Jews of Metafilter, lend me your opinions, please.
September 17, 2019 6:25 PM   Subscribe

You're Jewish, but you're not planning on going to temple for Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur. Your kid attends a public school where these are not days off. Do you let them stay home, knowing you're not really observing? Just on the principle that no Christian kid ever has to go to school on Christmas or Easter, irrespective of the fact that they might not attend church that day? Opinions wanted as I consider what to do with my kid.

Kid would DEFINITELY like to take those days off school, just on general principle. I'm happy to mildly note the religious meaning behind those days, but nothing more. Your thoughts?
posted by BlahLaLa to Religion & Philosophy (37 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Interesting question! My kids go/went to Sunday school, and my oldest did her bat mitzvah last summer, although we don't make it to actual services much, but they *don't* want to miss school to go to services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, so I don't make them. (My oldest is going to come to Rosh Hashanah services because she's going to get to do an Aliyah as a recent bat mitzvah (there were three, it was a banner year). But that will be a first.)

In my family, the choice is definitely either go to services or go to school.
posted by leahwrenn at 6:35 PM on September 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

There is of course no "right answer" to this.

But a couple thoughts

Just on the principle that no Christian kid ever has to go to school on Christmas or Easter, irrespective of the fact that they might not attend church that day?

Christian kids stay home for different reasons. Some to worship. Some just because school is closed on those days.

Every Christian kid does go to school on Yom Kippur. So on Yom Kippur, are you going to make your kid do schoolwork?

Do you have a job? Do you work on the high holidays? That seems like one useful standard to invoke. If you go to work on Yom Kippur (at a workplace that closes for Easter) maybe your kid should, too. If you don't, maybe your kid stays home. If you think your kid should live by different rules than you, you might want to be able to explain why.

(If you're looking for anecdotal datapoints: I'm Jewish. I don't observe the holidays. On holidays, I work, and my kid goes to school...)
posted by ManInSuit at 6:38 PM on September 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

I am Muslim not Jewish, and I don't have kids, so please take that into account, but I am writing as a member of a minority religion in a majority culture who has thought about this question, so maybe this will be a useful perspective?

My feeling is that taking a day off school marks a day as special, independently of whether one actually participates in rituals and celebrations or not. For me, it would be important to maintain the distinctness of my culture to keep kids home simply because it's a way of reinforcing that our cultural or religious days are as important as the Christian ones and as worthy of being marked.

When I was at university in the US I did actually skip classes on Eid a couple of times, even though I didn't go for Eid prayers or celebrate in any other way, and it was important to me to break my routine to mark it as a special day. But it's a very personal, and contextual, decision.
posted by tavegyl at 6:52 PM on September 17, 2019 [59 favorites]

Interesting question. I take the days off from work, partly as a matter of principle, but I go to services, partly because I would feel weird taking off work and not observing the holidays. (This is stupid: I have to use vacation days, so fuck them. There is no reason that I can't take a vacation day and sit on my ass eating bonbons. But I would feel weird taking the day, at a time when we would usually not be encouraged to take vacation, if I didn't go to shul.) I don't fast on Yom Kippur, though.

I guess that I think it's fine to take the day off if you mark the holiday in some way that feels meaningful to you, whether that's going to services or not. But I'm not sure I think it's kosher to take the holidays off if you're not going to observe them at all.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:57 PM on September 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

yes, in secular jewish families on high holidays the kids must stay home and watch culturally important films like dirty dancing
posted by poffin boffin at 6:59 PM on September 17, 2019 [66 favorites]

I would do something to mark the days -- doesn't need to be shul -- and keep the kid home. I generally took the day off to prep for the dinners, but you can do anything that feels right.
posted by jeather at 7:02 PM on September 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm not Jewish (raised Catholic, now not religious). I'd echo what tavegyl and others have said. Your religious and cultural traditions deserve as much respect as anybody else's, and if you feel like they should be on equal footing with similarly observed Christian holidays, then let your kid take them off and enjoy the day. What the heck.

Also, I don't know what the demographics of your community are like, but maybe if there are others who are already taking it off because its meaningful to them, then you'll help build up the critical mass that would force your school district to recognize the holidays, and thereby benefit others.
posted by Reverend John at 7:05 PM on September 17, 2019 [13 favorites]

I took Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur off when I was in high school for reasons similar to what Tavegyl mentions. I didn't want people to think that the majority was the default. This was particularly important to me because there was a reasonable amount of casual joking anti-Semitism in my high school, and I felt like it was worth reminding people that not everyone there was Christian.

