Unless you’ve lived in New Jersey, chances are, you’ve never heard of Teachers’ Convention weekend. I know that I had no idea what it was until we moved to Summit nearly ten years ago.
Although no one can actually remember when it was so, there was apparently a time when the majority of teachers in New Jersey went to a conference in Atlantic City the second Thursday and Friday of November. As a result, it was impractical for schools to be in session those two days. I’m sure that teachers’ unions insisted on having the days off in able to make it easier for their members to attend the conference.
Fast forward today. None of the teachers I know – including the one to whom I’m married – go to the Teachers’ Convention. However, every school in New Jersey is closed on the second Thursday and Friday of November. It’s an interesting phenomenon.
The original justification for these two off days may no longer apply, but no one is interested in stopping the tradition. Teachers, students and parents all agree – we LOVE having these two days off. It’s a nice time to get away without having to worry about family holiday obligations and without the crush of holiday crowds at tourist destinations.
In truth, we can apply this principle to our religious lives as well. It would be easy to say that our world is different than the world of the Torah or the Talmud. Therefore, we should do away with old traditions.
However, if we think about it, we may find that there are still benefits to those old traditions. The original explanations for Shabbat, kashrut, holiday observance and other customs may seem quaint or obsolete to us. We may do these things for different reasons and we may get different benefits from them, but our lives are still enriched as a result.
So, as we think about how to make life better and richer for our families and ourselves, we should consider some old customs, whose original justifications may no longer apply. We may find that they bring rewards to our lives in unexpected ways.
By the way, I won’t see you in shul this weekend. My family and I are out of town for Teachers’ Convention.