A New Year, an old problem

By Jill Schupp

By Jill Schupp

Special session on Rosh Hashanah shows continuing need for awareness, sensitivity

On Aug. 30, 2018, I received an email from the acting majority floor leader informing the legislature and staff that Gov. Mike Parson was expected to call an extraordinary session of the legislature beginning on Sept. 10. 

Sept. 10. 

Rosh Hashanah.

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Reading that email, my heart sank. 

For most of us, it is second nature to make plans to be absent from work for two or three days during the High Holidays.

Most of us don’t live or work in Jefferson City.  I do.  

I knew I had to do something. 

One of the best parts of my work as a legislator comes in the form of opportunities to learn about so many topics, areas of the state and the people who live here.  

These conversations are important for education, understanding and appreciation of one another. 

I immediately emailed the acting majority floor leader, then sent a letter to Parson alerting them both of this conflict. My letter included the decision Jewish lawmakers and government employees were required to make to either participate in prayer and celebration during this holy time, or to work and be present in Jefferson City.

I likened the sacred nature of the Jewish Holy Days to the Christian celebrations of Easter and Christmas. I assured them should the need arise, I would be standing up to defend their days needed for celebration and prayer.  

It was also painfully obvious that should special session extend beyond its expected week (which has happened before), there could again be special session during Yom Kippur.

At noon on Monday, Sept. 10, special session began.

It began without me.

I spent Rosh Hashanah at Congregation Shaare Emeth with my family, including a beautiful dinner that night.  My family has always celebrated the first day of the holiday.  The next day, when the gavel fell and opened the second day of special session, I was in my seat, proudly representing the people of my district in the State Senate.

As we went about the day’s business, the situation continued to weigh on me. I needed to make a choice: Would I be alone in frustration? Or, would I work to help my colleagues understand and appreciate the significance of what had transpired?

I hope to always work for understanding.

The next day I filed Senate Resolution 16, urging all future governors and legislative leaders to refrain from scheduling special or extraordinary sessions of the Missouri General Assembly on any important religious holidays, including the Jewish High Holy Days.

My resolution stated, in part: “… the decision to begin this extraordinary session during Rosh Hashanah could, unfortunately be viewed as sending a message to the Jewish community throughout this great state that Jewish High Holy Days are not important or deserving of consideration …” and that “… it is probable that the date of Sept. 10, 2018, was chosen without knowledge of the holiday or its significance when this extraordinary session was called.”

I do not believe the governor’s mistake was intentional, but I do know it was avoidable. 

I have since spoken with Parson’s office as well as on the Senate floor to convey the seriousness of the matter. My words were warmly welcomed by many.  

Going forward, I am reminded that even in 2018, people of the Jewish faith still have a lot of work to do to facilitate awareness and understanding of our holidays and traditions.

I hope that by sharing my story with each of you, you too, will be comfortable heeding Hillel’s words:

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I?  If not now, when?”  

Our faith matters. 

Our holidays matter. 

We matter.

State Sen. Jill Schupp, a Democrat, represents Missouri’s 24th District.

 

 

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