How I decide to work on Rosh Hashannah


We drove to Iowa City yesterday, to have Rosh Hashanah with my family. I took the kids out of school and told their teachers it’s the Jewish New Year so the kids will miss school. I said it in front of the kids so I can teach them that we take off a day for the Jewish high holidays.

The truth is, though, is that today is the day. Last night was the first night and today is the first day. But I can’t take them out of school today because, well, first of all, what would we do? There are no other Jews where we live and we can last only so long on apples and honey before we get sick.

So I sent the kids to school. And, anyway, I have a meeting. I told Ed, the CEO, that I can’t go to the meeting because it’s on Rosh Hashanah. He said fine, because this is why he’s a great CEO. He knows when to push and when not to.

But then, it turns out, that the company is opening an office in Washington, DC. This is not a huge surprise to me. Ed is in Washington, DC in some sort of huge estate which I haven’t seen, but I have heard talk of an uppercase and lowercase balcony, which makes me think he’s not moving to Madison in this lifetime.

So we’re in the next phase of the company and it’s scary and exciting and I’m already doing so many new things that the idea of opening a new office in DC, and having a meeting about it, and me not showing up because of Rosh Hashanah is all too much for me to think about. Also, I have to always make sure that Ed likes me because I think I am hard to like. Maybe not in little blog post snippets, but in long meetings I am hard to like, and Ed still likes me, I think. Because every time I write a desperate paragraph like this about my need to be liked Ed sends me an email saying he likes me. Which normal people would not need to receive, but I need to receive and Ed knows that which is why, as I said, he’s a great CEO.

So it’s Rosh Hashanah and I am driving to a meeting in Milwaukee with Ryan Paugh for the meeting. And I’m over the bad-Jew part of things because I figure that now that I live on a farm I have to feed the animals, so I fed the chicks, too.

Here’s a cool thing about the chicks: we got them via US Mail. The hatchery we bought from, Murray McMurry, hatches them on Monday. And in a normal hatching situation, chicks don’t hatch at once, and the mom doesn’t get up until they all hatch. So chicks can sit under their mom for up to two days while their siblings hatch. Which means the hatchery can put new chicks in a box they arrive two days later in good health.

Taking care of our chicks doesn’t count as work, right? I don’t know. Som
e good Jew will comment about this nuance in Jewish law. But I think feeding the chicks is like feeding my kids. Rosh Hashanah is not a time to starve. (That’s Yom Kippur.)

Speaking of Jewish, the plumber who installed my trying-to-be-steampunk kitchen sink had a last name of Goebbels. And I said, “What?!!? What???” And guess what? He had never even heard of Joseph Goebbels. I didn’t realize that anyone had not heard of him, and at first I thought, “Darlington people are so sheltered.” And then I thought, Wait. No. I am so sheltered because I didn’t know people like this exist.

So of course, I think no one will think sinister thoughts about me hiring a babysitter so I could go to Milwaukee to work on Rosh Hashanah.

I am nervous that everything is out of kilter today. It’s scary that I’m actually living on a farm. And it’s scary that my company is moving away from me. Yes, it’s good that my company is opening an office in DC because the company is getting bigger and more ambitious, which is what I want for the company. But I know that I am not good at leading a company doing such things.

And come to think of it, I know myself pretty well. I know that I don’t like working on Rosh Hashanah, but I do my part for the meeting and I take care of the chicks and today is an exception I feel okay about. I am starting to think that I am not as lost as I thought.

50 replies
  1. Jim C.
    Jim C. says:

    I’m not Jewish, but I am sure it isn’t against the Law to feed baby farm animals on a Holy Day.
    One problem with the modern situation in America is that most Jews are city slickers who have little or no concept of farm life. (You’re learning, though.) Go to Israel and you’ll find lots of Jewish farmers. Ask any kibbutznik whether he or she would let baby chicks starve on Rosh Hashanah and see what kind of answer you’d get.

  2. Ace
    Ace says:

    On Rosh Hashanah, I blogged about learning to cook, on Rosh Hashanah. I grew up on a farm and there are life/death exceptions to be made there everyday.

  3. Ron Vitale
    Ron Vitale says:

    The good old work/life balance issue. It’s never an easy decision to make: Work or stick to your guns and choose your personal life. Finding the balance (all in moderation), is best, but not easy.

