Some Jewish Students Feel Slighted as Potomac Ignores the High Holy Days


Photo by Joe King/Creative Commons

A young man blows a shofar (a trumpet made from a ram’s horn), a cherished High Holy Days tradition.

Ella Adamec, Photography Editor

Once again, Jewish students at Potomac experienced the holiest days of their year without an assembly, a day off, or any other meaningful recognition. Rosh Hashanah, observed this year from September 25th to September 27th, commemorates the Jewish New Year and starts a 10 day period leading to Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism. Observant Jews fast from sunset to sunset on Yom Kippur and avoid work of any kind on either holiday.

“I did not miss school for Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur,” says senior and Jewish Student Association club co-leader Olivia Eads. “I was stressed about what would happen if I did…I know that I could have said ‘let’s reschedule this’ but I was worried I would get behind.”

Students who planned to miss school were not expected to take tests or turn in work the day they returned. But choosing to observe either holiday was treated like a planned absence– you fill out a form whereupon you’re excused from school, but you must communicate with teachers to make up work.

“It was frustrating. For a few of my classes, my teachers did not email me back when I told them I wouldn’t be there,” senior and JSA co-leader Mayah Pedigo said. For example, “in my Spanish class, I didn’t know I was going to have a test the class I came back.”

In a “student life updates” email and in his Next Week in the Upper School regular Friday email, Mr. Westermann noted that Mrs. Weidenfeld’s classroom would be available for fasting on Wednesday. While the gesture offered students a place to be with their fasting peers while avoiding the discomfort of watching their classmates eat, it didn’t make it easier to focus on class on an empty stomach.

“Mrs. Weidenfeld asked us ‘why did you guys make the decision to come to school?’ Every single student in the room said it was because they were worried about things that they would miss,” Olivia said, though she didn’t address the reality that students routinely miss class for field trips, co-curricular commitments, and illness.

Upper School Science Teacher Dr. Isabelle Cohen took the days off and said that “Preparing for two classes one or two days ahead of time, that’s just double the work.”

Many public schools in the DC area closed on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, including those in the Montgomery, Arlington, and Fairfax County systems. (Even with those closures, the public schools have more academic days in their school year.) On the other hand, private schools, including some with a significantly higher percentage of Jewish students than Potomac, typically hold school on the Jewish holidays.