Cultural Education: Wishing You a Happy Jewish Holiday!

The head of my company is Jewish, and I wish to develop better cultural awareness of Jewish holidays and how to acknowledge them, which ones to acknowledge, or if I should acknowledge them at all. Does one wish a Jewish coworker “Happy Purim!”? Do I ask, “So, how was your Rosh Hashanah”? Or, “Will you be having family down for Hanukah?” I feel it’s rude to ignore these things, and I would like to know more.

Happy Purim might be a little strange coming from a gentile, but it wouldn’t be totally inappropriate I suppose. A better idea might be to offer some Hamantashen which are delicious. Or if he is particularly religious you could offer him some Advil for his hangover the next day*.

At Rosh Hashanah, new years wishes would be very appropriate. A simple Happy New Year would do. Happy Hanuka would be similarly appropriate. Good pessach would be similarly appropriate for passover, which is sort of like Thanksgiving, so the questions about family around then would make sense too.

Mostly I wouldn’t make too big a thing about it if I were you though. There are many many many holidays, and most of them are fairly minor. If you hit Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, Hanukkah and Passover with the occasional nod to shabatt you are in good shape.
*Purim is a minor holiday in which you are commanded to drink until you can no longer tell good from evil. Strangely it’s mostly considered a children’s holiday in my neck of the woods.

I’m not terribly observant, but here are my thoughts. (FYI: Not terribly different from NAF’s response.) I’d find “Happy New Year” or “Happy Rosh Hashanah” from a non-Jew appropriate, and you could say it any time from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur. It would be nice to hear “Happy Passover,” although people who keep kosher for passover really get sick of matzoh so by the end they aren’t very happy anymore. I wouldn’t do “Happy Yom Kippur.” People are fasting, or at the very least atoning, and it’s not really a fun celebration. “Happy Hannukah” of course is always good.

It seems to me the most important thing is knowing when the holidays are and being aware that your Jewish colleagues may be observing them.

Thanks. That’s helpful.

The standard Rosh Hashanah greeting is “shanah tovah”, which means “good year”.

“Happy holiday” (chag same’ach in Hebrew, but don’t even try it) is good for every holiday except Yom Kippur, which isn’t a happy holiday.

Which would be “Shabbat Shalom,” usually said on Friday afternoon.

This is true, but using Hebrew seems strangely formal to me. I’d just say “good Shabbas”.

You can ask “How was your fast?” after Yom Kippur. Of course, if he’s not particularly observant and didn’t fast, that might be a little off-base/embarrassing.

Mostly, I’d say that acknowledging the major holidays with a “happy new year” at Rosh Hashanah or “happy Hanukkah” at Hanukkah, or asking about the family get-together at Passover, would be plenty to show interfaith goodwill.

I think it would seem a little strange for a non-Jew to volunteer Jewish-specific greetings or good wishes to a business acquaintance, unless the Jewish context is already present in the conversation.

That is, if your co-worker stops by your office at 4 PM on Friday to say “I’m leaving a little early today, we’ve got people coming for the Friday-night dinner”, it would be natural and pleasant to say “Oh okay, good Shabbos!” But if you make a point of saying “good Shabbos” to him out of the blue just because it’s Friday, I don’t know, it sounds a little “off” somehow.

I agree. I want to be respectful, I don’t want to come off as trying too hard. That’s not a criticism of previous recommendations. My intention is to be appropriate, really. I don’t want to come off as insincere or coy.

Oh, meant to add: I think one of the most courteous things you can do to show respect for the faith and practices of Jewish co-workers is to be aware of what and when the holidays are. Because the Jewish calendar is luni-solar, the dates move around from year to year with respect to the Gregorian calendar, so there’s never a standard Gregorian calendar date like “the 25th of December” or even “the fourth Thursday in November” for any Jewish holiday.

It’s frustrating for many Jews in American society to have non-Jewish friends or colleagues be not only completely clueless about the very existence of various Jewish holidays, but also clueless about when to expect this year’s celebration of even the major Jewish holidays that they are aware of. On the other hand, it’s very nice when someone you know takes the trouble to keep up a bit with your cultural/religious practices, so they’re not taken by surprise when you want to take a personal day on Passover or disappointed when you won’t eat their special chocolate cake on Yom Kippur.

