BY: JACK MORGENSTEIN
If you’re anything like me, teacher workdays are to school like Morgan Freeman-narrated nature documentaries are to America. That is, everyone loves them and not a soul would mind just a few more. Before the school year starts, administrators from all parts of WCPSS convene like witches in covens of old, and one of the most important things on their dockets is the schedule for the upcoming year. Managing school days, holiday breaks, summer, and makeup time (along with a million other factors) is a delicate balancing act, during which WCPSS must please teachers, students, and principals alike. However, this Wednesday, October 9th, is no normal teacher workday; and for that matter, last Monday, September 30th, was no normal teacher workday either. These two “teacher workdays” are actually meant to recognize the two most important holidays in the Jewish faith: Rosh Hashanah, on September 30th, and Yom Kippur, on October 9th, exactly 10 days later. This might make you ask yourself, “Wait, there are Jews in Wake County?” The answer is that there are more than you might think, and I know this for certain… because I’m one of them.
For the last few years, we’ve had teacher workdays on these holidays as part of WCPSS’s effort to become more inclusive of Wake County’s rapidly changing population demographic. Something many take for granted is not having school on major Christian holidays; but for years, I’ve had to miss many days of school every semester, just because of my religion. Not falling behind on schoolwork every time is something I couldn’t be more thankful for, now that WCPSS is beginning to recognize the two holidays.
So, now you know why we have school off on a random Wednesday halfway through October, but what are Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur? The Jewish holiday most gentiles have probably heard of is Hanukkah, but in reality, Hanukkah is a minor holiday to religious Jews. Collectively, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are known as the “high holidays” a remark on their importance in Judaism. Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish new year. Yeah, that’s right: Jews all over the world celebrated the new year in September. Fortunately, it’s not just a case of mass delusion; Judaism actually runs on a separate lunar calendar from the 12-month Gregorian system we all know and love. In our calendar, we have 365 days a year, with a leap day every fourth year. The Jewish calendar is 353-355 days long in a normal year, with a whole leap month added seven years out of every nineteen. What this means is that Rosh Hashanah fell on September 10th last year, fell on September 30th this year, and will fall on September 19th next year. But in all three years, Rosh Hashanah fell on the Jewish Tishrei 1. It’s 2019 on the Gregorian calendar, but to Jews, it’s 5779. Crazy, right?
Rosh Hashanah itself is as straightforward a holiday as they come: I go to services in the morning and then have another service in the evening. The reason the new year is so important to Judaism has a lot to do with what it represents. Judaism is very big on forgiveness, and on Rosh Hashanah, you look back at your year and reflect on what mistakes you made. The evening service incorporates throwing breadcrumbs into a lake, symbolically casting off the sins of the previous year. But, just throwing some breadcrumbs into a lake isn’t enough to truly atone for a whole year’s worth of misdeeds. That’s where Yom Kippur comes in.
Yom Kippur is always exactly 10 days after Rosh Hashanah, a time period known as the Days of Awe. During these Days of Awe, Jews are supposed to continue reflecting on the previous year, specifically performing repentance, prayer, and charitable acts to close out the year on a good note. Requests for forgiveness are expected to be shared between family, friends, and neighbors. These sentiments build in the Jewish community until the day of Yom Kippur, translated as literally “day to atone.” From sundown the day beforehand to sundown on the day of, Jews are instructed to fast. Fasting is the practice of not eating or drinking for extended periods of time. By faithfully fasting, it is seen in many’s eyes as a request for forgiveness from god. At sundown on Yom Kippur, Jews break the fast with friends and family. This feast with those you care about most is meant to kick off the rest of the year on a positive note.
No matter what faith you follow, it’s always important to occasionally take a look at the diversity surrounding you. This Wednesday, when you’re sitting in your bed, procrastinating on that math homework you don’t want to do, take a moment and think about the Jews within your own community, who are fasting while doing the exact same thing.