I would take the lead from your kids, but I think it's worth doing something to mark the holidays even without heading to services. My mom and I always made a kugel and ate some apples and honey for Rosh Hashanah, and I'd think about how to make amends for things I wasn't proud of in the past year. Even informally, it was nice to mark that piece of cultural heritage.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:09 PM on September 17, 2019 [17 favorites]

So I grew up in a family that went to services during the High Holidays (and rarely at other times) and I have at times gone or not gone but I always stay home. I want to make the argument that there is both a principle and a community concern to keep in mind.

The principle, as stated above, is that it is a holy day and something to mark it as such is important.

The community concern is this: when the only Jewish people you know don’t stay home for the High Holy Days, it can confuse non-Jews and make it harder for more observant Jews to take those days off. There is, as states above on preview, a critical mass issue.

On a mildly note note, maybe do 10Q with your kids? Self reflection and giving up grudges, etc isn’t bad no matter how observant you are.
posted by eleanna at 7:10 PM on September 17, 2019 [9 favorites]

Jewish husband says send kid to school.
posted by waving at 7:28 PM on September 17, 2019

I have wrestled with whether to take these days off myself. I joke I’m not nearly religious enough to observe them but religious enough to feel bad about treating them as free days off. When I do take off, I make sure to spend time thinking about the meaning of the holiday, particularly for Yom Kippur. Seems like a reasonable compromise to me.
posted by ferret branca at 7:28 PM on September 17, 2019 [6 favorites]

As a Catholic kid who went to Philadelphia public school at a time when it was predominantly Jewish my experience was that school was held on Good Friday. My mother would give me the option to stay home. Typically I would sleep late and watch The Price Is Right. Letting you kid have the day off while mildly noting the religious significance is perfectly great. L'shanah tovah, G'mar Chatima Tovah, and gut yontif from the Pontif.
posted by Rob Rockets at 7:28 PM on September 17, 2019 [5 favorites]

What does Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur mean for you (I understand not religiously, but does it hold some meaning for you on a personal level?). We’re not particularly religious. I’ll attend some portion of Yom Kippur services because family. Rosh Hashana I don’t attend shul but neither do I go to work, treating it as a day that I spend with family doing “meaningful” activities together because it is important to me that we do so. Previously we have gone for hikes or apple picking (and which we may end up doing this year as well). We might see extended family for a meal. So my daughter stays home and understands it isn’t a regular old Monday. There’s minimal screen time, etc. and we spend it what I think the kids today call it “being present” and “in the moment”. But if the days don’t mean anything at all to you, then maybe probe your kid if it means anything to them beyond having the day off. If it’s just a day off for them, that’s cool but make sure you don’t end up having to sacrifice your own day to mind them, etc.
posted by dismitree at 7:34 PM on September 17, 2019

A thought: whatever your values are, do something to mark those values on the days of your choosing.
posted by amtho at 7:36 PM on September 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

I don't think you need to do anything special and I think you should totally let your kids stay home if they want. I look at this the same way that I look at assuming whiteness as default - it's stupid and needs to change. If it matters, I'm Latina and I grew up with non-mainstream religious beliefs (i.e. I am not a Catholic Latinx person) and while getting days off of school for Christian holidays was fine, I knew that it meant that one particular religious system was valued over the one I came from (and really, as a working adult, I still know this even though I'm an atheist now). No one makes "Christian" kids prove that they're doing anything on their holiday off that relates to their religion, and you/your kids shouldn't have to either.
posted by primalux at 7:51 PM on September 17, 2019 [6 favorites]

Keep the kid home. I like the ideas that Tavegyl et. al. articulate above, and I agree that there is important value in normalizing minority religious observance. And there are lots of ways that you can make the day feel special that don't involve going to services:

- 10Q is a great activity that you can do individually or as a family.
- Spend the day volunteering or doing community service, and talking about how it reflects your family's values and priorities.
- Write letters (real ones, on paper!) to friends and family to tell them why they are special to you
- Spend time in nature
- Bake muffins or cookies, and deliver them to your neighbors or your local fire station
- Do some spring cleaning; collect old or unwanted clothes and donate them to charity
- Collect leftover change from your house, find a Coinstar machine and donate the money to charity
- Depending on kid's age, consider going for a long bike ride, taking a walk outside, or doing yoga
- Come up with a list of new year's resolutions or commitments that you'd like to be guided by over the next year. Keep it somewhere private, or hang it on the fridge/bulletin board.

