The first time I read it, it didn’t register. September 10: first day of school. My two youngest are in kindergarten and the first year of preschool this year, so we’re all a little anxious about the beginning of school. I wrote it on my calendar, and that’s when I made the connection.
September 10 is the first full day of Rosh Hashanah. I’ve already gotten the day off, I’ve already planned the menu, and we’re having 15 people over for dinner. And… it’s the first day of school.
We all face the dilemma of taking our children out of school for the High Holidays, which always fall at the beginning of the school year. But the first day of school? That presents a whole new challenge. The first day is already filled with anxiety and nervousness, and now, if I take that experience away from my children, they’ll go in on the second day already feeling left out and uncomfortable.
But, being Jewish is all about pressing pause on life when the rest of the world carries on. And if you’re in an area where there aren’t that many Jewish families, like I am, it can feel like you’re constantly explaining why you need this day off from work, and why Hanukkah isn’t the same as Christmas, so no, it doesn’t count as a High Holiday, and so you do actually need these days off in the early school year, and no, they shouldn’t count as sick days.
At this point in my life, I’m pretty straightforward about shutting down the rest of my life for a few days in the fall to prioritize Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (I do need help prioritizing Shabbat, but maybe that will come next). But when it comes to my children, I worry. Imagine that… a Jewish mother worrying about her children!
So it’s the first day of school and the first day of Rosh Hashanah, and I’m really torn. Do I send them for the first hour and then take them out to go to synagogue? Or do we just spend the day together as a family and then bring them in on the second day of school, hoping that missing the first day doesn’t have lasting consequences?
I want to commit to Judaism and make it a priority in my kids’ lives, but it’s so hard when major things in our secular life are occurring at the exact same time. My daughter is particularly shy and anxious and the first day of school is super important. But so is showing up for Rosh Hashanah. What am I teaching my children if we miss school for syngagoue? And what am I teaching them if we miss synagogue for school?
Here’s another option: Send them both to school and pick them up early, right before the afternoon kids service. But does it truly feel like a holiday if you’re squishing your secular and religious life together on what should be a very Holy Day for Jewish people? Can’t there be a few days in the year where Judaism takes priority, where the holiday is the main focus? Or do we always have to fit Judaism within the crevices of our secular existence?
What would you do?