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“Hey, why don’t we have off?”: where RV stands on closing for religious holidays
RV seems like it's one of the few schools that does not close for certain holidays, but this isn't necessarily the case
March 6, 2023
RV is making a concentrated effort to address inequalities and representation, so why does RV not give minority groups such as Jewish, Hindu and Muslim students holidays off despite many schools in the area doing so? The answer is much more nuanced than having a large amount of students to whom the holiday may apply.
Jewish High Holidays
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the two most important holidays in Judaism. Together they are known as the High Holidays and have a similar significance to Judaism as Christmas and Easter do to Christianity.
“When I was growing up, these were not just holidays, they were called THE High Holy-days, so they are on the highest level of holiness.” Rabbi Memis-Foler of Adath Emanu-El in Mount Laurel said. “They are not just a day of celebration, we spend the entire day in the synagogue worshiping and pray[ing] with family [and] reflect[ing]. It’s not like people have time to focus on work or homework to be in school or to be at work.”
Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, which lasts two days. However, it is observed by mostly Conservative and Orthodox Jews and most schools that have off for Rosh Hashanah only have off the first day. Yom Kippur is the Jewish day of atonement and is the holiest day in Judaism. Jews that celebrate fast from sunrise to sunset.
“Rosh Hashanah is the head of the year and Yom Kippur is the day of atonement.” Rabbi Memis-Foler said. “It is a 10 day period where Jews across the world reflect on their behavior in the past year and look where they done wrong and make improvements to do better in the future.”
It is impossible to know the size of RV’s Jewish community due to the lack of detailed data on the religious makeup of the student body. However, it is generally believed among Jewish students and non-Jewish students alike that the Jewish community of the sending districts is rather small compared to other schools. This is an obstacle for people in support of closing for the high holidays because usually schools only close during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur if they have a large Jewish population.
“We don’t have any information on religion for students,” said Vice Principal Wence,who is in charge of Data and Processing.
None of RV’s sending districts have off for both of the high holidays. However, Hainesport gets off for Yom Kippur and Lumberton gets off for the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Among other local high schools, Lenape, Shawnee, Cheroke, Seneca and Moorestown get off for both High Holidays. However, Northern Burlington and Delran do not get off for the high holidays. Some schools such as the Cherry Hills and Eastern get off for the second day of Rosh Hashanah that only more religious Jews observe.
“I think that they should [give students days off on the Jewish High Holidays] because it is important to celebrate the holidays and recognize Jewish culture even though there are not that many people of Jewish descent or celebrate the Jewish Holidays but it is still important for those people,” sophomore Max Kinney said. “Normally I would [take off] but I didn’t this year because I have so many classes I have to deal with. If I had off, my grandparents would come down to my house and we would have a good dinner and celebrate as a family.”
Diwali or Deepavali is a holiday that is mainly celebrated by Hindus but is also celebrated by Janists, Sihks and the Newar Buddists in Nepal. According to Wikipedia, it is known as the festival of lights and symbolizes light triumphing over darkness.The festival is most associated with Laksmi, who is the goddess of prosperity and Ganesha, god of wisdom and removal of obstacles. The holiday is associated with other gods depending on the region.
“It’s kind of like India’s New year celebration. It’s very big over there, almost like the kind of new year we celebrate here and the Lunar new year in China,” sophomore Ruhan Shah said. “It’s bringing in new prosperity, new relationships, [and] happiness… we all hope for a better future so this [is] just one step in building on to that.”
Diwali lasts five days but the height of celebration is on the 3rd day and schools that give off for Diwali only give off for the third day, called Lakshmi Puja. Rancocas Valley does not give off for the third day, although many other south Jersey high schools are beginning to change that. This school year, Cherry Hill Public Schools changed its school calendar to have school closed on Lakshmi Puja. Twenty-two other school districts in New Jersey close for Lakshmi Puja; however all of them are located in either North or Central Jersey.
“I think, personally, we should have off on [the third day of Diwali]. I know a lot of people in this school who celebrate the holiday and it is a big time to also gather with your family members around here and have big parties and catch up basically and just have a chat,” said Shah.
Eid al-Fitr (Eid for short) is a holiday that is celebrated by Muslims on the first of Shawwal and marks the end of Ramadan, a month in the Islamic Calendar where Muslims fast every day from sunrise to sunset. According to Wikipedia, Muslims participate in a salat (Islamic Prayer) special for Eid that consists of two units – called “rakats” – and is performed in an open field or large hall. After the salat, Muslims are treated to a variety of sweet dishes which is why the holiday is also known as “Sweet Eid.”
“Prior to Eid-al Fitr, we have Ramadan, we fast from sunrise to sunset and we celebrate our fast on Eid,” sophomore Syed-Muhamed Yasir said.
Many schools are starting to close for Eid. The closest to RV is Cherry Hill Public schools which recently added Eid Al-Fitir for the 2022-2023 school calendar. The school district of Philadelphia also closes for Eid al-Fitr as well as Eid al-Adha, another prominent Islamic holiday.
Similar to Jewish students, it is believed that RV does not have a large Muslim population. There is only anecdotal evidence to back this up as the school does not collect data on the religious makeup of the student body.
“I noticed we weren’t off for certain holidays, but my sister was in a different district and she was off,” said Principal Martin. “She was like, ‘yeah, we have a higher population of this religion.'”
The RV Administration and the Board of Education have no plans in the future to close schools for the religious holidays of Jewish, Hindu and Muslim students. And, closing for these holidays could create a slippery slope and require RV to close school on all religious holidays, which would be impossible.
“My point is, where do you draw the line at which religion?” said Principal Martin. “So if you do Jewish holidays, Muslim holidays, Hindu, Buddhist, where do you stop?”
Despite this, RV’s administration has been making efforts to make the school more inclusive for minority students. The debate over closing schools for non-Christian religious holidays remains, at times, a contentious one, but as it stands RV has made no attempts to close school on minority religious holidays.