At school for the holidays


art by Erica Miget

Hannah Cohen, social media editor

“Where were you yesterday?” “What are you sick with?” “Oh, was it another Jewish holiday?”

I return to school bombarded with questions along with an entire school day’s worth of work. My parents immediately text me about the missing assignment emails that arrived in their inboxes. While I thought my day off was supposed to be nice, I instead find myself stressing, going out of my way to schedule make up times for quizzes, lessons and tests with my teachers.

KSD is a public district and cannot religiously influence students, however, the current system fails to acknowledge any religion, except for one: Christianity. Throughout elementary school, teachers threw so-called “Winter Parties” with festive trees, ornament decorating and Christmas carols at Robinson’s annual holiday sing-a-long. I remember singing only one song about Hanukkah, “I Have a Little Dreidel” and only one about Kwanzaa, “Celebrate Kwanzaa.” With the exception of “Frosty the Snowman,” every other song was about Christmas. I clearly remember singing “Children Go Where I Send Thee,” making arm motions celebrating the birth of Jesus with numerous biblical references to Jesus’ missionaries, Paul and Silas in third grade.

Yes, I understand winter break is not designed to not include Hanukkah or Kwanzaa. Yes, I know Easter is on a Sunday and we no longer get an extended weekend for that specific holiday. Yes, I am aware those of us following a faith other than Christianity may not be purposely discriminated against — but it’s extremely unfair that other faiths get discounted for not having our holidays off.

If it were my choice, as a non-practicing atheist of a reform congregation, I would attend school on these holidays. But in order to honor my family’s traditions I miss school and attend temple instead. This should be seen as a rightfully excused absence, not a consequential burden. It makes me nervous enough to miss one day of school, even if I’m severely ill. Missing one for a holiday sounds like a joke.

Najma Omar, junior, practices Islam. Omar said she feels it is unjust that teachers do not fully exempt assignments on holy days.

“It’s annoying because [friends] at other schools have [exempt] absences as long as they need,” Omar said. “It stresses me out, having to keep up with the homework. I know some teachers treat absences as [exemption from all work that day] but others are the opposite, saying ‘It’s your responsibility to keep up with work.’”

Either way, I still wake up early in the morning to head to services on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, a day of atonement and the holiest day in Judaism. Once there, instead of focusing on the meaning and celebrations of these holidays, my eyes drift to the clock. My mind follows in an attempt to place myself in the class meant for that time, picturing what I’m missing. Just last year, in fact, prom was on April 22, which also happened to be the first and most important night of the Jewish holiday Passover. Contrary to my lack of activity within the Jewish community, my older brother, Ben, is a very observant and self-driven Jew who participates in multiple Jewish extracurriculars. He only briefly attended this dance so that he wouldn’t miss the once-a-year family Seder meal since he feels it’s a time for our family to connect spiritually.

I’m not saying the solution is to halt education on these days specifically, nor am I requesting full amnesty for missing these holidays. I simply want more consideration and acknowledgment of the minority religions with exempt assignments on holy days. Although we may be a small minority in Kirkwood, just a few suburbs over, Jews are more abundant, like in Ladue and Clayton.

KSD needs to realize that religious minorities do exist: Christianity is not the only faith people follow. Missing school for religion shouldn’t be condemned nor a hassle. Everyone deserves inalienable rights, no matter their religion or personal beliefs.