The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
After much anticipation, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that all public schools in the five boroughs will now be closed for two Muslim holidays: Eid al-Adha, which marks the end of the Festival of the Sacrifice, and Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan at the end of the summer (this closing will happen during summer school).
Although the City Council had approved a resolution to add these holidays to the school calendars in 2009, Mayor de Blasio (who has been in office a little over a year) has finally implemented this change.
Public school closings for religious holidays reflect the composition of the communities they serve. In many communities with large Jewish populations (Scarsdale and Roslyn, NY, Deerfield, IL, Newton, MA), public schools are closed for the High Holy Days and some of Passover. Closings for Jewish holidays vary across the United States, from one day of Rosh Hashanah off, to no recognized days off for Jewish holidays (Boston, MA).
In Dearborn, MI, where there is a large Muslim population, the public school district was closed on the days around Eid in October 2014. This is a meaningful example of how the community and the school district work together to ensure that the students and their families are welcomed and can participate in the school.
The announcement from the mayor comes as our attention is even more focused on communities with religious minorities in the United States following the news from Raleigh, UCLA and many more. More than ever, should we do all we can to welcome and celebrate people of all religious traditions.
What is additionally interesting about the NYC announcement is that the Muslim population in New York makes up 2% of the population, whereas the Hindu population makes up 3% and Diwali is not officially a day off. All students who need to be excused for religious reasons ought to be able to do so, and to work with their teachers and the schools to figure out how to accommodate absences or other needs. Religious freedom in our schools means that each student is able to observe the teachings of their faith, and that teachers should accommodate as needed without endorsing a particular religion or tradition.
In the Torah, Jews are taught to accept others, without prejudice or bias. The Torah states "You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart. Reprove your kinsman, but incur no guilt because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am the Eternal" (Leviticus 19: 17-18).
We know that in the United States, Jews have flourished here where elsewhere they have been targets of persecution and oppression. Just as we have flourished, we know that the laws protecting religious freedom and church-state separation can and should ensure that people of all and no faith traditions may thrive and live their lives according to their faith, beliefs and conscience.