelis a wonderfully-long independence weekend.
Since we’re never going to get an agreement on Sunday vacations on a weekly basis, the long-weekend model is, I think, the right construct for a revolution in Israeli civic holidays. Just like the US and Canada, we should mandate one long weekend every month, in lieu of Sundays.
Take Yom Yerushalyim (Jerusalem Liberation Day), which fell earlier this month. Unfortunately, almost nobody in the country (aside from Religious Zionist school kids and hesder yeshiva boys) paid any attention to this holiday. But if it had been marked as a mandatory Thursday civic holiday and served to create a long weekend – I bet that far more Israelis would have taken the opportunity to visit Jerusalem and celebrate its beauty and history.
In months where the Jewish calendar is already replete with religious holidays (like Tishrei, which has Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Succot), the addition of a civic long weekend will not be necessary. But at least six months of the year – Cheshvan, Tevet, Shvat, Adar, Tammuz and Av – could use the addition of a long weekend. These Thursday to Saturday (or Friday to Sunday) weekends could be timed to mark minor and mostly-ignored Jewish holidays such as Chanuka, Tu BeShvat, and Purim.
We can make-up new civic holidays too, like “Kaf-Tet BeNovember” (November 29, the day the UN passed its 1947 partition plan), Balfour Declaration Day, David Ben-Gurion’s birthday, Teddy Kollek Memorial Day, Reclaim the Galilee Day, Eurovision Day, and Maccabi Tel Aviv EuroLeague Cup Day.
This proposal involves practically no cost to the Israeli economy. The addition of one such vacation day per month amounts to about 15 extra minutes of work per day per employee. We can work that additional quarter hour easily, and will be a happier people in the process.
We need more long weekends, and don’t want to wait until next Yom Haatzmaut to get one. Will one of our lawmakers please take up the legislative challenge now?