Like it or not, High Holy Days often mean conflict

As the High Holy Days approach, the anxiety level rises for many Jewish families. Is it because we haven’t worked hard enough to live up to the commitments we made last year? Is it because we haven’t made a great enough effort to ask those whom we may have offended for their forgiveness? Have we honestly repented for our sins of omission and commission?

Well, of course, it’s all of those, and for many Jewish families, there’s an additional anxiety-trigger at High Holy Day time: Conflict. Our secular and our religious responsibilities often conflict with each other on the calendar. This brings on inner conflict as to which commitments we choose to honor and which to sidestep.

This reality is particularly stressful for Jewish families with school-age children. As adults, we have learned over the years that the sky does not fall when we miss a scheduled activity that falls at the same time as our religious observance. But this experience is not transmitted to our children along with our DNA. It must be learned by them. Sometimes, however, the learning process causes an unpleasant atmosphere in the family: conflict.

The Jewish Community Relations Council makes every effort to assist families to minimize school conflicts. Twice a year, in May and August, a seven-year calendar of major Jewish religious observances is mailed, along with an explanatory letter, to every school principal and superintendent in the Bay Area. The letter asks schools to schedule events so that conflicts will be avoided, and asks that students be given ample time to make up work they have missed.

The JCRC expects schools to make reasonable accommodation for Jewish religious observances and acts as an advocate for students if the school is not willing to accommodate. No child should be penalized academically by absence for religious observance. If a student is penalized for not participating in a required activity, or would incur a penalty because a makeup is not provided, JCRC insists that the Education Code is enforced and no penalty is imposed. Voluntary activities, such as a school dance, however, are not covered by the Education Code, or treated in the same manner as mandatory school activities.

Jewish parents can do their part by making it a habit to inform their schools about the holidays their family observes at the beginning of each year for the next school year, because schools establish their calendars more than a year in advance.

JCRC has had a good response over the years to its semi-annual calendar letter. Often schools will call the JCRC to ask if it would be all right to schedule an activity on a date they are unsure about. Private organizations are more difficult to influence. This year the California Youth Soccer League has a tournament scheduled for Sept. 25, Yom Kippur. The JCRC has been in touch with the CYSA leaders who have agreed to inform all coaches of the conflict so that Jewish players will not be penalized in any way for their absence.

The JCRC has also been in touch with the college testing service that has scheduled the first ACT examination on Sept. 25. ACT has five subsequent dates scheduled and students can also arrange to take the test on a one-on-one basis with ACT underwriting the cost.

Sometimes, schools schedule activities at a time that cannot be changed, and Jewish students may find that they must make a choice between attending services with their families, or going on a field trip with their classmates. At times like this, family conflicts can occur, and the “sky will not fall” lesson may be very painful to learn. I believe that every family must handle this situation according to its own values and in the context of its established interpersonal dynamics.

I also believe that it is not realistic to expect the diaspora society in which we live to adjust itself to the Jewish calendar 100 percent, so that we will never be faced with difficult choices, or never made to feel that we are “different.” This is a difficult concept for Jewish children who want to be just like their classmates in every way. But out of conflict growth can occur, and if we parents reduce our own anxiety, sooner or later our children will grow to understand and value their difference.

Jackie Berman is the education specialist for the Jewish Community Relations Council.

Local voices welcomed

J. welcomes your local voice on timely Jewish issues and events of the day. Submissions will not be returned and are subject to editing or rejections. Approximate length: 750 words. E-mail text, not attachments, to the attention of: Woody Weingarten at [email protected]. Fax to (415) 263-7223. Mail to J. the Jewish news weekly, 225 Bush St., #1480, San Francisco, CA 94104