Skipping school for holidays makes a statement

The other day I had lunch at Sari’s elementary school. I relish the times when my daughter, in fourth grade, invites me to split a sub sandwich with her and sit with her friends at the round table. I know these special moments will be gone by middle school, and besides, I won’t be able to squat in the little chairs much longer.

As I attempt to lift my shoe from the sticky floor, I overhear a girl slurp milk through a straw and ask Sari what kind of snack she eats at Hebrew school. I’m intrigued by this question because it tells me that Sari talks about being Jewish, and she’s one of only a few Jews at her school of more than 600 students. By now I forget that my sandal is glued to the linoleum with peanut butter, and I eavesdrop on their conversation.

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Friend: “You’re lucky that you get to go to Hebrew school.”

Sari: “I am?”

Friend: “It sounds fun to learn another language and go to two schools.”

Sari: “I guess.”

Friend: “Do you eat Jewish food there?”

Sari: “Mostly I get candy, sometimes chips.”

Friend: “Wow!”

Without even trying, Sari sparks a curiosity among her non-Jewish friends because she’s different from them. This difference is especially noticeable around the high holidays.

We send our children to school to learn, but the most important lesson that they learn is when they are absent from the classroom. Unless your child goes to full-time Jewish preschool or day school, which follows the Jewish calendar, parents face a conflict of interest every time a holy day falls on a school day.

Unlike Christmas and Easter, the whole world doesn’t revolve around Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur or any Jewish observance for that matter. Therefore, at some point in the year, families must decide between two important values: academics and religion. When a teacher schedules a test or a coach plans a game on the same day as a Jewish holiday, we are reminded of our role as a minority.

Action speaks louder than words, and we make a statement every time our child skips school or a sporting event to observe a Jewish holiday. Likewise, parents reinforce the message of Jewish values when they miss work and celebrate the holiday together as a family at home and in synagogue.

It’s up to the parents to give the school a heads-up when a holiday approaches and explain their child’s absence. Most teachers appreciate the open communication and allow an extra day to get homework done or take an exam. Besides, the law requires a child to miss school without discrimination. If you have any questions about how to handle a school absence because of religious reasons, ask your rabbi. Children learn at an early age that unless they live in Israel, they are not like most of the other kids.

And their difference makes them proud.

“Mishegas of Motherhood” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. She is still peeling and coring apples. Feel free to send any comments to: [email protected] or visit her website at www.mishegasofmotherhood.com.