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Thursday, 26 May 2011

Courtesy of Microsoft Office

Dear Ploni B. Ploni Elementary School,

I was extremely disappointed to receive the flyer announcing this year’s Annual Dance Day on Wednesday, June 8. While I have nothing against Dance Day, I do object to its placement on Shavu’ot.

It seems that each year, you have scheduled an important school function on a major Jewish holiday. For example, I missed Open House two years ago when it was scheduled on erev Shavu’ot. Nor did I attend the Volunteer Luncheon three years ago because it fell during Pesach and there didn’t seem much point to go to a lunch and not eat.

I acknowledge that things have gotten better over the years. No longer is the first day of school in any danger of falling on Rosh Hashannah. And the teachers are always thoughtful in not giving too much work during “your holy week….Chanukah.” But Hallmark doesn’t dictate which are the major Jewish holidays; the Torah does.

And, ironically, it is the giving of the Torah that we commemorate on Dance Day…er, Shavu’ot.

This is where being a Reform Jew is just plain complicated. Last year, after keeping the kids out of school for Sukkot and Pesach, I added Shavu’ot to the mix. After all, it didn’t seem consistent to short-shrift the holiday whose guest-of-honour started it all. Yet one year later, I am seriously considering sending them to school so that they don’t miss out on this annual tradition.

And I really resent being put in that position…


14 Comments leave one →
  1. Thursday, 26 May 2011 6:36 am

    You tell ’em! As you suggest, Shavuot stands as the grand-daddy of Jewish holidays (after Shabbat), and I’m always amazed at how it seems to end up on the back burner among our people.

  2. Thursday, 26 May 2011 7:14 am

    That’s what Jewish Day Schools are for. I’m a public school teacher. It’s hard enough to schedule teaching time (that’s the time left over after testing, assemblies, testing, class trips, testing etc.)
    These days our schools are so diverse that respecting the holidays of the Muslims, Indians, Southeast Asians, Chinese, Jews, and Christians would knock out most events. The best you can expect is allowing a student to make up missed work without penalty.
    ALL of those days are important. Do you give a calendar of days to the school in June of the year before? And to the Home and School?

  3. Thursday, 26 May 2011 7:44 am

    Is it possible, for next year, to provide a list of holy days to the school, with a request that major events not be scheduled on them, or have you already attempted this? I imagine they are only aware of some days of religious observance, but not others (for other faiths as well perhaps).

    I feel your angst–it must be awful to have to make a choice–on one hand to place honoring your faith and putting it in the place of importance it deserves, and on the other to feel your children’s disappointment at missing events their friends will talk about the next day. Arrrrgh!

  4. the writ and the wrote permalink
    Thursday, 26 May 2011 8:13 am

    That’s hard. The school I work at is closed for Shavuot. It’s a Jewish school, so it makes sense, but I’d be willing to bet that most of the kids don’t know why they have two days off. (Or three, depending how many actually come on Friday).

  5. Jockbro permalink
    Thursday, 26 May 2011 8:14 am

    There is an easy solution to this : Day School. While it would be great for public schools to consult all the religious calendars when planning the year, the truth is–and perhaps I’m sensitive because I work at a school–building an entire school calendar is incredibly difficult. Students at my school represent the following faiths: Christianity (both Catholic and Protestant), Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Bahai, and I’m sure I’m leaving out a number of others. To coordinate school-wide events without interfering with somebody’s religious practice is impossible. I agree with Britton; you should contact the school at least a year in advance and alert them of the major holidays. Short of that, do not expect anyone to look at the Hebrew calendar.

  6. Thursday, 26 May 2011 12:19 pm

    As an Ima who plans to send her babies to public school (in two years! oy!) I am feeling pain over this on your behalf, and dread for the same choices I’ll have to make very soon. I wonder if there’s any chance the event time itself is in conflict with whatever Shavuot celebrations you have planned. If it’s an all-day kind of thing, like Pesach and Sukkot often are, you’ve really got no choice – but maybe that’s the easiest thing.


  7. Thursday, 26 May 2011 1:54 pm

    Well, if it makes you feel better (or worse?) many of the families at our synagogue’s preschool and the non-denominational Jewish Day School complain about all the days off for “those random holidays.” We can hardly expect the public school to plan functions around holidays where such a tiny sliver of their population would have a scheduling problem. I laughed on the Hanukkah and the Hallmark thing . . . so true that most people (including non-observant Jews) observe only our holidays that the larger society knows about. It is a short-stick for Shavuout, which was you said, without which we’d have nothing.

    • Thursday, 26 May 2011 5:20 pm

      Nina, my kids attend a Conservative day school and I still hear similar comments.

    • Wednesday, 1 June 2011 8:32 am

      Our preschool director at the synagogue reminds our parents constantly that we are a school and not a daycare. We are also a synagogue that observes these holidays. They know that coming in and although they complain it is very important for Jewish schools to keep tradition. How else will they learn?

  8. Lili permalink
    Thursday, 26 May 2011 5:22 pm

    Amen to thAt! I always struggle with that.

  9. Friday, 27 May 2011 12:41 am

    Shavuot is for Jewish learning, not public school dances. In Israel Jews “of all stripes” go to all night study and if Judaism is important to you then Shavuot should be celebrated proudly. How about sending the school and board of education next year’s Jewish calendar including Shavuot.
    Chag Sameach

  10. Former Reform Jew permalink
    Monday, 30 May 2011 11:32 am

    I agree – Jewish kids who observe all of the Jewish holidays belong in Jewish schools.

    I’ve known families who would set up a carpool and drive an hour each way (or hire a shared van) to get their kids to the closest Jewish school.

    May G-d bless you with good health, happiness, and sanity during (and after) your move!

    • Wednesday, 1 June 2011 8:34 am

      I have to disagree here. I think that Jewish kids who observe all Jewish holidays can be a part of the mainstream community. Our rabbi does it with his kids. They take the kids out on major holidays and let the teachers know when they will be out so they don’t plan tests or major events.

      • Former Reform Jew permalink
        Thursday, 2 June 2011 12:38 am


        I’m glad that it works for your rabbi and his children, but why should an entire class be held hostage by one child? (per class, I’m assuming he doesn’t have twins).

        The law is clear that religious absences are excused absences, and the teacher must make some accommodation for the student – i.e. alternate testing day, a packet of homework to do in advance, etc.

        To rearrange the entire class schedule (i.e. they don’t plan tests or major events on a Jewish holiday) is intrusive. I wouldn’t want to be the kid that forced everyone to take a test one day earlier – like this coming Tuesday, because Wednesday is Shavuot.

        It’s unreasonable for a public school to consult every single religious holiday calendar in existence, and then never schedule anything that conflicts with an observance.

        What’s next? Will we force them to open a kosher school lunch program? We need to face reality – Jews are a minority in America. America guarantees freedom of religion, but doesn’t guarantee the utmost convenience in trying to balance secular activities with religious holidays.

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