  4. Margaret Goerig
    Margaret Goerig says:

    People often add an N to my last name and it’s mortifying. I have absolutely no relation to Hermann Goering. In fact, my dad is only half German, because his mom was Hungarian. But I also think that connecting people to their past that they had no control over is unfair. One of my best friends growing up had some distant relation to John Wilkes Booth but that doesn’t mean she had a hand in Lincoln’s assassination.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Okay. This is a really good point. Has anyone read “The Reader”? That story has made me think so hard about how the War affects generation after generation and what is the way to deal with it. Hm. Now I’m thinking out loud: it reminds me of people whose families go back to owning a cotton plantation with hundreds of slaves. I mean, you can’t change the history, and you can’t blame the people with the slave owner names. So I’m not going to write about the last name thing again. Margaret Goerig has reformed me :)


  5. janet
    janet says:

    Better to feed the chicks than sit around sleeping in synagogue or fighting with the family all day because everyone is frustrated they didn’t go to work!

    • Michael Cramer
      Michael Cramer says:

      Great response. You should go on Leno or Letterman and do 10 minutes on the topic. Thanks for a great chuckle.

  6. Suzy McQ
    Suzy McQ says:

    I’m Jewish and I sat in temple for over three and a half hours yesterday, people chatting all around me, my wondering why they were there as their conversations revolved around the professions of various service participants.

    I enjoy the surroundings and the closeness I feel to G*d in my synagogue (When the talkers are not there, which is most of the time.), but I suspect that G*d was there in the barn with you and the chicks yesterday as well. That, for me, is the great part of being a Jew. It’s not so much about being physically in the synagogue, but in the closeness of your connection to it’s teachings.

  7. Page
    Page says:

    This post made me feel at home. While on a deadline recently, I found myself instead nursing a five-day old wild cottontail. Frustrated with not being able to focus on work in between the every four hour feedings, I turned it into a blog post about how caring for a wild bunny makes you a better designer. ( I liked the way something seemingly unrelated turned into a posting opportunity. I can thank your blog for that type of inspiration–keep up the angst!

  8. amy parmenter
    amy parmenter says:

    I had the same guilt for working on my blog last night! :0) And it made me think about Joe Lieberman who never seems to say geez I should work on the Sabbath or I might not get elected. I still worked on my blog…but I sat through a REALLY bad service…so that was my rationalization that I was okay.

    Judgment is a funny thing. Once I had a radio talkshow and I worked on Yom Kippur. I rationalized that I was better than those who attend services …and then curse each other out as they rush to get out of the parking lot.

    I don’t like to work on RH or YK, but it’s not because of other people’s judgment…just my own. So, I get it.


  9. chris Keller
    chris Keller says:

    I am a Catholic who grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Chicago. I am aware of the importance given to keeping the “high holy days” in both traditions. But I think you have to keep your priorities in order: YOU have to give whatever degree of importance to the observances. Most people who feel guilt feel it because they are reacting to what they were taught about their faith as children. But when you become an adult, you revisit everything, don’t you? And you make your choices based on your adult priorities. Which is what you did, Penelope.

    “Showing up” for an observance is not the same as keeping the faith in your heart of hearts. No one else can know or appreciate what is in our heart of hearts . . .

  10. Kathleen
    Kathleen says:

    I love chick season at the post office! I never need to wait in line at the USPS but I love looking for excuses to then. peep peep peep peep peep peep -all the while, so cute!

    On Rosh Hashannah you’re supposed to tell the other person all that they’ve meant to you, so this is what you mean to me Penelope.

    I feel validated when you speak frankly about autism and how it impacts your life. My blog isn’t about autism and I almost never mention it but I’m not in the closet either. When I came out five years ago, it cost me plenty. It still does. With your example tho, people can see we can have successful fulfilling lives, careers and relationships. I appreciate the elements of your life you choose to share with us. I appreciate that you don’t attempt to be some kind of heroine; you don’t try to be some kind of perfect superhuman that people cannot aspire to emulate.

    You show alternative realities of what success can mean. I am SO tired of people thinking you have to live in a flagship city to be considered successful in your field. I’ve been very successful in fashion living in the sticks and never go to New York unless I’m forced to.