Good luck and have fun! You might create a really special and meaningful family tradition to share with each other.
posted by AngerBoy at 8:32 PM on September 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

Brought up reform Jewish on LI. Went to temple on the high holidays and the anniversary of my grandmother's death. As an adult, I do not attend services. I do take off from work except the first few years post college when I was the low man on the totem pole and watched the fort while my backers/partners took off.

My kids identify as being Jewish. The only time they have been in temple is every weekend their 8th grade year when all their classmates were getting bar/bat mitzvahed and they were invited. My stance was if you want to go to the party, attend the ceremony. As for school, our district has off so we never had to make the decision, but I think I would have had them stay home. I think it shows respect for other Jews who choose to observe the holiday and it would serve to get them thinking about the meaning of the holiday. I would not have made them sit in Temple. Likely I would take them out to lunch (not on Yom Kippur, duh) and asked them all to tell me what they know of the holiday. After that two minutes was up, it would have been a fun lunch of burgers, fries and milkshakes. On Yom Kippur, I would have them stay home.

I think it matters what age your child(ren) is/are and what they have done in previous years. I would talk with them to see if there is any peer pressure to take off or any bullying if they do or do not.
posted by AugustWest at 8:43 PM on September 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

I am similar in profile to Tavegyl.

One of the saddest parts of life has been no longer bothering to take my own religious holidays off due to a tendency towards a more secular outlook. But I feel like something big has been lost. Part of this is also the festive community spirit irrespective of level of religious fervor.

It's important to feel like I exist and have traditions. My children will hopefully celebrate more. However, this means one or two days off a year, NOT every single holiday possible. Also a culturally relevant activity w family, if not a religiously relevant one.

Any conclusion you come to having given it a good deal of introspection is certainly the right one, in that respect you'll be good to go no matter what!
posted by cacao at 8:46 PM on September 17, 2019 [4 favorites]

Just speculating but it sounds like you are 100% secular and maybe feeling you should acknowledge these holidays in some way out of some sort of guilt. If I'm right about that, don't worry about it, just let that guilt go.
posted by Dansaman at 9:01 PM on September 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

I grew up going to schul on both days, thus taking off school. Honestly, I hated the high holidays as a kid (services very long, all in Hebrew--Rabbi old and loud, yet unwrapping candies in schul somehow louder--shofar kinda funny, kinda scary--fasting is hard, hide Oreos under bed, sneak away from family and eat them all) and would have given anything to go to school on those days, which says a lot because I hated school, too. If your kids want to go to school, why make a big deal out of it?

If they just want some days off and you're OK with it, cool, though it might be worth explaining to them what the high holidays are and why we celebrate them. I wish my parents had made a more compelling case for them when I was young, because they're such an interesting time.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 9:34 PM on September 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

There are a lot of temples streaming the services, so kid can stay home and tune in for part of the day.
posted by Sophont at 10:32 PM on September 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Not Jewish, but I'm a non-observant Hindu who spent several years living in places where my religion isn't the dominant one, so.

This article about the right to non-Christian secularity was a game-changer for me. I take Diwali and Pongal (my major holidays) off every year for a couple of reasons:

a) normalising the idea that hey, not everyone is Christian/has the same holy days.
b) making it easier for my more observant friends to take off non-Christian holidays if they want to.

You don't have to go to shul, or even do anything super devout - the most I used to do was make my favourite dessert - but I think it's important to take those days off on principle.
posted by Tamanna at 3:15 AM on September 18, 2019 [16 favorites]

As a Jewish parent - I think it's great to have the child stay home to mark the holiday without going to temple or doing anything overtly religious, but you should mark it as a special day, whether you focus on the sacred or the heritage aspect doesn't matter. Do a few traditional things like have apples and honey for a sweet year on RH.

But I really *don't* think it's a good idea to frame it as "this is only fair because Christian kids get to stay home on their holiday." From a kid's perspective that comes close to making the holiday about a sort of "they got theirs, so you get yours," & I don't think there's much that's meaningful to emphasize in that kind of competitive or resentful framing ultimately, about holidays or anything else really, unless you're talking about rights, which is a different thing. Mark it not through a "not fair" lens which makes your holiday inherently the "Jewish not-Christmas" but through its own cultural/heritage specialness.
posted by nantucket at 5:15 AM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

I am non practicing but when Botanizer Jr. was in elementary school I kept her home in support of the only other Jewish family in her school who were observant. I just made sure she had a simple understanding of what the holiday was. Eventually numbers must have increased because the school department began considering the days as excused not counted toward absences. Now, looking at the school calendar I can't find any mention of this so it looks like it is discontinued.

