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Partying With the King

Partying With the King

The 10th of Tevet

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Anyone who’s ever made a party knows that the most essential ingredient is planning. Every year before Thanksgiving, the three board members of my government agency vote on when the office will hold its annual holiday bash. They allot a certain amount of money from the budget to cover paper goods and platters, and a list makes its way around the office for each of us to write what we will bring to supplement the party. On the day of the party, work basically stops after noon. Someone cranks up some tunes, and a few “outsiders” are invited to stop by—folks from other government agencies and private contractors with whom we do business throughout the year. The result is a fun and (somewhat) meaningful holiday experience.

I offered to contribute something kosher and seasonally appropriateThere are just 11 of us in this agency; I am one of three Jews, and the only Orthodox one. By and large, all 11 of us get along just fine. We do our jobs, and things move forward as they should. I have no complaints whatsoever about my bosses, co-workers, workload, commute or anything. This is a great job; I’m happy (and fortunate) to have it—and I know it!

My Orthodoxy has attracted attention only twice, and neither experience was negative. The first time involved hair-covering issues when I first started. One of the non-Jewish men in my office didn’t understand why I wore a wig to work on some days, hats to work on others, and occasionally a scarf or snood. (My Catholic boss appeased him with, “It’s what she does!”)

The other time was at the office X‑mas party.

For last year’s “holiday” party, I offered to contribute something kosher, seasonally appropriate and a little bit different from what they’re used to. So I shlepped my electric food-warmer, fresh sour cream and applesauce, and about 15 pounds of homemade latkes that my husband had prepared to share with my new coworkers. I covered my desk with a Chanukah tablecloth, opened a package of new Chanukah paper plates and hung up assorted Chanukah decorations that my family has collected over the years. My paltry Chanukah display paled beside the office’s overflowing trays of deli and cheeses, chicken wings with ranch dressing, barbecued ribs and meatballs. Pete’s wife sent a huge tray of homemade fudge, Mexican almond cookies and homemade candy. Others brought in homemade dips and baked goods. It all looked great, smelled great, and, well, it was all off-limits.

But I’m proud that I keep kosher, and I was more than happy to share my little Chanukah feast with my new friends. They were gracious and polite, and we all had a good time. The latkes nearly disappeared, and one of the cleaning ladies was happy to take home the leftovers. Afterwards, I was actually looking forward to the next party, and during the year, my husband and I occasionally discussed what we could do to “kick it up a notch.” We believe that it’s important to share the beauty of Judaism with everyone, and this is perhaps the most appropriate way to do that in an office setting.

This year, the date for the holiday party was chosen once, changed, and then changed again. The final decision: Wednesday, Dec. 19. Just another day to most, “hump day” to some. On the Jewish calendar, however, it coincides (this article was written in 2007—Ed.) with Asarah B’Tevet, the 10th of Tevet, a minor fast day, which is also the day that the Chief Rabbis of Israel designated as yom ha-kaddish haklali—the day on which traditional prayers for the dead are recited for people whose yahrzeit (death anniversary) is unknown. Many rabbis have designated it as a day of remembrance for the Holocaust.

It was on the 10th of Tevet that the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar (reigned 3319–3363 on the Jewish calendar) took over the holy city of Jerusalem, surrounded it with forts and wore down its inhabitants by forcing a famine. This was the beginning of a long chain of calamities that finally ended with the destruction of the Holy Temple.

I’ll probably take a half-day and just go homeWhat this means, of course, is that I won’t be shlepping the food-warmer or the latkes or anything else to work on that day. In fact, I’ll probably take a half-day and just go home. Most folks might think that this is because fasting is about grieving and mourning, but that’s not the case here. This fast is about repentance. Teshuvah. Why repentance? Simply put, Nebuchadnezzar was permitted to succeed in overthrowing the holiest place on earth because we didn’t deserve better. It’s a heavy thought to process, and one worth considering, especially in light of the ongoing turmoil in Israel today. But teshuvah doesn’t have to be a drag. In fact, some find the process uplifting, approaching it with an attitude of “This time, I’m going to get it right!”

I spent some time debating how I should properly spend this fast day. I considered just hanging out at my desk throughout the party, watching my coworkers and the others enjoy their holiday fare. I can schmooze with the best of them, so what’s the harm? And I wouldn’t eat their food anyway, right?

As attorneys often say in courtroom dramas, “Asked and answered, Your Honor.” Many (millions) before me have made this inquiry. The Gemara tells us that “the people who fast but engage in pointless activities are grasping what is of secondary importance and missing what is essential.” I reluctantly admit that while parties are fun, and office parties can be a valuable networking tool, in the grand scheme of things, they probably fall into the category of “pointless activities,” and my day might be better spent doing something more essential, like praying.

So I’ll be spending the office party in private contemplation with the King. I’ll fast, I’ll pray, I’ll contemplate teshuvah. And with a little planning, I will have a most meaningful “holiday” experience.

