The Invisible Jewish New Year

September 01, 1994

One of Webster's definitions for the word "sensitive" is "susceptible to the ideas, emotions or circumstances of others."

A year after Harford County officials pledged to be more sensitive to the High Holy Days of the Jewish community in drawing up public calendars, their sensitivity level is still wanting. Last year, Harford's Jewish community, with support from other civic and religious organizations, convinced the Board of Education to alter the 1994-95 school calendar so Jewish children wouldn't be forced to miss the opening day of school due to the Jewish New Year. The board received a calendar of Jewish holidays into the next century, but unfortunately the conflict has arisen again already.

An open house has been scheduled on the first day of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, to introduce 300 families to a much-awaited new school, Emmorton Elementary, in the county's "development corridor." School officials, who just months ago took pains to defuse such a dilemma, contend their hands are tied. But if the conflict centered on Dec. 25 we know what the answer would be: No one would conceive of holding a school opening on Christmas.

Similarly, the Harford County Council has scheduled a hearing on a sweeping ethics bill for Sept. 15 -- Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. If you're a Jewish resident of the county involved in public affairs, you're out of luck.

Baltimore County had been headed for a similar clash; it intended to open Hereford Middle School on Yom Kippur, due to construction delays. "I have a sixth grader," one of the affected parents wrote us. "She is extremely distraught over missing her first day of middle school to attend synagogue. . . Do I force her to attend services? The answer of course is no. Where then does this leave my family, as I attend holy day services without my oldest daughter? My Christian friends overwhelmingly sympathize. . . Imagine, attending church on Christmas with only half one's family."

Fortunately, reason prevailed and Baltimore County school officials realized that opening Hereford Middle the following week was best all around.

Issues regarding government or the schools are of great interest to the entire community. By taking actions that effectively penalize a group for its religious observances, officials damage community harmony. Oversights and slights such as these make some people question whether they are truly a part of their own community.

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