Monday, March 31, 2008

Saving Daylight

The Jewish Week 03/09/2007

On Sunday, March 11, Hebrew school students nationwide will file into class, either more cantankerous and exhausted than ever - or an hour late. That's because this year, for the first time, daylight savings time will begin on the second Sunday of March.

Since 1986, we've sprung forward an hour on the first Sunday of April, but two years ago the federal government decided that we needed one month more of DST. Even normally impetuous Israelis will be waiting until March 29 to spring forward. This year we're the ones jumping the gun, much to the chagrin of airline pilots, computer programmers, parish ministers and Hebrew school teachers, all of whom stand to suffer from this sudden clock-shock, this mini Y2K.

Advocates claim that we'll save up to 100,000 barrels of oil per day by being less reliant on light bulbs during working hours. But really, when's the last time we had a 9-to-5 workday? That's so 20th century! In an era of 24/7, with filled pre-dawn commuter trains and midnight teleconferences to Hong Kong, are we really saving anything? The shift was, I suspect, a bone thrown to environmentalists, buried in a 2005 energy bill granting tax breaks to Big Oil. Little did they know how this little, obscure add-on would wreak havoc on bar mitzvah schedules nationwide.

Didn't Congress realize that these cherished dates are often assigned sometime around the time of baby's first step? Don't they understand how difficult it is to determine that precise moment when Shabbat ends, that instant when both the Havdalah candle and Bunsen burner can be lit, filling the air with the mixed aroma of sweet spices and bite-size cocktail franks? With receptions thrown off schedule, how many Shabbat-observant relatives will now be forced to wait an ungodly extra hour for the sun to set in Syosset before making that mouthwatering pilgrimage to Leonards of Great Neck?

While I've never been a big fan of Shabbat afternoon bar mitzvahs, we do them occasionally to alleviate the morning glut. It just so happens that my congregation has three planned for this March. It's not easy to explain to exasperated parents how it is beyond my rabbinic power to make the sky darken on demand. The biblical Joshua could make the sun stand still, but this one can't even perform the cheap trick of making three stars appear an hour early.

Joe Lieberman, where were you when we needed you to explain to your colleagues the complexity of Jewish time?

Did Congress realize that my brief window to enjoy a Saturday night dinner and a movie has now been narrowed considerably? Do they understand that, with 7 o'clock Friday night candle lighting times in mid-March, my internal biorhythmic clock will now expect summer to begin before Mothers Day?

I yearn for the good old days, pre-1986 (except for the mid '70s energy crisis years), when DST began at the end of April. The Passovers of my childhood usually ended early enough for us to be able to go out for the traditional P.P.P. (Post Pesach Pizza) after it got dark. Even post '86, there were years when Passover would begin in March and therefore before the clocks change. No longer. Instead, we are condemned to begin the holiday at an hour when the youngest child is more likely to be counting sheep than cups, plagues and questions.

The extension of daylight time may even have cosmic implications, throwing off Elijah's timing; he may begin to question his ability to handle that sip of wine from every seder table. The prophet Malachi assures us that Elijah will "turn the hearts of parents to their children and children to their parents." Well, Elijah now has his hands full, what with parents trying to placate hungry children while waiting for the sun to set so the seder can begin.

Were you thinking about that, Congress?

I am writing this on the day that I turn 50. At no time in my life have I had a keener awareness of my growing need for daylight. I recently marked that peculiar rite of passage where I strategically placed a pair of reading glasses in every room of the house. Last fall, for the first time ever, I didn't grimace when a wedding videographer asked my permission to set up extra lighting for the ceremony. Not only did I give the OK to those intrusive, obnoxious beams, I positioned one over my right shoulder so I could read the fine print on the Ketubah. So I should be exulting that now there will be one more hour of light.

But my birthday triggered this reflection: Perhaps this premature daylight savings has little to do with preserving energy and everything to do with saving daylight. I've always been a baby boom baby, born at the tail end of the postwar population explosion. While I am beginning to sense my mortality big-time, millions of older boomers must really be getting worried about their own darkening shadows. And these are precisely the people who now sit in Congress, the ones who voted to move up DST two years ago. They voted to delay that moment each day when they have to reach for their glasses.

Dylan Thomas' classic poem now rings true for more people than ever before.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Our instinctive rage against the dying light is being played out on an economic and political stage, with grave consequences to caterers and 13-year-olds. Maybe it is time to stop raging for a moment. We can't cheat Father Time by delaying night for one hour. If we would choose rather to convert our waning physical light into regenerative spiritual luminosity, we just might save much more than a few barrels of oil.

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