Yom Kippur, Ramadan and School Funding

My children came home from school yesterday with a little note urging parents not to schedule appointments or take vacations on October 2, 2006, the day set to determine attendance for school funding.  The day is also the Jewish High Holiday Yom Kippur.  Many Jewish families choose to stay with familly at home to celebrate on that day of atonement, which turns this suggestion into a bit of a snub of the school’s Jewish students. 

Fortunately, the principal’s good faith advisement in an effort to protect her school’s funding was in error.  According to the Denver Public Schools:

Colorado’s official pupil count day and Yom Kippur both occur on October 2nd this year. As a result, many DPS families have expressed concern that their students will not be counted if they observe the holiday. The district would like to clarify that the Colorado State Board of Education rules provide for an eleven day count window around the official count day (October 2) during which students can be officially included for funding. Thus, the district is assured that students not in attendance on October 2, for any reason, will still be included in the official count.

What are the Jewish High Holidays about?

This evening is Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, which starts the Jewish High Holiday season that ends October 2, with Yom Kippur.  It is the first day the year 5766 in the Jewish calendar.

Yom Kippur is far more important from a Jewish religious perspective than Hanukkah, the celebration which the public schools universally mention and like to use as a Christmas substitute for Jews. 

Here is a brief explanation from Rabbi Seymour Rossel:

The Jewish year begins in the fall with the celebration of the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah (“Head of the Year”) is the official Jewish New Year’s Day, on which Jews look back over the year just passed and forward to the year about to come. The blowing of a ram’s horn in the synagogue or temple announces the coming of the new year in a memorable way. This ram’s horn is called a Shofar. The shofar was used in ancient times as a call to battle against the enemy. Used in the synagogue today, it calls Jews to battle against evil.

Jews believe that, during the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, God judges each person’s deeds, deciding who shall live and who shall die in the year to come. Therefore, Jews pray fervently, fasting for the entire day of Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement.” The day is devoted to praying for forgiveness for any sins which a Jew may have committed, or which the community may have committed. As the day comes to an end, the shofar is again sounded-in one long, clear blast. Then with a feeling of having a slate wiped clean and a fresh beginning, Jews enter into the new year.

Interestingly enough, American schools at every level traditionally start their academic years around the Jewish New Year, usually in September, rather than the current New Year, on January 1, or the historic start of the New Year, in the Spring.

The Christian liturgical calendar starts roughly the Sunday after Thanksgiving with Advent, although Holy Week and Easter, celebrated by Christians in the Spring, is closer in religious significance to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

Today is also the first day of the Muslim month of fasting, Ramadan, which will cover the entire attendance period, although customarily, Muslims would not take the entire month as a holiday, instead working and going to school during this period which is more of a special time of religious devotion.  The closest analogy to Ramadan in the liturgical Christian tradition is Lent.

According to the American Religious Identification Survey, about 1% of Coloradans (roughly 46,000) are Jewish, and less than 0.5% of Muslim.

Glenmary, a Catholic survey of religious affiliation which gathers information from churches and other organized religious communities, rather than opinion polls, estimates that about sixteen counties in Colorado have a significant Jewish population, which is 5%-10% of the population in Pitkin County, home to Aspen, and 1%-5% of the population in several metropolitan Denver counties.  About five counties in Colorado have non-negligable Muslim populations, with Denver having a population which is between 1% and 5% Muslim. 

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Andrew Oh-Willeke

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