When I worked in the New York City School System, since so many teachers were Jewish, the schools were closed on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. If the schools had remained open, they would have been unsafe because so many Jewish teachers would have been absent.
In addition, with Easter and Passover usually falling in close proximity to each other, the first two days of Passover usually occurred during the spring break when schools were also closed.
However, in 1986, Passover and Easter occurred a few weeks apart from each other and the Board of Education voted to keep the schools open on the first two days of Passover. At the time, the United Federation of Teachers, the official name of the teachers’ union, estimated that about 40 percent of the teachers in the New York City School System were Jewish.
Although teachers could use their allotment of paid personal days to take off during the first two days of Passover, a large number of Jewish teachers strongly protested the Board of Education’s deci-sion to keep the schools open on those days. Jewish teachers might attend a seder on the evening of the first and second nights of Passover, but most of the Jewish teachers would not attend religious ser-vices during the daytime on the first or second day of Passover. Most felt no religious obligation to re-frain from working on these days and some felt no obligation to observe the dietary restrictions which the tradition imposes on Jews during Passover. But they felt that the Board of Education’s decision showed a lack of respect for the Jewish community.
And we Jews are very sensitive when those outside the Jewish community don’t respect the tradi-tions and practices of Judaism. But if we want others to respect our traditions, then I think we, as Jews, should also respect them.
There is a practice in Judaism known as the counting of the omer. Beginning with the second night of Passover, we count seven weeks -- 49 days. And the next day – the fiftieth day – is the holiday of Shavuot. Thus, the counting of the omer connects the holiday of Passover with the holiday of Sha-vuot. Passover is referred to in Hebrew as z’man cheiruteinu – the season of our freedom. Shavuot is referred to in Hebrew as z’man matan Torateinu – the season of the giving of the Law. On Passover ,we celebrate the freeing of the Israelites from the shackles of Egyptian slavery. On Shavuot, we celebrate the receiving of the commandments at Mount Sinai. However, commandments restrict freedom. Free-dom without restrictions results in anarchy.
As Jews, we are bound by the covenant made at Sinai. We have an obligation to the Jewish tradi-tion. We resent it when others don’t respect our traditions. But what about us? Don’t we have an obliga-tion to practice our traditions?
Rabbi David Weissman