  11. Erika
    Erika says:

    Penelope, I don’t think it’s so much that people in Darlington are so sheltered, as it is that people everywhere aren’t particularly educated–especially in history. So you’re more on target when you describe yourself as sheltered–as are many of us over-educated, city-slicker types. When it’s all you’re surrounded with, it’s easy to forget that we’re really the minority.

  12. Anne
    Anne says:

    Love your blog Penelope. FYI – Dubuque IA has Temple Beth El -This is only 41 minutes away from Darlington….Nice location and good people…

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Anne, thanks so much for letting me know about this. I keep thinking that if I write about being Jewish in Darlington enough, somehow I’ll find other Jews. Dubuque is a good idea. Thanks.


  13. K Woods
    K Woods says:

    Calendars are everywhere in schools. Believe me, they know the actual date of Rosh Hoshanah. It doesn’t matter.

    You are putting too much emphasis on a specific 24-hour period. Holy days and family traditions are about taking time out of life to mark an occasion. It’s important that you do such things- for you and for your boys. Many of the specifics will fade to the vagaries of memory anyway.

    My family has celebrated Thanksgiving on the Saturday after the holiday for years. It allows us to relax and spend time together without squeezing in travel or short-changing time with in-laws. We also get to double up on grand meals!

  14. sandra
    sandra says:

    Penelope, first let me wish you and your family a healthy & happy New Year.
    I so appreciate this post as I am also conflicted about ‘working’ on the high holidays.I think we have to revisit what is considered ‘work’. (feeding chickens is not)

    What is really important is what is in your heart.

  15. fran
    fran says:

    I feel badly that you could not comfortably take a day to reflect and nourish your soul. G-d calls to us to have these days of quiet and reflection so that we may remain people who are moral and tuned into what is really important. I hope you can find that time somewhere. Shanah Tovah.

  16. angie
    angie says:

    i have been reading your blog for awhile but today i feel compelled to comment. i’m sure you will be so thrilled – but i grew up in Iowa City and currently work there. I also got chicks from Murray McMurray hatchery a few years ago – i got the rainbow layers – total fun! they are so comical and fun to watch. so whenever you need a little lift i recommend hanging out with the chicks! i hope you post about them because i had to surrendur mine to friends when we moved back to town. boo.

  17. JenG
    JenG says:

    Gorgeous pic of the chick, Penelope. You are getting really good with the photos!

    Funny thing about the word “chick.” I can never remember if it’s spelled chick or chic. Which explains why I also mispronounce the latter word. Maybe this is how you rationalize a New Yorker living on a farm? :)

  18. Mike
    Mike says:

    “high holy days” – There are more sects of Judaism than Christianity. So start your own sect and come up with your own rules that fit your life style.

  19. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    Hi Penelope..having been all the world in a former occupation, I found that no matter where you live, people are “sheltered” in way or another. Everyone is unfamiliar w/something. Also, I have had a Jewish brother-in-law for 25 plus years,still don’t know much about Jewish traditions or practices but I know he goes to work when he needs to.

  20. Sasha Kemble
    Sasha Kemble says:

    Penelope… Sometimes when it comes to the things that we do (out of respect for our personal faiths), I end up thinking about what was maybe really meant by the rituals. In terms of observance of a new year, I think our early ancestors meant to designate a time off from the burdens of working for surviavl. We are meant to reflect on what has brought us to our current point, and to give some thought to the next revolution of the earth on its orbit.

    Sometimes, I catch myself on a random day in which I can remember something that happened a year ago, five years ago, etc. When this happens, I often marvel at the surprises life holds, and the things that I never thought possible but have made so through my decisions and actions. This sudden reflection (which occurs most easily with a widely recognized milestone like New Year’s Day) brings me closer to the things I believe in: that this universe is full of more mysteries and surprises than we can even begin to imagine.

    Seriously Penelope, I know from your blog that you were impacted by 9/11… and so if you think back to this day (9/10) nine years ago, and how innocent life felt in comparison with the events of the following 24 hours… The choices and decisions you have made subsequently may have flabbergasted Nine-Years-Ago-You; but the choice to feed the chicks and work on Rosh Hashannah isn’t so surprsing to A-Day-Ago-You. What if you told NYAYou that that’s exactly what you’d be doing? You may not have believed it. So dream big for the future! If you are lost, in this way you can begin to gain your bearings and find your way again. But somehow I think you know this already.

