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Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Coming Soon – Jewish CultureGram

September 9, 2015

Cultural proficiency is not a destination, but a way of being.

(Lindsey, R., Graham, S., Westphal, C. & Jew, C. 2008).

I know that cultural proficiency is a journey and a lifelong commitment to “learning for the purpose of being increasingly effective in serving the educational needs of cultural groups” (Lindsey, R., Graham, S., Westphal, C. & Jew, C. 2008). My colleague and friend has made this commitment too, and she does this by sharing her culture with her school community. To really know our students and to meet their needs, it is critical that we know and understand the cultures they bring to school with them each day. Below is the email she sent to her colleagues yesterday. I found it most interesting and very insightful. I think you will too.

Thank you Kelly, for allowing me to share your message with other educators!


Apples and Honey symbolize a sweet and healthy New Year.

Apples and Honey symbolize a sweet and healthy New Year.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur coming soon- Jewish Culture gram

Purpose of the e-mail:

The two biggest days in the Jewish calendar are coming up. Rosh Hashanah is September 14 and 15 and Yom Kippur is September 23.  I wanted to provide information about how it relates to you in your work and also what’s happening for some of our kids.  Since I’m a part of the majority culture most of the time, I know how easy it is to assume that all kids have similar experiences.  Being a part of the minority culture in this one instance lets me experience how frustrating it is to not fit with what an institution expects.

Are there any days that kids may miss school or not be able to do homework?

Yes. Most Jewish students will miss school on September 14 for the first day of Rosh Hashanah.  Some Jewish students will miss September 15 (second day of Rosh Hashanah).  Almost all Jewish students will miss September 23 for Yom Kippur.

Do I have to do anything?

No, you don’t have to.  I can tell you though from experience, it’s really hard to just be trying to figure out what’s what and how things work and to feel out all of your teachers and figure out what works for you AND miss two or three days of school 10 days apart.  Please do whatever you can to help them navigate what they miss and still merge into your classroom culture.

Can they do their homework?

Probably not.  Rosh Hashanah starts on a Sunday night, but many kids will either be traveling to be with family or have houses full of family which can make the practicality of homework challenging.  During Rosh Hashanah they are probably in services all day, and doing work is expressly forbidden.  Yom Kippur during the day they are in services, forbidden from working, and for students who’ve already been bar/bat mitzvahed they will be fasting.  It’s unlikely that their homework/ classwork will get done that day.  Please, again, try to help them navigate this.

Why are the kids missing school?

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the two High Holy Days.  Think of them like the importance of Christmas and Easter, but only 10 days apart.  They are super serious, generally solemn, and big deals.  Different denominations observe different numbers of days for Rosh Hashanah.  Some celebrate only the first day (Sunday night to Monday night- all Jewish holidays start and end at sundown).  Others celebrate both days (Sunday night to Tuesday night).  Rosh Hashanah means “head of the year” and it is the new year.  Instead of a big party day it is a serious holiday which starts the 10 days of awe in which you need to ask for forgiveness for sins from the previous year before your fate for the coming year is sealed.  Yom Kippur is the day of atonement- the last chance to pray for forgiveness before fates are sealed.

Why did they only miss one day last year?

Because Jewish holidays are on the lunar calendar, they’re a slightly different time in our solar calendar each year.  Many school districts are closed these days.

What should I say to them?

If you’d like to say something to your Jewish students, you can say “happy new year” although it’s a thoughtful tone instead of the party tone of December 31 since it’s such a serious holy day.

As always, I’m happy to answer any questions and invite you to consider parts of your culture that I might not be aware of and let me know.


Kelly Steiner

P.S. Principals, I’m sharing this with you in case it’s helpful with your staffs- please adapt as needed or ignore.

Kelly teaches science at Shorewood Intermediate School in Milwaukee, WI. She is a National Board Certified Teacher and an adjunct professor at Cardinal Stritch University.

Sources Cited

Lindsey, R., Graham, S., Westphal, C. & Jew, C. (2008). Cultural proficient inquiry: A lens for identifying and examining educational gaps. Thousand Oak, CA: Corwin Press.


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