L’Shana Tova: A Jewish Perspective on Rosh Hashanah

By Sarah Asch

Rosh Hashanah, also known as the Jewish New Year, falls on the Hebrew calendar during the first two days of Tishrei, which means that it is usually celebrated during the secular month of September. Rosh Hashanah is literally translated as “the head of the year,” and along with Yom Kippur (the day of atonement) is considered one of the holiest Jewish celebrations. Observance includes spending all day at synagogue, eating apples and honey, praying, and spending time with family. Adults miss work, and kids miss school.

As a Jewish student at Tam, I have felt minimal pressure to stay at school on the High Holidays. True, it is illegal for public schools to put students at a disadvantage because of their religion, but I have always found my teachers to be reasonably accommodating. This year, though, there was a push in our district to be even more respectful of the Jewish faith by further lightening the load on Rosh Hashanah, which fell on Thursday, September 25.

In an email that was forwarded to teachers at both Redwood and Tam, Redwood Principal David Sondheim reminded teachers that they were supposed to avoid scheduling important lessons, tests, and other activities that it would be inconvenient for students to miss on the holiday. He also stated that, “the tone set by teachers at the beginning of the school year is critical. Please make clear to all students that we expect they may have to miss school to observe major religious holidays and attend religious family celebrations, and should not feel any pressure to attend school for fear of missing out.” In the email, Sondheim wrote that the reminder was, in part, due to parent complaints that students felt too much pressure to stay in school and miss the celebrations.

Because of this new initiative, for the first time in my life, I had almost no teachers assign homework, give a test, introduce a project, or do an important lesson on Rosh Hashanah. While I know not every teacher did this, I spoke with many Jewish students who also noticed and appreciated the difference. This little kindness goes a long way towards reducing school-related stress on one of the most important religious holidays in my culture.

I know many people, both Jewish and not, believe public schools shouldn’t have school on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur at all. While I certainly wouldn’t be against having the day off so I didn’t have to worry about school, I understand that only a very small portion of our student body is Jewish, and it may not make sense to cancel class. That being said, I know that many of my Jewish friends at Tam, and at other schools in our district, are very hesitant to miss school to attend services because they feel it will be too hard to catch up afterwards. I would like to personally thank all of the teachers that complied with the district’s request and didn’t schedule important demonstrations or unit exams on the 25th. Many aspects of students’ lives are already tainted by school, homework, and stress, and I was grateful see teachers respecting that this holiday holds immense significance for some of their students, often at the expense of carefully planned unit schedules.

For those teachers who were not able to plan around the Jewish High Holy Days this year, I urge you to keep them in mind in the future. We live in a country where schools give two weeks off for Christmas and one for Easter because most students celebrate those holidays. I acknowledge the logic in this, and only request that teachers remember, that for some students, the High Holidays hold similar levels of importance.