One Small Step for Wake County, One Giant Leap for Judaism

Sep 30th and October 9th. What do those dates mean to you? At first glance, they seem to be random days out of the calendar. After closer research, it can be determined that these two dates happen to be teacher workdays. For most people, teacher workdays signify more time to binge favorite netflix shows, online shop for charity ball dresses, catch up on procrastinated college work (don’t worry, you’re not the only one), and, well, chill. However, for myself and many other jewish students across Wake County, these two dates mean something entirely different: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. 

Sep 30th is Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish new year. New Years in September?? I know, crazy! The reason our new year falls so much earlier is that Jews actually follow a completely different calendar: the Hebrew calendar. We may not do ball drops off tall buildings or kiss someone at midnight, but Rosh Hashanah is one of the most important and widely celebrated out of all eight annual Jewish holidays. Instead of counting down the minutes until midnight, we count the strong, resounding blasts of the shofar, or ram’s horn, that is blown in synagogue each year. Then, after services, my family and I eat apples and honey to signify a ‘sweet’ new year. These sounds and tastes are ingrained in my memory, forever reminding me that each new year is a chance to start fresh, to do better than the year before.

The following Teacher Workday, October 9th, marks Yom Kippur, or the day of Atonement. It is the single-most holiest day of the Jewish year. Each year, we fast from sundown to sundown, with no food or drink. This practice is intended to help us repent for our sins and prove our forgiveness to God.

I can’t remember the last time we’ve gotten a day off for these two special days. In past years, I’ve had to spend my holiday worrying about absence notes, missed classes and unforgiving loads of makeup work. This year, I could fully reflect on my mistakes of last year and my goals for next year, without the pervasive thought of homework clouding my mind. But one question still remains. Why has it taken this long for school systems to recognize holidays that are celebrated by the second most prominent religion in the United States? For as long as I can remember, our longest breaks from school, spring break and winter break, have been centered around Easter and Christmas. Of course, these holidays are very significant in Christianity, but in our supposedly secular education system, how has it been fair to continually favor one religion over another when America is in fact a melting pot of cultures and beliefs?

I am incredibly proud to be Jewish. It is a key partof my identity, one of the core elements that has made me the person I am today. But I know not everyone perceives Judaism in this light. From hate crimes to slander to straight ignorance, the Jewish people have dealt with every type of abuse known to man. Yet the thing I love most about my religion is that we never give up. When entire nations turn on us, we stick to our faith. We pick our battles carefully, and when we can’t win the big ones, we celebrate the small victories. We stand up for other faiths, in the hopes that if it is once again decided that the world no longer has room for the Jews, they’ll stand by our side. And yeah, maybe a couple days off of school doesn’t seem like much. But when you belong to a religion that has been persecuted, scapegoated, and disregarded for what seems like all of time- the fact that we have finally been given time to observe two of our most important holidays is a giant step forward.