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Commentary: Two Calendars, One Moon

ARIEL: We know tonight is Passover because it’s the fifteenth of the month.

CHARLOTTE: Wait, Ariel, isn’t today the 3rd?

ARIEL: No, Charlotte. It’s the 15th on the Jewish Calendar.

CHARLOTTE: For commentator Chava Gourarie, living with the secular and Jewish calendars is like living in two time zones, at once.


My brother, Chaim, is something of a calendar savant. Give him any date and he’ll tell you on what day of the week it’ll fall, but only on the Jewish calendar.

It’s a great party trick especially if you grew up as we did, in a Hasidic community outside Detroit. My brother and I are two of nine siblings. In our world, there was only one calendar, one timeline. We celebrated our Jewish birthdays, the year began on Rosh Hashana, and measured the passage of time by Chanuka, Passover, and the cycle of the moon.

The Jewish calendar is lunar. In ancient Israel, the first of the month was announced when two witnesses sighted the new moon. Now we use a precalculated formula. Still, every first of the Hebrew month there is no moon, on the fifteenth it’s full. It waxes and wanes, as do all things.

Two childhood memories come to mind:

Chaim and I were sitting in our overgrown yard one afternoon, near the rusted skeleton of a swing-set. A moon was already visible, even though it was afternoon. “If the moon is made of cheese, can we cut it?” my brother asked, probably serious. He’s literal like that. For the moment I let myself inhabit his world. “If we can find a knife long enough,” I answered.

On another night, a huge and round moon hung directly above the red Toyota crouched in our driveway. I was outside looking at it, when I remembered that I wasn’t supposed to do that. I had learned that looking at the moon was akin to idol worship.

I was baffled by this teaching. I couldn’t understand how something so comforting, so beautiful – and God himself had created it and told us to bless it and use it to mark our calendars – why would we refrain from looking at it?

Why were we always refraining, restraining ourselves? Why was everything a threat?

Last week, my little brother became a Rabbi, and me… I’m on a different path than the one we both expected to be on.

The moon that night was one of the moments along this path I’m on, one of the cracks. And now whenever I see it, it means both things to me, the tradition I love, and the dogma I had to leave behind.

In this world – sometimes I want to say in your world – the moon is not a symbol, or a signpost, or waiting for redemption like the rest of us. It’s just a rock. l’m assuming it still orbits the Earth every night but I haven’t seen it in New York recently. I haven’t looked.

Back announce: Chava will make sure to check that the moon’s still out there tonight.

Back announce: Chava will make sure to check that the moon’s still out there tonight.

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