School Schedule Fails To Account For Jewish High Holy Days

By Kiara Kunnes, Staff Writer

// Imagine you are sitting at a desk in your least favorite class. The bell is about ready to ring and release you from this miserable place. Of course, your teacher is still lecturing, but you can at least console yourself with the fact that Christmas is right around the corner. Right as the bell rings, the teacher quickly adds, “Oh, and there is a test on December 25.”

   What? Wait, but that’s Christmas! You ask yourself, ‘Does my teacher not understand that is a holiday?’

   Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t, but that is beside the point. And the point is that it is a holiday, and it should be respected.

   Jewish students face this dilemma every year during Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, the holiest time of year for Jews.

   Unlike our Christian peers, our holy days do not have a special place reserved for them on every calendar. Our holy days are not considered federal holidays, so we are not given these days off. Instead, schools and workplaces require Jews to take these days off and miss school or any other events taking place that day in order to observe these holy days.


By Clare Fonstein, photographer

   In the past few years, I, along with many other Jews in the community, have noticed it is getting harder and harder to take these days off.

   “I think it makes it a really difficult choice and an unfair choice,” Rabbi Alissa Miller of Temple Isaiah said.

   In a poll conducted this past year during a teen service at Temple Isaiah in Lafayette, more than 65 percent of the people present were missing at least one test to attend services that day. Not to mention the fact that there were a significant amount of observant Jews who did not attend the services at all.

    “Some of our most involved students end up missing [the holidays] because they feel that they will have so much work to makeup that it is too hard to do it. It is not just people who are not as involved, it is actually some who are very involved,” Rabbi Miller said.

   Is it really fair that so many Jewish students need to wrestle with the question, “Would it be better to go to services with my family, or attend school?”

  Some may argue that it is perfectly fair. If one misses a test or a presentation, then he or she can just go make it up some other time, but many people tend to forget that when one goes to make up a test the circumstances are often less than ideal.

   Tests often have to be made up during lunch in noisy and distracting classrooms. Students have to arrive at school as early as 7 a.m. Partner quizzes become individual quizzes.

   As Rabbi Miller asked in an article published by the East Bay Times, “In their shoes, what would you do? Do you go to school or do you spend the rest of the week trying to catch up?”

    I can say that it is a tough decision. Many of my friends have resorted to extreme measures. They would arrive at school at the typical starting time of 8:00, then get picked up at 10:25, go to services until 1:30, and return to school later that day.

    The struggle doesn’t just end with the tests, projects, and homework.

   Last year Acalanes’ Junior Prom fell on the same day as Passover, another holy day for the Jewish people. Prom is a once-in-a lifetime experience, and nobody wants to miss it. As a result, students had to either have their family celebrate the holiday on a different day, or they had to miss the holiday altogether to go to the dance.

   Again, is it fair that students have to miss such important events? Whichever decision he or she makes will have consequences. Should students really have to miss attending prom because of their religion?

   Most Non-Jewish people believe that the most important Jewish holiday is Hanukkah, but this is untrue. Hanukkah is actually one of the least important holidays in the whole religion. Sure it is a fun holiday, but it just does not have the same significance as Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, or Passover. And yet people seem to respect Hanukkah so much more than any of the other holidays.

   During the High Holy Days, which are Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Jewish people take time to reflect on their misdeeds. We spend time to build a community and realize how we can improve the place we live in, only to realize that school gets in the way of that.

   A large number of schools and workplaces on the Northern East Coast and some other states take both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur off. I understand that Jewish population is a lot more concentrated on the East Coast, so there is more of a need to close the schools for those days. I understand that here we are more of a minority, so we may never have the day off. Though we have excused absences, that is not enough. There should be more sensitivity about our holidays.

   The Jewish Community Relations team sends out notifications around Jewish holidays to let schools know when the holidays are approaching, yet many teachers do not know when they are, or even that they exist.

   In our world we cannot control a lot of things, but we should be able to have a say in the Acalanes High School schedule.

   As Rabbi Miller wrote, “Let us live in a community that embraces differences and supports one another.”

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