Should I stay or should I go: Ken or Lo?

On Oct. 5, 2022, Redwood allowed school to take place on Yom Kippur, a Jewish holiday including morning services and a 25-hour fast. School was still held on Yom Kippur, just two hours shorter than usual. This means that if Jewish students wanted to attend the main morning services for Yom Kippur, they would have to skip what was effectively a full day of classes. This is a daunting ultimatum, as missing even a day of school can lead to a spiral from being behind in your classes. A secondary service on Yom Kippur, the Yizkor, is an extremely important and somber memorial service in which Jews pray for those who have passed. For Jews at Redwood like myself who have recently lost a family member, it is hard to put into words how meaningful these services are. I struggled with the decision to go to synagogue or school, feeling like whichever I picked was going to be the wrong choice — and I know I am not alone in this feeling. For this reason, school should not have been held on Yom Kippur due to its religious significance. Additionally, school should not have been in session due to the health side effects limiting the potential for learning while observing the holiday. 

Just a week prior to Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, was observed for a full school day. There was minimal communication from the administration about why on Rosh Hashanah we had a day off for a “school holiday,” or why we had a minimum day on Yom Kippur. There are restrictions on how public schools in California can handle religious holidays, so while the ambiguity on admin’s part is understandable, the burden of information is still on them, not students, to clearly communicate with the affected student body. Jewish students were given no explanation as to why the lesser of the two High Holy days got a day off, while the more important one — due to fasting and subsequent health effects — got a minimum day. This lack of information on why a choice detrimental to the Jewish student population was made left me scratching my head in confusion.

Although Rosh Hashanah is a very important holiday in Judaism, it does not hold a candle to the spiritual significance of Yom Kippur, which is considered one of the holiest days of the Jewish year. It is the administration’s job to take care of its community, especially minorities. Although this misstep was likely not an intentional jab at the Jewish community, it does indeed expose an embarrassing blind spot at the expense of the students and teachers who practice Judaism.

A key aspect of Yom Kippur is the tradition of fasting. Yom Kippur is a day of atonement where practicing Jews across the spectrum of Orthodox to Reform traditionally fast for approximately 25 hours to atone for their sins. This fasting starts the night before on Kol Nidre, and continues throughout Yom Kippur. By holding school on Yom Kippur, Redwood indirectly asked its Jewish students and staff to learn and teach while fasting, an action scientifically proven to reduce how well either of those two jobs can be performed. When your body doesn’t have food, your brain is not receiving enough glucose, which is required to have a fully functioning and logical mind. Although the term “hangry” does not come close to encapsulating what it feels like to fast, it does apply in a basic sense to how your brain is feeling: tired and less rational. Fasting is not a part of Rosh Hashanah, so even if the holidays were equal in their importance, Yom Kippur should have been the day that was given off simply out of consideration for the health of practicing Jews.

Some would say we are lucky Redwood gives time off for either of the two holidays, that it is a “luxury” many other schools across the country are not given, whether it be due to administration or issues with funding. While the argument that school could not have been released for Yom Kippur due to funding reasons is valid in theory, in practice, it fails to take into account the apparent observation of Rosh Hashanah, meaning that the school had a “school holiday” to spare, and simply lined it up with the wrong Jewish holiday. Given the demographics of the Bay Area — which according to a 2018 study has the fourth largest Jewish population in America (approx. 350,000) — it is important that extra effort be put into learning about Judaism to aid and protect Jewish students. School should not be held on Yom Kippur for both religious and health reasons, and hopefully next year the administration will reach the same conclusion.