Readers Write: From The Swimming Pool to Unesaneh Tokef?!
Thank you for a wonderful site filled with interesting, inspiring, and informative content and for the opportunity to make my voice heard on a topic that has bothered me for years; our community’s insistence on following the secular calendar for our yeshiva schedule.
For as long as anyone can remember, yeshivas in our New York community—the only Jewish community in the world with two months of summer vacation—have begun the school year in the days following labor day, no matter what date the Jewish calendar had.
The reason for this was simple: most of the yeshivas and schools relied on the public school system for busing and other provisions. If we were to deviate from their schedule, it would leave us finishing the school year earlier, but beginning early would leave us without busing and other services for the first few weeks of the year. Another oft-cited reason was that our English teachers came from the public school system, which began later.
None of these reasons apply anymore, and they haven’t for a while. We operate our own buses, and our English teachers come from our own community. We are an enormous community, ka”h, which is self-contained and free to fashion our school calendar as we see fit.
Which begs the question: Why do we insist on giving summer vacation for the months of July and August—which has us starting the school with days to Rosh Hashanah on some years—rather than Tammuz and Av, giving us a solid month of yeshiva before the onset of the Yomim Nora’im. Why wouldn’t we want to give our sons and daughters a month of Elul filled with learning, growth, and preparation for the awesome days ahead—at a time that it doesn’t even involve one day less of summer vacation!
Yidden who often could not tell you what the secular date is on a given day, stick to the “auspicious date” of Labor Day with an almost- religious fervor, refusing to budge from this schedule, even as the shofar blast of Elul has been reverberating in the Catskill Mountains for weeks. Can we really say that it’s appropriate for upstanding Yidden to spend the days preceding Rosh Hashanah—days of awe, of teshuva, of introspection and self-reflection while sitting at the swimming pool and conducting BBQs?
There has been a movement afoot, spearheaded by Torah Umesorah, to change this glaring wrong, but far too few yeshivas in the Heimishe community have gotten on board (a number have, including Chaim Berlin, Stolin, and some others). No one seems to want to be first; camps, bungalow colonies, and the yeshivas each seem to be waiting for someone else to do the right thing first.
We have been in America for three generations—and we do so much on our own. It’s time to shed the baby shoes and do the right, mature thing.
Ezra Kleinman, Boro Park.