Holiday Blues in Green

Every year I look at the up coming Holidays, wondering how I’m going to approach asking for the holidays off. I took leave for Rosh Hashanah both days this year because I didn’t feel like I knew my supervisor well enough to ask for those days off without leave (I just PCS’d in to the squadron). A week before Yom Kippur I asked for the days off for Yom Kippur and Sukkot without taking leave. His response was a serious look and the question: Are you devout Jew? I wasn’t sure what that meant so I really didn’t respond to the question. (I am shomer shabbos and keep kosher)

Later I met with the wing chaplain to discuss the position of the base Jewish lay leader and how I can be involved. Both the chaplain and the senior (assistant) were very friendly and supportive during our meeting, so I asked about the policy of taking a religious holiday off without taking leave. The senior commented that they have no problem people taking the holidays off (without leave) as long as they are not all of a sudden observant.

Noticing a pattern, I began to question why is this an issue every time the topic of observing a Jewish holiday comes up? It doesn’t make any sense to me. I should have said I totally agree as long as only religious/observant Christians take Christmas off of work. As secular Christians are just taking advantage of a free day off by claiming a religious holiday! Also, how does a religious person prove that they are religious enough to take the holy day off before they are allowed to take the day? In essence one has to prove they are religious first before they are allowed to practice their religion.

I find this even more difficult because Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are two holidays that even Non religious/observant Jews attend services and fast. How do we explain this? Are these people being all of the sudden observant? Or is this the same as Christians taking off for Christmas and Easter?

Looking back I think I originally took leave for Rosh Hashanah because I feel like I am questioned and people are slightly suspicious and skeptical of someone asking for a religious holiday off of work. Now don’t get me wrong I won’t describe this as an argument and my supervisor did let me take the days I requested. I just feel like many Jews, like myself, are initially inclined to just take leave so we don’t have to play 20 questions and viewed with even the slightest bit of suspicion or skepticism. To be fair we should volunteer to either take leave or work during the Christmas holiday so Christians can be with their families for their holiday.

Later my supervisor did confess that all he knew about Jews he learned from comedians.

Maybe that explains it.

I might just be kvetching, but I wonder if other Jews in Green feel the same way?

I hope you have a very easy fast and a meaningful Yom Kippur.

May you all be inscribed for a good, prosperous and healthy year!

Lt Daniel E. Minkow

Langley Air Force Base, VA



  • What a great article!

    I hadn’t really thought about it in that context before. If you are Jewish, you should have the day off, regardless of your observance level. I seriously doubt that even a slight majority of Christians who celebrate Christmas are “observant” Christians throughout the year. Just as we have “Twice-a-Year” Jews, they have “C&E;” Christians (Christmas and Easter). Regardless, we should all be able to observe our respective holidays.

    If anything, I would encourage all Jews to ask off for the holidays, regardless of how you plan to celebrate them. As I’m sure some of the confusion comes from some of us stressing the importance of having the day off, while others don’t even ask for it off. A unified front if you will.

    My squadron was particularly good about granting me the days off this year. I have already opted out of the “Christmas” break and always make it a point to voluteer for Christmas-day duty (if there is any). This usually clears up any hard feelings about having the other days off.

    Again, great job on the article. I look forward to hearing other people’s responses as well.

  • I can definitely relate. I too try to volunteer for one of the Christmas duties so an observant christian can celebrate their holiday.

    I don’t mind taking leave for Jewish Holidays. I still get Christmas and Easter liberties so my holidays are indeed extra.

    It has been my experience that if I were so inclined, my commands would let me take the holidays off without taking leave.


  • Great article. As a new army wife, we havent had much experience with this. But, my husband was originally told he could have a pass for erev and day one of Rosh Hashanah. I flew down to be with him. Ended up, when erev RH finally came – his commanding officers “never heard” of getting a pass for the day. He just started this phase of training and since the only other Jew wasnt taking off, he felt like he should push it.

    I think that having to attest to or somehow prove religiosity in order to have the days off is problematic at best. It is also quite discriminatory – a word NO ONE likes tossed around. I am wondering how this can be addressed on a higher level….


  • I had the similar experiences while I was active duty, and my observance level (I, too, am shomer mitzvot) never came into question, though I was frequently told, “Well, sometimes I/We’ve missed Christmas,” nevermind that not once did I ever see a Christian (regardless of observance) miss at least some form of observance of a holiday, if not time off. Subsequently, many a High Holiday season came in went where I was hosed.