But conditions have changed and, depending on your location, you might want to consider the current resurgence of anti-Semitism and how the teachers and other students will react. This may seem cowardly but I would not want to provide schoolmates with an excuse to bully.
posted by Botanizer at 5:49 AM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

I am Catholic (for frame of reference) and would let the kids stay home from school. However, it wouldn't be a "free day off". I think a nice way to observe any type of religious holiday without spending the day in services is to spend some time in service to others. Maybe work in a soup kitchen a few hours, volunteer at the food bank, help clean up a park, etc. There are many family friendly opportunities and I think this is a meaningful way to mark important holidays.
posted by maxg94 at 6:21 AM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

So, I think your question is a bit odd as you've framed it like you want to observe but not observe at the same time? A holiday is a cultural and religious event, either it exists and you take note of that, or it doesn't exist and you just go to work/school like everyone else who doesn't know it exists.

Framed like that, it seems you do want to observe but you think that the only way people do that is going to services. While that's my preferred way of observing - it's the only way I feel I can be in a room of other Jews taking note of our holiday together, feeling like we're part of something, building community - it's certainly not the only way.

I think that if you want to observe, but don't want to do it traditionally, there are plenty of ways to acknowledge the themes of the days without doing the traditional stuff. You can think of them as the Days of Awe and go hiking and think about the glory of nature and the urgency of climate change. You can think about Judgement and consider the development of ethics by playing competitive board games discussing them, or spend the day helping others knowing that your good deeds are morally important. Etc. etc.

But I would also consider how you think of yourself as Jewish. Not religiously, but culturally? Ethnically? We're an odd group - a culture, a religion, an ethnicity - and not everyone identifies on all three of those lines. But which one is it for you? Why do you think your kids need to know this, rather than just being American? What makes *you* and *your family* Jewish? If you can feel that out, you can pick an activity that actively reinforces your Jewish identity, however you form it.

It's also OK to just let it go. Personally, I do not choose that, but it's a valid choice as everything is in our culture and you don't have to feel guilty. You can go to work and school and think you happen to have some Jewish heritage but it doesn't need to affect your daily life, and let your kids decide if they are Jewish and how they want to be when they grow up. Really, that is fine!
posted by epanalepsis at 7:03 AM on September 18, 2019 [5 favorites]

As a non-Jewish parent and grandparent I will offer a thought that I have given my kids regarding their kids. Do not concern yourself with the largely-mythical “education calendar.” Anything that you keep your kid home to do with you will teach them more about life than they would have learned in school that day, even if it’s just going to the bar and shooting pool with you.

Obviously this must be tempered with common sense, but in this case, taking the day off to listen to you rationalize why you’re not going to temple/reminisce about your youth/whatever is not going to affect their progress in school enough to matter. So I would decide based on what you think the non-school issues might be (e.g., “I don’t think Junior needs a lesson in slacking off”—whatever is specific to your kid’s life situation).
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 7:08 AM on September 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

Yes, let them off school. And no, they don't have to wrestle with big questions, though sure, that would be cool. If the only religious days they have off correspond to Christian holidays, what kind of message does that send them? That their cultural history means literally nothing, and isn't even worth a nanosecond of change or demarcation or thought or specialness? That's bullshit in my opinion. I almost never go to services, but I absolutely take off those days even if its to lounge around. No one is requiring Christians to contemplate Jesus in order to 'earn' the right to commemorate Christmas, ya know? And yes, I DO often feel guilty for taking off work yet not going to services (leaving my office slightly in the lurch), but seriously: Fuck That Noise.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 7:27 AM on September 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

If you are going to make it special in some meaningful way then more power to you. If it's just like let's stay home and do nothing special just because we have some excuse to do so - that seems like not a great lesson for the kids. The idea that "no Christian kid ever has to go to school on Christmas or Easter, irrespective of the fact that they might not attend church that day" seems misplaced because your kids also do not have to go to school on those days. It's not like the Christian kids are getting extra days off or something. Sure, they are getting days off on "their" holiday, but this line of thinking leads back to the first point - is there anything special/meaningful for you about the Jewish holidays as opposed to any random day? If no, then there really isn't any difference between your kids and Christian kids getting the same days off. If yes, do something special/meaningful!
posted by Mid at 7:31 AM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm Jewish, and my child is too, but I don't attempt to force a particular mode of belief on him. However, when it comes to the high holy days, I have told him that if he wants to take off from school he has to come to temple with me and behave himself. So if you're not observing in some way, I don't see why either of you need a vacation.
posted by ubiquity at 8:35 AM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

