No Holiday for Rosh Hashanah
by Caleb Rhodes on Friday, October 21st, 2016
In light of the recent defacing of the Holocaust memorial in the Milton Cemetery, I have been doing a lot of thinking about Judaism and Milton Academy. The more I consider this relationship, the bleaker the picture becomes. There are exactly two days a year where I am guaranteed to be at Temple: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Those are also the only two days a year where I place religion before my other commitments which from September to June are usually school-related. However, between these two days, just more than half a percent of all the days in a year, Milton gives only a day off for Yom Kippur.
I just don’t understand why. The month of October is already littered with 4-day weeks with Mondays off for Columbus Day and Parents’ Weekend and the flex day on October 19th. Is giving one day off in late September really any more disruptive? I recognize that the Jewish student population at Milton Academy is not very large; in fact, most people who purchase the “Dare to be Jew” shirts in the coming weeks probably have no affiliation to the religion beyond that shirt. However, the question remains: if you are going to give one holiday off, why not give both?
While Rosh Hashanah is a celebration of the Jewish New Year, Yom Kippur is the day of atonement, an opportunity to confess your sins from the past year and recodify important values for the coming year. From an outside perspective, the latter holiday might seem more important, and the choice to give students the day off for only Yom Kippur reflects that perspective. The Milton calendar seems caught in two minds: one of religious sensitivity and one of maximizing academic days. In the attempt to balance these two mindsets, Milton has instead compromised both.
Many school districts around the nation do not have these holidays off because the demographics of their areas do not require it. One Jewish father argued in an op-ed for Tablet Magazine that the Public Schools in New Haven should not have these days off. He says, “the schools have done the multicultural, pluralist thing and, like numerous other American school districts, accommodated my minority group. And it’s time that they stop. I’ll say it loud: I’m here, I’m Jewish, I have three daughters in public school, and I think the rest of you should go to school on my holidays.” For places like Newton or Brookline in Massachusetts, which have large Jewish populations, having these holidays off makes sense, but in schools like Milton which are overwhelmingly Christian, perhaps having these holidays off makes less sense. Giving just Yom Kippur off feels like an insincere gift, designed not so much to accommodate Jewish students but to make the school feel like it’s accommodating Jewish students.
In some strange sense, I would rather have neither holidays off than just one. I would rather have the school say there are so few Jews here that giving 1000 students the day off for the sake of 50 does not make sense. It’s been said before that Milton prides itself on diversity. The website proudly touts the socioeconomic and racial diversity on offer in this community, but what is forgotten or maybe even unconsidered is cultural and religious diversity. So next year, I hope the school either gives both holidays off or neither, and I hope if they decide to give both off it will be because of a concerted effort to increase religious diversity on this campus. With all that said, Shanah Tovah, have a happy New Year.
Short URL: http://miltonmeasure.org/?p=8430