  21. Anca
    Anca says:

    Penelope, are the cute little fuzzballs for future egg-laying or future dinner? If for egg laying, I’ll assume they’re all girls. Since male chicks are born too, do you know what they do with the unwanted male chicks at the hatchery? (I had no idea you could send live poultry via USPS, fascinating.)

  22. GenerationXpert
    GenerationXpert says:

    I’m Polish and you’d be surprised how similiar that can be to being Jewish in certain ways (my friend and I discovered that while working together for 5 years and when I’d have a “thing” and I’d say we do that because we’re Polish, she’d tell me she does the same “thing” because she’s Jewish.) So my thought is you don’t need to feel guilty or bad (although I understand WHY you do, you don’t need to). I’m pretty sure Rosh Hashannah is not about apples and honey (that does sound nice, though) or a day of the week, but celebrating and praying and being with your family – which it sounds like you’re doing.

  23. TwistedByKnaves
    TwistedByKnaves says:

    “Wait. No. I am so sheltered because I didn't know people like this exist.” What a lovely reveal!

    If she had ever lost her way, the writer of this post seems to have found it.

  24. chris Keller
    chris Keller says:

    It was George Carlin whose humor was humorous because he saw things from a different angle. He just turned the world on its axis a few degrees, I think, and bingo! laughs!

    Penelope is like Carlin, as well. Her “take” on things, like the statement about HER being sheltered because she didn’t know people like this exist, is from a different angle, plus she makes NO assumptions and minces no words.

    Carlin was funny; Penelope is refreshing. AND she can quickly see and say what the bottom line is/will be. No delicacy required. I like the laser strikes!

  25. Tom T
    Tom T says:

    Penelope – Per your post that “some good Jew will comment about this nuance in Jewish law,” here’s an excerpt from the website of the Orthodox Union :

    “While one is not only permitted, but is, in fact, obligated, to feed his pets and farm animals on Shabbat and yom tov, the Talmud clearly prohibits feeding other animals on these days (Shabbat 155b).”

    In fact, one is obligated to feed his animals before eating himself (Brachot 40a); see under “Feeding Animals First”

    To comment on the general nature of the post: while it is certainly better to not work on Shabbat or Yom Tov, the main Mitzvah of the day is to hear the Shofar, so G-d willing, you were able to hear it. For Yom Kippur, even if you cannot go to synagogue, the main Mitzvah is to fast.

    As a final disclaimer, I am not a Rabbi, so my comments should be taken as simply that, and any detailed questions should be asked to your local Orthodox Rabbi.

    You and your whole family should be sealed in the book of life! Shana Tova!

    • Tom T
      Tom T says:

      It looks like the website got filtered out of the comments, so I included it here and in the website address. Hopefully this works!

      www . ou . org / index.php / jewish_action / article / 28204/
      www . star-k . org / kashrus / kk-issues-pets.htm
      www . ou . org / chagim / roshhashannah / theshofar.html
      www . aish . com / h / hh / yk / 48949711.html

  26. Dennis Deery
    Dennis Deery says:

    Penelope, I pop in here every once in a great while. I knew you had moved to the country from the Madison area. I didn’t realize you’d moved so close to my hometown. I grew up in Belmont! You actually live not far from some of my Dad’s old family ground, on Deery Road. I appreciate your comment about people in Darlington being sheltered, vs. “city folks” being sheltered. We all have our blind spots!

  27. MCS
    MCS says:

    You know, there is a lot more to Rosh Hashanah than eating apples and honey! The high holidays are about evaluating the past year and making plans to be better for the next one. This is a time to make amends with anyone you may have wronged — to actually take the time to say “I’m sorry” and ask for forgiveness. (Not from God, but from the person.) This does not require attending services or listening to a sermon.

    If you want to teach your boys about what being Jewish means, teach them about “tikkun olam,” repairing the world, and discuss what each of them can do to make this world a better place. (Feeding the chicks seems a very good start – caring for animals is also a Jewish value.)

    I hate when you write these posts that justify why you are doing the opposite of what you believe you should be doing for the Jewish holidays you claim to want so much to observe. I would ask why your company scheduled such a crucial meeting on a major Jewish holiday to begin with? If this is something really important to you, that meeting should have been on a different day.

