High Holidays to Remain Dropped from Cinnaminson School Calendar After Board Meeting

More than 100 people were there to voice their concerns about the school board’s decision to remove Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur from its school calendar for the first time in more than 40 years.

The Cinnaminson Middle School cafeteria was filled with confused and upset parents and community members of the New Jersey town during a school board meeting on Aug. 30.
More than 100 people were there to voice their concerns about the school board’s decision to remove Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur from its school calendar for the first time in more than 40 years.
“I pray for the great miracle,” Rabbi Steven Fineblum laughed before the meeting. The rabbi emeritus of Cinnaminson synagogue Temple Sinai said he had a feeling that this year they won’t have the High Holidays on the calendar.
“But there’s always hope.”
Unfortunately, maybe not.
While at the end of the meeting, board president Jean Cohen said not everything is closed for discussion, the calendar doesn’t appear to be changing.
Following standard agenda items, the public was invited to speak to the school board and Superintendent Salvatore Illuzzi.
About a dozen speakers expressed their feelings about the decision to drop the holidays and the repercussions it could have for the students.
“This is not just an issue for Jewish children, but for the children of all faiths who have to leave school for religious reasons,” said one speaker, Dr. Brad Bobrin. “I came to Cinnaminson because having the holidays on the calendar brings a message of openness. Taking them off the calendar, whether intentional or not, leaves me feeling like it’s not so open.”
Rabbi Boaz Marmon of Temple Sinai reminded the school board that while it promised students will not be penalized for missing school, the students don’t even have the option of doing schoolwork on the High Holidays per Jewish law.
He also voiced his concern for teachers, both Jewish and non-Jewish, who are allowed two personal days per year — which would be used up if a teacher decided to take two days for the holidays — or they may call in “sick.” Marmon said that has its own implications, as they are then asking the teachers to lie, opposing the integrity they are teaching the students.
However, the main point of critique was the lack of communication and notification.
The calendar was first discussed at the November board meeting, which Illuzzi said is how it is done every year, and was distributed to members of the community before it was put to a vote and posted in December.
But, many parents argued, they did not see the calendar nor were they given time to discuss it before the decision was made.
“If the ultimate decision still had been ‘we want to take these days off of our calendar,’” Marmon said, “things would look very different from where we’re sitting if we had been involved in that decision before the decision was made, rather than now.”
Speakers were concerned with the message the district is sending regarding openness and valuing diversity. Taking away these holidays could leave the Jewish community feeling a little less welcome, one speaker noted.
Rabbi Jerome David, senior rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Cherry Hill, called attention to the decorations adorning the cafeteria walls: signs promoting civic values such as unity, respect, kindness, pride, tolerance and equality.
“So you’re surrounded by these values that we’re trying to instill in our children, but it begins with us,” he said.
Upon entering the meeting, attendees could take two packets: one had the evening’s agenda and the second was a printout of the Anti-Defamation League’s guide to “School and Workplace Accommodations for the Jewish High Holidays,” which Illuzzi cited when he addressed the crowd.
The guide says, “The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits K-12 public schools from closing solely for the purpose of observing a religious holiday, including the High Holidays.”
He said the decision came from following this law as well as the declining population of Jewish students and staff, which the audience questioned.
After incorrectly determining that only 40 students out of 2,574 in the school district were Jewish based on the families affiliated with Temple Sinai — the only synagogue physically in Cinnaminson — Illuzzi said they took into account families who are a part of the school district but attend outside synagogues. They came up with 80 Jewish students.
“How many is enough?” the audience asked to no response.
Some parents argued that the number doesn’t include families who are interfaith or unaffiliated with a synagogue.
Illuzzi also pointed to the 400 professional and support staff in the district, of which 15 are Jewish.
While Tamara Gross, the president of the Cinnaminson Education Association, said she was “not thrilled” with the decision either, she got this number by calling teachers who were Jewish or ones she thought were Jewish to see if they celebrated or observed the holidays.
“We can assume, unless everyone self-identifies, we would never know the correct number,” Illuzzi said, to which someone shouted, “Exactly.”
However, Illuzzi wanted to call attention to the growing Muslim population, which also affected the decision to remove the High Holidays.
“Our Muslim population has its holidays just as you do, are their holidays worth less than yours?” he asked, as audience members answered they should include holidays for everyone.
“We will not close the schools for Jewish holidays, and we will not close the schools for Muslim holidays,” Illuzzi continued. “Our obligation is to leave the schools open for all holidays.”
Contact: mstern@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0740


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