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Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur Coming Soon: Jewish Culture-Gram

September 18, 2017

Today’s post is written by guest blogger Kelly Steiner. Kelly shares these insights with her faculty and administration. Thank you for sharing with us!

Hello everyone,

The two biggest days in the Jewish calendar are coming up. Rosh Hashanah is Thursday and Friday, September 21 and 22 and Yom Kippur is Saturday, September 30. 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 21 for the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Some Jewish students will miss September 22 (second day of Rosh Hashanah). Fortunately (from my point of view), Yom Kippur is a weekend, so kids don’t have to miss school.

Do I have to do anything?
No, you don’t have to. I can tell you from experience though, 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 Wednesday 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 (about age 12-13), they will be fasting. It’s unlikely that their homework/ classwork will get done that day. Please, again, try to help them navigate this. If there is anything that you can condense or excuse, I’m sure it would be very much appreciated.

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 (Wednesday night to Thursday night- all Jewish holidays start and end at sundown). Others celebrate both days (Wednesday night to Friday night). Rosh Hashanah means “head of the year” and it is the new year. Instead of a big party day like January 1, it is a serious holiday which starts the 10 days of awe in which you need to ask for forgiveness (from people and then the big guy) 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 isn’t at the same time/ day of the week as last year?
Because Jewish holidays are on the lunar calendar, they’re a slightly different time in our solar calendar each year. Almost all other North Shore districts are closed for the first day of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

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. Another way it gets said a lot is “have a happy and healthy new year”- that’s why we dip apples in honey. If you work with older students you can ask them if they are fasting for Yom Kippur or wish them an easy fast.

As always, I’m happy to answer any questions (I’m almost impossible to offend- I live in two cultures so I often get the opportunity to translate between them, it’s a privilege). I also invite you to consider parts of your culture that I might not be aware of and let me know about them so that I can be more responsive.

Kelly Steiner, NBCT
7th and 8th Grade Science Teacher

Kelly teaches 8th grade science in Milwaukee, WI. She is a National Board Certified Teacher and an adjunct professor at Cardinal Stritch University.

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