The Wrong Way to Acknowledge Yom Kippur

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The Wrong Way to Acknowledge Yom Kippur

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Groton’s website asserts that the “Groton Difference” is that “the School’s intimacy and ideals foster inclusion.” The overlying ideas of diversity and inclusion that produce this “Groton Difference” have gained immense notoriety in recent years. However, even though the School has strived to become more a racially and socio-economically inclusive place, as a Jewish student, it feels like religious-based inclusivity is lacking.

Groton athletic teams competed Friday, September 29. It was an unusual schedule – having games on Friday in place of the usual Saturday games. The incentive behind moving games from Saturday to Friday? Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is a day of atonement. It bears a similar religious importance to Jews as Easter or Christmas does to Christians – it’s the religious pinnacle of the year. Jews generally attend services, avoid working or attending school, and fast for 24 hours.

In place of a Saturday schedule followed by games, Saturday took on Friday’s full academic schedule. Jewish students were allowed to miss school, but at the expense of having to make up major commitments. This move, though well-intentioned, was infuriating.

The Jewish population at Groton is small, with only twenty regular attendees of Jew Crew, but twenty is significant in a school of under four hundred. It should be especially so to a school that prides itself on diversity and inclusion. Having school and major commitments on Yom Kippur felt immensely disrespectful to the Jewish presence on campus.

Jewish students who wanted to fast or to attend services had to choose between making up work to observe the holiday or simply ignoring it. After I expressed how having school on Yom Kippur would interfere with practicing my religion, a teacher generously offered a separate time for me to perform a lab. Unfortunately, that time conflicted with a cross country race, and I was unable to accept the offer. Nonetheless, it was a thoughtful gesture, and similar gestures from the rest of the administration would have been appreciated.

These gestures did not have to be massive – I am not advocating the cancellation of an entire day on behalf of twenty students. However, the administration could have restricted the homework load or ensured that there were no major commitments on Yom Kippur. Instead, the workload remained normal. Yan Davidoff ’18, another Jewish student, said: “The solution that was adopted by the School put us in an uncomfortable position where we had to choose between observing the holiday and having to catch up on work and major commitments.”

It’s easy to dismiss these complainants by saying that we’re an Episcopal school, not a Jewish one – a comment I’ve heard too many times. But we constantly reiterate that we are a fairly non-denominational school. Tour guides are instructed to talk about the religious diversity and inclusivity of chapel and to describe the many religious groups on-campus. However, situations like these demonstrate that religious inclusivity is dismal – a semi-practiced ideal.

Rosetta Lee, who delivered an all-school lecture October 9, pointed out that mere percentages do not reflect inclusivity. Inclusivity is a measure of whether or not a place is truly accepting and nurturing of different perspectives and ideas. That Groton had classes on Yom Kippur showed that inclusivity here only goes so far. It is important that as Groton continues to strive for a more inclusive community to remember that inclusivity, of all kinds, has to extend beyond being just on paper.