Teens share their thoughts on the High Holidays

Teens from Congregation Shaare Emeth at Creve Coeur Park.

Teens from Congregation Shaare Emeth held a tashlich service at Creve Coeur Park on Rosh Hashanah. 

 

The Jewish High Holidays begin with Rosh Hashanah and extend through the end of Sukkot, encompassing a month-long holiday season peppered with days that many Jews spend in services and with their families.  Many of these holidays are little known to non-Jews, which can make it very difficult for teens in non-Jewish schools to observe without feeling some consequences. Three Jewish teens from the St. Louis community shared their thoughts about observing Jewish holidays.  

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Jake Goldman is a sophomore at Ladue Horton Watkins High School. He is a member of Congregation Shaare Emeth, and misses school on the High Holidays for both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. 

How do you feel about missing school for the High Holidays?

“It’s important to go to services during the High Holidays. But a lot of teachers don’t really understand this, so I still have to make up all the work or I lose points for things that I couldn’t do in class. For me, the gym teachers have been particularly bad at this. I’ve lost points because I wasn’t participating on the Jewish holidays. But it’s my religion. I can’t opt out of it, so I don’t understand why I’ve gotten points taken off. They’ve given me special extra credit assignments to help me get my grade back up but I don’t really understand why I’m being penalized for missing school due to my religion.”

What are some things people will say to you when they hear that you are missing school for the High Holidays?

“There are a few people that when I’m missing school, ask me about what the holiday is, and I happily answer them. But some people, as a joke say, ‘I wish I could miss school.’ I personally don’t care because I know that these people are joking. However, when people are caring enough to ask what is the holiday about and why is it important, I love being able to explain to them. In most cases, they’re actually very receptive to learning about it, and they’ll ask more questions. [I do this so that] the next time, they’ll know what’s actually happening within our religion and culture.”

What do you think is important for people to understand about missing school for the High Holidays?

I think people need to realize more that it’s not something that I just do for fun because I want to miss school. I feel like it’s important for them to understand because if people are ignorant of other people’s cultures and religions, they’re going to make assumptions. They’re then susceptible to being misinformed about certain aspects which could lead to inaccurate decisions and biases later in life.” 

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Demi Fine is a senior at Eureka High School and is a member of Congregation B’nai Amoona. Like Goldman, Fine also misses school for the High Holidays in order to celebrate them with her community. 

How do you feel about missing school for the High Holidays?

“Sometimes it can be hard because I have so much stuff to catch up on. My teachers try not to stress me out too much but I feel like I have to get everything done in those two days. [During the holidays], I’m not just sitting at home and doing nothing. I go to services both days so I don’t always have time to do everything, which can be really stressful.”

Were there any circumstances where you felt that you got unfair comments?

“Not that I can think of. I’ve had teachers ask if I could come in before school or after school where I’ve just said, ‘No, I can’t.’ But, I’ve never been offended by it, I just think that they don’t know enough to understand.” 

What do you think is important for people to understand about missing school for the High Holidays?

“I think what people need to understand is that although it seems fun to miss school, it’s not a free pass to not do your homework, not make up tests or quizzes, not re-learn lessons. It’s that we’re taking time to remember our history and to learn about our past; we’re actively celebrating the holiday. A Christian person wouldn’t go to school on Christmas or Easter. For these same reasons, we don’t go to school on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.”

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Amarah Friedman is a senior at MICDS, and is a member of Nusach Hari B’nai Zion. Unlike both Goldman and Fine, however, Friedman does not miss school for the holidays because of her school’s inclusive policies. 

How do you feel about missing school for the High Holidays?

“Luckily, MICDS has been relatively accommodating. We have the first day of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur off. That’s been really nice because I don’t have to miss any school for the High Holidays, and Hanukkah is over a break. I also generally don’t miss school for the smaller holidays. Before [the new policy change] happened, I didn’t like it but I did it anyway.”

Have you ever had any circumstances with teachers that felt unreasonable when you missed school?

“I remember [a teacher] had said that I could miss school, but my homework had to still be turned in at the same time or else I would be docked on late policy. I did not feel that this was fair…[However] my school has been really good about changing that with their recent [no school] policies.”

What do you think is important for people to understand about missing school for the High Holidays?

“I think it’s important for people to understand that this is not a time that we take off arbitrarily, hanging around the house. I think it’s important for them to understand that this is a day of prayer and connection with God.”