    Belittling these holidays just gives all of your readers permission to do the same. When you do that, it makes it that much more difficult for those of us who are keeping these holidays as holy days. It is tough to explain why my children are staying home to observe our holy days when Jews with large audiences make it a point to tell everyone there is nothing important about Rosh Hashanah except apples and honey.

  28. David Rosen
    David Rosen says:

    Ok, Rosh Hashana is a celebration! Celebrating the Jewish New Year. What is so difficult about that? Why do you have to feel any guilt or explain yourself? Celebrate! And, think about starting again at the beginning. Remember Adam and Eve? What did they give us? Free Will – to make good choices and bad…

  29. karen
    karen says:

    At least heer in Miami, I bet bunch of people have no idea who is Joseph Goebbels.
    Maybe I was sleeping during history class, but I don’t remember that name. Now, I know who were Peron, Pinochet, and Somoza. Che Guevara, too.
    It could be a generational thing. I’ll check with some of my jewish (latinos and non-latinos) acquaintances and get back to you.

  30. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    Penelope, you’re very brave posting your location on the Internet – I would worry that people would come visit! I think that might happen, even though you’re a long way from anywhere.

  31. debz
    debz says:

    Hi Penelope, I’m a first-time visitor to your blog. I was checking out a different article and then while skimming your sight this posting caught my eye. I wanted to put a different spin on your dilemma for a moment. I too am Jewish (and I always feed the animals, regardless of the day). I’m not extremely religious but I never work on the High Holidays, nor do I send my children to school. I know many Jewish families who do not follow this tradition, and that’s their option. But, consider the message it sends to the non-Jewish people around you. If you are the only Jew they are in contact with, and you put work in front of your beliefs, they will assume all Jews will do the same. In essence you are giving them permission to disregard our holidays/beliefs. An example: My daughter’s school is currently in rehearsals for Fiddler on the Roof. Several of the leads are Jewish yet the director scheduled rehearsals on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur because another “Jewish” mother said it would be alright. Imagine how the kids felt to have to decide between going to rehearsal or going to synagogue. (When I explained the situation to the director she was mortified and canceled those rehearsals.) Several years ago the same school district scheduled Prom on the first night of Passover. That would never had happened on Easter or Christmas, or if the people in charge had been aware that Passover was a significant holiday and by scheduling an event it would exclude a fair number of students– or force them into making an onerous choice. My point is we all deserve to be respected and if we as Jews (or any other non-Christian religion) don’t respect our own traditions, how can we expect others to do the same?

  32. Dee
    Dee says:

    Augh Oy Veh I guess it’s really time for people that pray to the Flying Spaghetti Monster to insert their belief system into the lives of everyone else.

  33. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    As an ex-Kibbutznik and orthodox Jew I can state clearly that it is not only the right thing to feed your animals (pets, lifestock etc)on Rosh HaShanna or other Jewish Festivals but you are obligated to do so according to Jewish Law.

    I recall leaving synagogue to get changed into work clothes to go milk a bunch of cows and then feed a bunch of bulls (apropos its a good idea never to get mixed up here).

    As for the rest of it, well its all personal choice at the end of the day but some of your other posters did get it right vis a vis what Rosh HaShana is all about.

    Anyhow, I hope you and your family have a Happy and fulfilling New Year.

  34. Tzipporah
    Tzipporah says:

    There are actually lots of little things you can do with your kids on a farm to teach them about being Jewish that you couldn’t do back in the city.

    As Tom T. pointed out, we’re supposed to feed the animals before we feed ourselves. Give your kids feeding chores they have to do before breakfast and you’re actually teaching them to be good Jews!

    Other things about harvesting, leaving the gleanings, etc. are good ways to incorporate all the being-good-to-the-land and being-good-to-our-fellow-humans parts of Judaism that tend to get lost in urban Judaism.

    Couple more examples: if you hire folks to come pick fruit, you have to let them eat as much as they want while they’re picking, without complaining or taking it out of their wages. Also, if you plant fruit trees, you have to let the fruit drop for the first three years, and only harvest in the fourth year after planting it.

  35. Jordan 10
    Jordan 10 says:

    Generally I don’t read article on blogs, however I wish to say that this write-up very forced me to check out and do it! Your writing style has been surprised me. Thank you, quite nice article.

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