    However, I did learn that if one is unyielding and uncompromising regarding religious observance, one will generally be accomodated. I don’t respond to questions of observance; of course I wear a kippah and tallis in uniform.

    I had a rare boon over this High Holiday season. While my National Guard unit, the 2/112th Infantry Battalion out of Pennsylvania, was deployed for Hurricane Katrina relief, we had the pleasure of having the only Jewish chaplain in the PA Guard attached to our battalion. Major Eli Seidman was one of the nicest chaplains I’ve run into, and honestly, outside of basic and AIT at Fort Benning in 1994, the only rabbi I’ve seen in uniform in 11 years. Oh, I know they’re out there, but the 101st didn’t have one, and my duty station in Alaska of course didn’t either.

    My Guard unit, which I’m feeling definite separation anxiety from at this point, bent over backwards accomodating my practice. I believe it’s a combination of three things. 1. They truly are wonderful. 2. Many of them work for or are familiar with the staff of Empire Kosher in Mifflintown and have an understanding of ritual observance. 3. They accomodate because they can expect to get as good as they give from a soldier who takes UCMJ and military courtesy as seriously as he does the mitzvot.

    My suggestion, sir, is try and approach the situation in a manner that indicates that accomodation is your expectation of your command, not something you should have to wheedle for, or take leave for (except on Yom Tov). Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines must understand that in serving their country, their religious observance does not have to take a backseat, nor does it have to be explained any further than a lapsed Catholic must explain his or her needs. And now, soldiers have resources like this website, which didn’t exist when I was a young and uninformed Joe.

    Either that, or have them speak to my chain of command. Seriously, they would make a great role model for any commander with Jewish troops.

  • gogogodzilla

    I’ve had a mixed response so far in the nine years that I’ve been in the Air Force.

    As an Airman, I’ve had some supervisors tell me that I could not attend High Holy days services without taking leave.

    On the other hand, as an NCO, I’ve really never had a problem with this. Fortunately, I’ve tried to foster in Airman the understanding that they actually CAN attend holiday services whenever possible.

    I do think, however, that it is harder to get supervisory approval when you’re at the bottom of the totem pole. And that problem needs to be fixed.

    Hopefully, the next generation of leadership will understand this and take it to heart, so this problem can finally be buried.

  • All of us have had different experiences over the years. All of the service brances have specific regulations that cover administrative passes for religious observance. Perhaps one of the things we should do is put those in a reference section here?

    I always put my request for time off in writing. Always. And did it over 30 days in advance. This was for several reasons – call scedules, duty rosters and the like are normally made up far in advance and I did not want to ask for a chance after one was created. But I wanted to make sure that my request had to be formally acknowledged and answered.

    It also meant that I was serious enough to be willing to follow up and deal with the adverse consequences (you don’t look Jewish, What kind of a Jewish name is that any way….. etc, etc, etc.)

    I have always pulled call and duty on Christmas and Easter and point that out to everyone. Along with the fact that we have High Holiday and Pesach Jews just like there are C&E;Christians. My job is not to judge but to make sure (in my current position as a layleader) that there are services available.


  • I’ve never had any problems from my command about getting, actually they were very willing to go out of their way to help, but my friends in the command are diferent. Now let me preface this by say I know they don’t mean any harm. I always get the, “hey, how come you get Jewish and x-tian holidays off, maybe I should become Jewish.” To which I always respond, well, I’ll work Christmas, I have no problem with that. It doesn’t seem to mullify them.

    Oh well, I’ve lived with it my whole life, I think I”m used to it by now.

  • I’ve had a variety of experiences. I’ve had “Sure, I know you’re involved with your synagogue” (but if he didn’t know that, should it matter?). One year I was ordered by an NCO to work on Rosh Hashanah for doing something another NCO had given me permission to do. The order was given so late in the day my choice was to either go AWOL from the USAF or AWOL from services. I went to work, but brought it up later with the chain. I found out 2 years later the NCO had been ordered to apologize to me for what he did, but of course I never heard that from him. This year in Korea I received part of the holiday. I was supposed to get both days, but someone else went on emergency leave, so I was ok. I have volunteered and worked EVERY Christmas I’ve been in, except one year when I went on a cruise & took leave. This year I am working Thanksgiving & Christmas. I am conservaform, but I’m also the Jewish Lay Leader for my base. Hi to Holly- and thanks for the great package you sent me!