The month of October only contains four-day weeks this school year. Two of these weeks give days off for two major Jewish holidays, the beginning of Rosh Hashanah on September 30 and Yom Kippur on October 9. However, according to Clyfe Beckwith, former Dean of Studies for the 2018-2019 school year, while the coordination of the schedule and the holidays happened to work out this year, it is not planned for future academic calendars.
“This year, Fall of 2019 has an extra week between Labor Day and Thanksgiving which gave rise to the opportunity for two days of rest. We do not expect to have similar days of rest in the coming calendars. The fact that these two days this term fell on Jewish Holidays is a joint effort from multiple offices,” wrote Clyfe Beckwith in an email to The Phillipian.
According to Sima Shmuylovich ’21, Board Member of the Jewish Student Union (JSU), Andover students had Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur off in the 2017-18 school year, but not during the 2018-19 school year due to a new rule that said no religious holidays wouldn’t necessarily merit a day off from school.
Shmuylovich explained how this rule placed students in a difficult situation where they would neglect their personal wellbeing in favor of their academic pursuits.
“I know a lot of students from JSU and [Rabbi Michael Swarttz, Jewish Chaplain] complained about it because it was really hard for students, especially on Yom Kippur, to fast. A lot of them felt a lot of pressure to go to school because especially at a school like Andover, if you miss a day you’re really far behind. Or some students had tests and they didn’t want to miss [them], so they would either break fast to do well on the test or they would fast and still go to school, which can be dangerous,” said Shmuylovich.
As a student that fasts during Yom Kippur, Sophie Glaser ’22, Board Member of JSU, recalled having school last year during Yom Kippur was especially difficult for her. Glaser expressed how her experience during Yom Kippur was marked by difficulty, something she hopes could be remedied by religious accommodations being made more readily available.
“I’d say that [having school during a religious holiday] can be really difficult, especially if it’s a holiday where someone is fasting or has to be praying during certain parts of the day. Last year it was a little hard for me to focus while I wasn’t eating so I think if they could strive to make accommodations for students and make it easier to get those accommodations and have [the day off] would definitely be beneficial,” said Glaser.
Swarttz echoed Glaser, explaining how although the school makes accommodations for religious observances, some students may cultural or academic pressure around missing classes and will therefore not make use of the policy.
“It is certainly helpful for Jewish students if there are no classes or activities on certain holidays, particularly on Yom Kippur, our Day of Atonement, which is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. While Andover has a policy that allows for students to miss class or activities for religious observance, some students feel pressured about missing out if they take off and having to make up what they’ve missed. Having the day off eliminates this tension,” wrote Swarttz in an email to The Phillipian.
According to Shmuylovich, having advocated for the reinstatement of days off during religious holidays, students had hoped that their action had caused the free days to correspond with the Jewish holidays. Students were still happy, however, after learning that the days off were simply coincidental.
“This year when we heard that we had days off we thought it was because the administration had listened to us and our concerns and they had done something about it. But our Rabbi told us that it wasn’t actually because of that. He said that it was just a happy coincidence,” said Shmuylovich.
Swarttz explained how when he arrived at Andover, he was impressed with the school giving Jewish students the day off for Yom Kippur. However, as the school schedule and holiday policy has changed, Swarttz expressed how although he understands the school’s scholastic need, he still feels it’s unfortunate for religious students.
“I was pleasantly surprised when I began my position at Andover to learn that there were no classes on Yom Kippur. This was a welcome accommodation to Jewish students’ religious needs. I was disappointed when this policy was changed a year or so ago, and I would have preferred that it had not been changed. Still, I can appreciate the challenges of creating an academic schedule, finding enough class days to cover our very full curricula, and meeting the religious needs of a very diverse student population,” wrote Swarttz in an email to The Phillipian.
In a similar sentiment, Glaser expressed hope for students who practice other religions on campus to also be able to get time off.
“There are also other holidays for other religions that [students] don’t have off. This was sort of a very happy coincidence that we were able to go to synagogue and practice those days, so I guess in the future it would be nice to make that a recurring thing,” said Glaser.
According to Reverend Anne Gardner, Director of Spiritual and Religious Life, Andover has historically provided accommodations to students of various faiths during religious holidays, such excused absences.
“Many offices have worked over countless years to build an academic calendar that allows students, staff, and faculty of faith to observe important religious holidays. This includes Eid, Yom Kippur, Christmas, and the like. In addition, students can always avail themselves of excused absences from both classes and athletic commitments as they see fit (for religious observances),” wrote Reverend Gardner in an email to The Phillipian.
As these days off were due to a one-time scheduling gap, Shmuylovich believes that the JSU will continue to advocate for not having school on religious holidays. As multiple religious groups on campus similarly don’t have days off during their holidays, Shmuylovich hopes to act as one united front.
“I definitely think [JSU] will be advocating for [no school on religious holidays] if it isn’t a continuing thing. Mainly, it’s just talking to the Rabbi and other religious groups because it’s not just JSU. Last year, they said all religious groups don’t get the day off for anything, so maybe working with [the administration] and coming as a stronger force rather than just one group of religious students. Just going to the administration, talking with them, voicing our concerns and troubles we have,” said Shmuylovich.