When I was much younger, in my junior high and high school years, the last days of the Passover holiday were a time I truly cherished. Even if school was in session, my father would allow me the days off from school to be with him in synagogue for holiday services. It was school policy that no new material or exams could be assigned on the holy days, and my parents were willing to make sure that policy was observed. After all, as I was the only student in my class of 550 students to utilize the excused absence, there wasn’t much incentive for teachers to abide by the policy.
There are 13 “holy days” on the Jewish calendar: the first and last 2 days of Passover; the 2 days of Shavuot; the first and last 2 days of Sukkot; the 2 days of Rosh Hashanah; and Yom Kippur. Schools are closed on the 3 days of the “high holy days” in most New York and New Jersey districts, and some of these holy days occasionally fall on weekends (especially this year). Given that our calendar and dietary rules are two of the things which serve to best distinguish Jewish people from others, one would think that the Passover holiday would be an ideal time to avoid school and find our way to synagogue (where we are serving the very tastiest of Passover cakes this Friday and Saturday). When Jon Stewart of The Daily Show claims that Easter crushes Passover as holidays go, he skips the fact that Easter always takes up a Sunday, whereas 4 of the days of Passover are excused absences from school!
So maybe you scheduled a family vacation on some kosher-for-Passover island to avoid all the extra work that accompanies this holiday. But if you can’t join us this Friday and/or Saturday to celebrate our freedom, you have another opportunity that is 45 days away! As we count up to the holiday of Shavuot to celebrate the giving of the Torah, please consider that our next festival’s 2 holy days fall on Sunday and Monday of Memorial Day weekend! That means that you (and your children!) can pull an all-nighter with us at our Tikkun Leyl Shavuot (our all-night learning session from Saturday night through Sunday morning), catch up on your sleep through the day, and then join us on Monday for services and a Shavuot/Memorial Day barbecue picnic! Okay, so dairy is the prescribed holiday food, but we can make an exception for one meal if it means that we can bring true meaning to our religious and secular holidays. Besides, the opportunity to celebrate receiving the Torah, to recite Yizkor in remembrance of our own loved ones, to give honor to our fallen troops and to be together as a community–all in one day? Who could ask for anything more?!
And maybe, just maybe, the experience will inspire you to give your kids a holy day off from school when we celebrate Simchat Torah on Tuesday, October 6.
Rabbi Craig Scheff