Missing school is hard. When absent, you miss lectures, assignments and social experiences. The majority of students miss class, mostly because they are sick or because the beach is calling them.
But imagine if you had to miss school for another reason. Imagine if you had to miss class because it is a Jewish holiday. That’s my life.
The school system in the United States, and in a large part of the rest of the world, is based off of the Gregorian calendar. Think about it: Winter Break conveniently coincides with Christmas and New Years. Spring Break opportunely occurs during Easter. But what about Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year)? What about Passover?
Every new semester, before I even think about my class schedule, I have to think about how Jewish holidays will affect my class times. How much will I have to miss? How many assignments will I have to turn in late? How many exams will I have to make up? And then, I have to bravely approach each of my professors in the first week of class to tell them that I will be missing school. This is their first impression of me: a student who already has to miss school because of something that she has no control over.
Don’t get me wrong—celebrating the Jewish holidays is one of my favorite things. I wouldn’t be who I am if I went to school on Jewish holidays and didn’t observe them. Celebrating Jewish holidays gives me a reason to eat mountains of my favorite dishes, to laugh, sing and dance with friends and family far into the night.
Observing our holidays, I feel a kinship with Jews around the world, no matter where they are, because they are doing the same thing I am. They are eating challah on the Sabbath, they are listening to the shofar (ram’s horn) on Rosh Hashanah, they are dancing with the Torah on Simchat Torah, they are thanking God for the good things in their lives and asking for help with the bad.
Being part of the Jewish community is like having a huge extended family. Jews traditionally welcome complete strangers into their homes simply because they do not have a place to eat on the Sabbath or holidays.
I had such an experience when I was visiting England. My father and I stayed in Golder’s Green, which is a predominantly Jewish suburb just outside of London. It was a Friday, and we were walking on the street looking for the post office. Suddenly a man stopped us on the street. He could immediately tell that we were not local, and he offered us a place at his table for Sabbath dinner. Later, a woman with many children proposed the same courtesy.
Even though I have experienced this type of hospitality many times in many countries, it always strikes me. I love being part of a people whose culture includes such a caring tradition.
Sure, missing school for a serious student is a pain, but being Jewish defines who I am. I am proud of my heritage and my People and I wouldn’t change a thing.
In the Talmud we learn “know from where you come [and] know where you are going.” Thanks to my family and my upbringing, I know where I come from and where I am going. I am a link in a very long chain that reaches back over three millennia to Mount Sinai. And I couldn’t be happier.