Hana-Bashe Himelstein is a legal secretary and freelance writer in addition to being a wife, mother, daughter and friend. Originally from the Washington, D.C. area, she currently resides in Baltimore, Maryland.
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Anonymous Japan January 10, 2017

Great article, and I love how you put out your Hannukah display at the office party, and then lead into the day of fasting. I am a Jewish person in Japan and recently repented after many years of `hiding` or leaving my faith, I have returned and did the 10 Tevet fast for the first time this year, joining hearts with Jewish people around the world from my home here, although there are no Jewish people anywhere in the vicinity of where I live. So it is nice to feel connected through reading your story. Thank you for sharing! Blessings and Shalom from Japan! Reply

Hinda Bayla Baltimore December 30, 2014

I so enjoyed this article. It feels so special because I also live in Baltimore, and I know you, and I feel so proud that your writing has inspired others. Yasher Koach! Reply

Aliza Baltimore, MD January 2, 2012

Holidays & food Wonderful article, and thanks for the terrific idea about bringing latkes to work. I periodically contribute kosher Dunkin' Donuts, but had never even thought about latkes! There is a never ending supply of cookies, cakes, and catered business lunches at my office, and I have to stock up on kosher snack foods at my desk like you wouldn't believe, just to make it past some of these holiday trays. I hope your co-workers plan the holiday party around the 10th of Tevet next year so you can write about how you and your husband "kicked it up a notch" with the latkes! LOL! Reply

Bracha Goetz Baltimore, MD December 28, 2009

What a wonderful article! We'd love to see more from Hana-Bashe Himelstein! Reply

Angela Goldstein Bethlehem, PA January 4, 2009

Well said Your positivity is truly inspiring. It's always around this time of year that I find myself struggling the most with my identity and purpose as a Jew. Your article was well written and the humor well appreciated. Thanks. Reply

Rachel TN December 19, 2007

Wonderful article You have such an uplifting way of handling the things many of us deal with! I enjoyed your article. Reply

Anonymous Greenville, SC December 18, 2007

My office liked the latkes too I loved this article. It's funny, and it highlights the problem I often deal with: how to be Jewish when surrounded by non-Jews. I think your version is making me decide to get serious again about keeping kosher, which I did very strictly for a while and then quit doing. (Not proud of that; other circumstances made it difficult, but certainly not impossible).

Our holiday party this year was on December 7th. It was the last day of class, so I did nothing but show up for a while. The next week, when everyone was doing grades, I shlepped a big aluminum pan of latkes and sweet potato latkes, sour cream, and applesauce over here. They disappeared in an hour or so, and I got emails asking for the recipes. Reply

Anonymous Bayit Vegan, Yerushalayim, Israel December 18, 2007

Happy Holidays? The article was absolutely beautiful. Kiddush HaShem (Sanctifying G-d's name) is one of the most important fundementals of Judaism and something that people don't think about that often. A Kiddush HaShem can be made in different ways, from saying a blessing in your own room away from other people, to spreading the miracle of Chanukkah by lighting the Menorah. By sharing Chanukkah with your co-workers you were making a Kiddush HaShem, by upholding the fast and even leaving half way through the day, you will be making a Kiddush Hashem as well. However, just being nice to your co-workers and being someone they can rely on and see as a trustworthy person from a trustworthy nation, you are making the biggest Kiddush HaShem of all.
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David H. December 17, 2007

When is enough enough? Teshuva is good. But I've never known when enough teshuva is enough. Too little and it's arrogance. Too much and it's an indication of depression.

I suppose you're lucky they didn't schedule the holiday party on Yom Kippur. Reply

Mendel "the sheichet" December 17, 2007

Opening on the right foot. The 1st sentence of an article is likely the most important because it's how many people determine if they will read the remainder or not. Nice article, but of special note, your 1st sentence gave me a good laugh and made me read the whole thing. Good job, keep it coming!
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Ariella Ukelson, secretary, Netsach Jerusalem, Israel December 17, 2007

Setting us straight Thank you for your article. It is focused and inspirational and touches on what is most important to every Jew; his relationship with The King. May we all merit to reach the level where our desire to connect to that which is important and everlasting exceeds our focus on ephemeral and empty endeavors. Reply

Shoshana Phyfer Moriches, NY December 17, 2007

Wonderful! Getting to that point Hana-Bashe, where we struggle and wrestle, and our heart wins. What a fabulous article, and what an inspiration you are to Jewish Women everywhere. That you can do it with humor makes it such a great article. Reply

Rochie Sommer December 16, 2007

Knowing what is essential Hana-Bashe once again helps me to focus on "what is essential" and move away from " engage(ment) in pointless activities."

Keep writing!l Reply

Tamir-Yehuda Ben Avraham Melbourne, Australia December 16, 2007

A Big Yashar Koach (congrats)! What a great article - informative, relevant, light-hearted and inspiring.

Incidently 16th December 1953 (my birthdate by the western calendar) corresponds to 10th Tevet - a minor fast day as you have so eloquently expounded, so thank you so much for giving me more insight into my own birthday!!

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