I stream services from Central Synagogue for the high holidays. If I had a kid who wanted to stay home from school on the high holidays, and I didn't want to actually attend services, I would probably insist on watching the service, and/or doing a service project like volunteering or picking up trash in the park etc. Something to connect me to the wider Jewish cultural edifice in a way that felt authentic.
posted by juniperesque at 9:58 AM on September 18, 2019

I am jewish, went to services until my early 20s when I was far from home and never really found community again. For years I fasted anyway, tried different services, and now I don't observe, except inwardly. Yom Kippur is a day for contemplation, for looking back and forwards. What have I been doing and how should I do it better?

I think your kids could benefit from taking the days and your community (however you define it) could broaden to include more than christian life, and I also agree with those above saying that any day you spend with your kids instead of sending them to school will be more beneficial to them than any single school day is.

Things I have done for Yom Kippur that were not work or services: a long walk in a natural setting; an hour or two with a journal or sketchbook; a long talk with my mom (she still goes to shul but there's a break before Neilah and we usually talk then.) Fasting is absolutely a good way to set the day apart.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 11:25 AM on September 18, 2019

Kid Ruki stays home but doesn't go to shul. We couldn't afford shul membership when Kid Ruki was little (yes yes, reduced dues, the mister was too proud) so this is what we've always done. The mister and KR have opinions about organized religion, so wouldn't want to go to shul now anyway, but are both fiercely protective of their Judaism. They fast on Yom Kippur and refraining from work/school is how they observe Rosh Hashanah (plus a festive meal).
posted by Ruki at 11:26 AM on September 18, 2019

Some anecdota. I am a Conservative, and at least a little bit observant Jew.

-In college one year, I did my usual "go up and tell the professor X day is Rosh Hashanah so I won't be in class", and the professor asked me if I was going to services.

Let me tell you, I was so pissed off about that I nearly didn't go to services. Well, not really, but it definitely made me wish I wasn't going to services, because screw you dude, not all Christians go to church on Christmas or Easter, and the way I observe my holiday shouldn't be policed by you. So, plus one to the "Mark the day however you dang well please."

-I am more observant than other Jewish people I work with. I like going to the second day of Rosh Hashanah services, but currently, the other people I work with don't take the second day off, so I feel kind of compelled to work on the second day. So plus one to the "This makes things easier for more observant Jews" column.
posted by damayanti at 12:37 PM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

In college one year, I did my usual "go up and tell the professor X day is Rosh Hashanah so I won't be in class", and the professor asked me if I was going to services.

This happened to me, too! I went back to school after Kid Ruki was born so it had the added bonus of making me feeling ashamed about not being able to afford dues. I went to class but spent the whole time silently seething.

Kid Ruki has a Monday/Wednesday class this semester where the prof only allows two absences before grade penalties are assessed and the High Holidays aren't exempt, so if she stays home, she can't miss any additional classes. So any observant Jew in that class is going to see their grade drop if they get sick or have an emergency of any kind.
posted by Ruki at 2:33 PM on September 18, 2019

I've taught in 3 school districts in 3 states. In all these districts, the policy depended on how many Jewish teachers there were -- that is, how many subs they would have to hire for each holiday. They didn't take fairness into consideration and it wasn't a matter of favoring any group. Please don't assume that most administrators give a damn about showing respect for any religion.

In all the districts, teachers were told that whenever one or more kids stayed away from school for any religious observation, that class wouldn't "count" for anybody. We couldn't give quizzes, homework or tests, or base any of the grade on what happened in class that day.

All of this was cynical and ridiculous, but it had mostly to do with money and preventing complaints. In 2 of the districts they decided that closing school on Jewish holidays would save enough money that it was worth putting up with complaints by non-Jewish teachers and the teachers' union that the additional no-school days would extend the school year.
posted by wryly at 2:49 PM on September 18, 2019

Thanks for the feedback, everyone. I'm leaning toward letting kid decide if he wants to stay home, and then doing some very mild observance (apple + honey, break fast with friends we love), while simultaneously asserting our presence as a minority religion in a majority culture.

FWIW, Kid goes to a majority Latinx school, and as far as I know there are only a handful of other Jewish kids, so I don't see the school ever making these days off a priority. Which is understandable, but also makes it more likely for me to feel that they're important, on principle.
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:47 PM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

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