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Can I Work and Still Observe Yom Kippur?

Last year I wrote about my experience fasting for Yom Kippur for the first time. The fact that Yom Kippur fell on a weekend made my decision to fast easier. I could fast and reflect without taking time off from work. My husband, Zach, currently works for an organization involved in American-Israeli policy. Their employees regularly have off for all of the major Jewish holidays. My employer, on the other hand, follows the American Christian-centric calendar and includes Christmas as a holiday off work but no other religious holidays. Easter is always observed on a Sunday, so that’s a given.

This year, Yom Kippur occurs in the middle of the week, bringing up a number of questions for me. How can I participate in observing this day with my husband? What will this day look like for our family when we have kids and one or both of us are expected to work? How can our society’s traditional interpretations of religious observance be expanded to include interfaith families who, as a family unit, observe multiple sets of holidays?

I don’t have the answers for those future-looking questions. Like many growing interfaith families, I imagine we’ll take holidays one year at a time. I would love to participate in fasting and reflecting on Yom Kippur, but my work demands this year overshadow that desire. I’ll be working that day, and so I’m choosing not to fast so that I can do my work well and safely drive to and from work. Zach will attend morning services and then fast and reflect at home.

For several years now, we’ve made a tradition of attending the Neilah (clsoing) service together. This year I’ll meet Zach after work at the historic Sixth & I synagogue in downtown Washington, D.C. We’ll attend the service before grabbing a quick bite to eat downtown. I love this beautiful service of rebirth, and I look forward to participating with my husband. It feels more and more like a practice that’s equally important for my spiritual life, not just because it’s important to Zach.

I expect that in a future with children, we may want to take off work to observe the holiday together as a family and develop, as a family, values related to Yom Kippur, like repentance, forgiveness and resolve to live the next year differently. Both Zach and I think it’s important that we reinforce each other’s faiths and rituals. In that way our children can evaluate and connect to the beliefs and rituals themselves, not just to what Mom does or Dad does. For now, we’re doing what we can to join our practices and rituals in small, manageable ways. Like many other things in our life as an interfaith couple, our religious observances as a family unit are growing and evolving.

How do other interfaith families observe Yom Kippur together in the midst of other priorities and commitments, like work? Leave me your comment below!

Laura Drescher

Laura is a practicing Catholic navigating life in Washington, DC with her Jewish husband. She is passionate about public service, environmental stewardship, and interfaith connections. Just married in September 2017, she is excited to jump into married life and form new faith traditions with her life partner.