The privilege of celebrating holidays that I have been raised to observe in a stress-free fashion has never been my reality.
Every year, the same difficulty comes around. In the second or third week of the new school year the Jewish High Holidays come around. Although I am not incredibly religious, it is part of my culture and the way I was raised to not attend work or school on these holy days. However, with the accommodations the school pretends to give for the holidays, I am left with an inner battle of choosing whether to miss school and fall behind, or observe the High Holidays.
I say the school “pretends” to give accommodations because they do give the days off as it is a requirement by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Title VII states that public schools must excuse absences and make accommodations for a student’s religious needs. This, however, does not prohibit teachers from making it incredibly difficult to sacrifice school in order to fulfill a student’s religious needs.
In my twelve years of school, from elementary school to high school, the vast majority of my teachers have made it difficult to miss school. Whether that is assigning huge assignments on days known to be Jewish High Holidays, or giving out tests the following day, it feels as though teachers simply do not care to look into how they are scheduling their assignments in order to accommodate all students.
When I inform teachers that I will not be in school due to a holiday, they rarely take it as a sign that I, and other Jewish students, will not be able to complete those day’s assignments on that day. Many think it is just a day for me to not be at school, while in actuality, it is tradition to specifically not work on those days. This would never happen to students who observe Christian holidays because they get a full two weeks off for their most widely celebrated holiday, Christmas.
There are two main holidays that most Jewish students miss school for: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. That means that there are just two days where it would be much appreciated if teachers would look a little bit closer at the calendar.
Schools such as Marin Academy and The Branson School give both Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, off school-wide. Kentfield School District and Tamalpais Union High School District also give Yom Kippur off to the entire district.
Reasons for Novato Unified School District not giving those days off may be complex, however it is important to note that, recently, after staff development trainings were scheduled on Yom Kippur, the new superintendent, Jan Latorre-Derby, alerted the staff that the trainings were canceled, and apologized for the calendar committee’s oversight.
With that, there is hope that in the future, the district will at least alert teachers of the fact that those holidays are coming up and even advise teachers to do less in the classroom on those days so that Jewish students are not missing as much.
I ask that teachers, administrators, employers, coworkers, and peers think about what it is like to be a student stressed about the work they have to do because they are not automatically given holidays off. To think about how it may feel to know grades, employment, and even respect may be waived in order to observe a holiday. To open your eyes to the possibility of having a world where we actually all respect each other’s needs when it comes to the celebration of religious holidays. Whether you are an employer, teacher, or administrator, just taking a few minutes to look over a calendar in order to accommodate all can have an impact on someone more than you may know.