A Frederick County Public Schools calendar decision has made it harder to keep Yom Kippur holy, members of local Jewish congregations said.
From sundown Tuesday until sundown Wednesday, Jews were supposed to be introspective, fasting and not participating in work or play. Wednesday was also Fair Day on the FCPS calendar, which implies that students have the day off to attend the county’s annual agricultural and carnival ritual, The Great Frederick Fair.
“[The Board of Education] can choose whatever day they want for Fair Day,” said Rabbi Dan Sikowitz, of Congregation Kol Ami, but aligning it with Yom Kippur made keeping the holy day harder, he said. “Not that I think it’s the end of the world.”
Several months ago, when the calendar was presented, the Wednesday off was not identified as the day selected for Fair Day, which has traditionally fallen on a Friday.
“I didn’t even look to see what day Fair Day was,” Sikowitz said. “It wasn’t transparent. When we looked at calendar a year ago, it just said off for this day.”
Only since school started did he realize Fair Day coincided with Yom Kippur, and it wasn’t an accident.
The Frederick County Board of Education wanted to minimize disruptions in the school calendar, said Board of Education President Brad Young in an interview.
He said that in September, with Labor Day, Fair Day and the Jewish holiday, students hardly ever are in school for a full five days. Instead of giving students days off both Friday for Fair Day and Wednesday for Yom Kippur, the school board decided to combine the two.
“It’s almost October before they have a full week of school,” Young said. “It’s hard for them to get into a groove.”
Rabbi Jordan Hersh, of Congregation Beth Sholom, expressed disappointment in the decision. Not attending services for the holiest day is like not attending Easter services for a Christian, he said. On top of that, the “essential practices” of the day are fasting and introspection, but those can be challenging to carry out when the fair is happening. “I think a lot of parents are conflicted,” he said.
The calendar committee that organizes the school system calendar every year has already begun to meet, Young said. He encouraged members of the public to reach out to that committee or the Board of Education with comments.
Sikowitz and Hersh also encouraged their members to share their concerns with the school board.
Sikowitz said he knew the board’s decision was made thoughtfully, not maliciously. “Nobody did anything for any bad reason at all,” he said.
He said Jewish parents would be up against the tug from youngsters and the draw of the fair’s festivities: more like gorging and hilarity than fasting and introspection. “That’s absolutely not what we’re supposed to be doing,” he said.
Jeremy Bauer-Wolf contributed to this story.