Why organizations should check calendars carefully before scheduling events

In 2012, Salesforce's huge and wonderful conference, Dreamforce, will be held September 18-21. In 2012, September 18th is the 2nd day of Rosh Hashanah, a Jewish High Holiday. The first day of Dreamforce is typically the welcome events, some breakouts, extra training and the like. The conference really begins the next day with Marc Benioff's keynote but since the holiday ends at sundown on the 18th cross-country travel will be difficult. This year I'm heading to Dreamforce two days early to take advantage of some special Salesforce MVP opportunities. I was bummed to be forced to miss out in 2012. Would they schedule a conference to begin on December 26th or the Monday after Easter, with the pre-events and welcome reception the day before?

I posted my disappointment at this news on the Dreamforce App (a community for Dreamforce attendees) and someone suggested I email Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff about it. I did. He answered 3 hours later (from Cloudforce Boston, no less), including some other Salesforce staff in the conversation. He took my concern seriously. We've had a nice little email chat. He started his reply with "Oy vey." He's a mensch. I think they just didn't realize. They'll do whatever they can to accommodate Jews who want to both observe the holiday and attend Dreamforce. Marc joked (I think) about blowing a shofar to start his keynote.

I should be happy about this. Marc even made a very generous personal gesture to me that I hope he doesn't forget/take back when the time comes because I will take him up on it. But I'm saddened that he and his staff who responded in the email conversation don't quite get it. Something similar happened a few years back when NTEN scheduled NTC over Passover. It's how I met Holly Ross in the first place. She called me to apologize when I complained about it on a public board. Now I'm on the Board of NTEN and Holly and I joke about my being the "calendar police" since she almost scheduled a NTC over Passover again another year and I caught it in time.

I'm sure that any pro-event planner worth their fees points out these conflicts to their clients. Here's why the organizations shouldn't shrug it off:

Jewish holidays (especially the big ones: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Passover) aren't just about ritual. Jewish holidays are about community. There are things we do by ourselves in celebration/observation of our faith, but nearly every holiday is more about family and community. You need at least 10 adults together to have a service. It's usually all about food too because eating festive meals is what people do in crowds. It's not just about going through the motions and checking off a list to G-d, then move on to the rest of the day. If you observe Shabbat and other Jewish holidays, you're supposed to completely shut out the world and connect with your faith, community and family. Rest. Learn. Recharge. Reconnect to your soul and what really matters.

I've always been part of a Jewish community in one way or another. I married a Jewish man and we are raising our children Jewish. We have my youngest daughter's Bat Mitzvah coming up this fall. As a family, we observe Shabbat just about every week by lighting candles and saying prayers over challah and grape juice (no wine in this house). Then we go to Friday night services at our shul. The outside world stops for us during those few hours and on the High Holidays and on Seder nights. Our circle of friends we share here are all from the synagogue. It's a tiny community of just 115 or so families and that's probably why we like it so much. My husband and I are both leaders in the congregation. He runs the Men's Club and I'm an officer on the Board of Trustees. It should surprise no one that I set them up with Salesforce and Google Apps and have been helping the small entirely volunteer community manage technology more efficiently. 

Our faith is the glue that holds my family together. While I'm told my daughters look a lot alike, that's where the similarity between them ends. My husband is my best friend and we have a lot in common, but we also tend to go in opposite directions when life gets hectic. Faith and our common cultural heritage bring us together. Always. No matter what. It brings us closer to our extended family. It brings us closer to our friends. It's our strength.

A long time member of our synagogue was very sick last week. Not expected to survive. Her daughter is also active in our community and one of my dearest friends. Monday morning at around 7:30 am I had an overwhelming urge to reach out to my friend. I couldn't shake the feeling, and not wanting to call that early I sent her a text to let her know I was thinking of her and to reach out to me if she needed to talk. A minute or two later she text me back that her mother had just passed a few minutes ago and could I let the Rabbi know. There were so many people at the shiva last night, most from our congregation, that it was hard to breathe or move. That's what being Jewish means to me.

My Hebrew reading isn't great (but improving). I don't know every rule in Judaism so I probably break at least half of them most of the time. I don't know if I believe everything I do understand about Judaism. But when I think of what it means to be Jewish and why it matters, it's about that spiritual connection I have with my family and friends who share our faith and common history. It is sacred. I will not compromise easily. I shouldn't be asked to by organizations I trust and value.

I love going to Dreamforce. As much as I love the work I do and I've asked a lot of my family over the years to allow me to fly off and do it, I never want to choose a conference over that which binds me to my heritage and my family. I can't help but resent when organizations would ask me to make that choice when they don't understand that it's not simply about ritual which can be done from anywhere. Once again, would a conference start the Monday after Easter or on December 26th? Why not? Because people spend those holidays connected to friends and family, not traveling, not working even if it's fun-work. They're only fortunate that the entire country accommodates them by shutting down as well. Life goes on around us while we observe in a way that Christians can't appreciate. I have to make up work missed over my holidays. My kids have to make up school work. Don't ask me to miss out on once-a-year events as well.

A year from now when Dreamforce 2012 planning is in full swing like it is now for this year's event, we'll see if I'm alone in my disappointment and if it has any repercussions for Salesforce. Maybe not. Maybe I'm the only one who cares. I just wanted to take moment to express my own feelings on the screen and we'll see what happens.

Shabbat Shalom. 🙂

4 responses to “Why organizations should check calendars carefully before scheduling events”

  1. Wonderful post, Judi. For me, wonderful not so much because of the message about scheduling conferences but about the way you articulate what this means to you and the glimpse into a very precious space in your life. Beautiful.

    • Could you be sure and let the folks at Salesforce know why? Be nice, be polite. They’re not anti-semetic or evil. It’s just a stupid mistake we have to be sure doesn’t happen again and they have to know that it matters to more folks than just me. 🙂 Thanks.