So spend a few minutes studying up on not just Passover and Rosh Hashanah but also Sukkot and Tisha b’Av and so on, and get a good calendar or website that tells you when their dates fall in 2010, and I think the results will be much appreciated.

Exactly. Similarly I think Shana Tova or something similar would be strange coming from someone I knew wasn’t jewish. Shabbat Shalom would be VERY strange if it came out of the blue.

Also, I realized reading dragoncat’s post that I sort of implied that you should wish people a happy Yom Kippur, which was unintentional. Don’t do that. Yom Kippur is sort of like the 24 hour version of lent. It’s a very important holiday, some would say the most important, but it isn’t a celebration. It is nice if you are aware of it though.

Awareness of the events is more important than what you actually say. For example if you know that Sukkot is coming up and you know the person is religious you can ask if they are building a Sukka, because that’s kind of a neat bit about the holiday and that line becomes an opening for a topic of conversation in addition to showing that you are somewhat educated and interested. On the other hand simply wishing someone “Happy Sukkot” is strange.

This site is a good one for that.


I agree…
In general, isn’t it a little bit impolite to mention somebody else’s religion, unless that person has already made it a public issue?
Especially with Judaism—There are a million different levels of religious observance among Jews, and if you aren’t closely aware of your boss’s specific customs (which means prying into his personal life) you could easily embarrass him and create an awkward situation.

Do NOT just look at a calendar and assume that every weird Hebrew word printed on a specific date means you should call attention to it.
The site you just bookmarked in post 14 (“When is xxx”) lists 14 special days, but doesnt give you enough cultural context to avoid embarrassing yourself. Half of the days listed are totally ignored by many American Jews.

Fair. But then, that’s kind of the purpose of the thread. I have very, very limited cultural context, period. And, really, I don’t know the level or degree or even the branch of Judaism my boss practices/doesn’t practice. My dilemma becomes, I don’t want to send a message that I’m so ignorant/Christian-centric that it doesn’t even occur to me to recognize your Judaism. On the other hand, I don’t want to be so… so… patronizing as to assume that I get points for speaking a phrase of Yiddish or Hebrew to you that is inappropriate. And honestly, I don’t even know if he is observant. And, if saying nothing is better in that case, then I’m ok with that, too.

I just wish I was more culturally experienced with Judaism, and I’m just not.

Question, does he work on Friday’s after sundown? Does he wear a yarmulke all the time? If the answer to either of these questions is no, you can assume, at the very least, that he is a Reform jew, and probably not a totally observant one.

There is the off chance that he is a re-constructionist or a very non observant conservative, but honestly you don’t come across to many of them as a general rule and if he is conservative but works on Friday and doesn’t wear a yarmulke then he might as well be reform…

If this is true you probably only need to worry about the big 4 mentioned earlier, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Hanukkah and Passover. Those first two are the most important holidays of the year, Hanukka is a minor holiday that has become important because it falls near Christmas, and Passover is the third most important holiday of the year. Pay attention to those and you should be good.

Honestly I don’t know why more Christians don’t know more about Passover. After all it’s your history too, even if you only want to count The Last Supper.

Yeah, but I was raised Catholic, so I don’t have to know nuthin’ bout nuthin’. I’ve got an Enter Heaven, Do Not Pass Go card. :wink:

Personally, I’m always kind of confused trying to figure out the dates Jewish holidays start, because of the way they are listed on most calendars. I never really know which day they are or which day they start, because half of the calendars list the holiday on the date of the evening before, half of them on the date of the “full” day. So, thanks to Anne Neville for the link!

Hahaha, I came in here specifically to say that. :smiley:

My two cents: I’d avoid commenting on it unless the person is in some way visibly celebrating the holiday. IOW, comment on Jewish holidays to this person to exactly the same extent that you comment on Christian holidays to Christian coworkers. Which, I’m guessing, is not a lot. (“Merry Christmas” doesn’t really count, since Christmas is pretty well accepted as a secular holiday. “Happy Easter” might be a more useful point of comparison, although you get secularized versions of that, too.)