Meredith Carroll: Jews don’t need more lessons on sacrifice |

Meredith Carroll: Jews don’t need more lessons on sacrifice

When we celebrate Hanukkah next month, my daughters, ages 4 and 7, will forgo presents on one of the holiday’s eight nights. At that time, we’ll decide as a family where to make a donation to benefit children and families who have less than we do. We aren’t doing this because of some sneaking suspicion that we’re descendants of Mother Teresa (which we know we’re not, in part, because I’m Jewish) but because my husband and I feel strongly that our kids need to continually demonstrate gratitude for what they already have and because they need to learn firsthand what it means to make sacrifices that are appropriate at this stage in their lives.

At this stage in my life, what I need to learn is how and why a member of the Aspen School District Board of Education thinks it’s appropriate to tell me what kind of sacrifices my children should be making. At a meeting with school district leaders and dozens of parents, community members and clergy last week about the yearslong conflict between Aspen school events and the Jewish high holidays, newly re-elected school board member Sheila Wills said instead of making adjustments to the school calendar for Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Passover, she thinks Jewish parents should tell their kids they need to “make a sacrifice for your faith. So maybe on those days when those kids have to do a makeup test, maybe that’s how to teach them that.”

Never mind that the Jewish people have likely picked up a thing or two about making sacrifices since, well, the beginning of time (Abraham offering up Isaac, anyone?) — not to mention the more than 6 million Jewish lives that have been sacrificed in less than the past century alone. Never mind that the Board of Education’s mission is to help students “realize their full potential, appreciate the relevance of their education, be excited to learn and be empowered for success,” according to its website — not suggest how families in a nonparochial school should best observe their religion.

Fortunately, despite Wills’ contribution, there were bright spots in the meeting, including Aspen Community School Principal Jim Gilchrist pledging that field trips, major tests and other notable events would never again interfere with major Jewish holidays. Aspen’s superintendent and other high-ranking personnel also seemed inclined to delve deeper into the calendar-planning process with concerned families to help avoid future clashes.

Surely no teachers purposely plan trips, picture days, tests and other special events on the Jewish high holidays, and perhaps the attention to the issue at present will mean it won’t happen again any time soon. The problem, of course, is that eventually, the current faculty and administrators will move on, and their replacements will conceivably lack the same level of mindfulness that’s being demonstrated and proposed at this moment. And while Wills can’t be on the board forever (praise be God), who knows if the person elected after her might also have a mindset more consistent with 1930s Germany or 1965 Alabama than 21st-century planet Earth?

The bottom line is that there are six days on the Jewish calendar that families are requesting not overlap with any noteworthy school events. Instead of simply marking the holidays on the calendar and hoping for the best, though, the district needs to make it so those occasions are given the same kind of deference and protection that, say, Good Friday and football games are awarded. Kids shouldn’t be put in a position to choose between religion and school (and football, apparently) — and heaven forbid, if Wills offers another wildly unfortunate opinion moving forward, it should only reflect on her and not affect any students.

“Sandy Koufax didn’t play in the World Series (on) Yom Kippur,” one commenter said on The Aspen Times website on a story about last week’s meeting.

“Koufax wasn’t penalized by his team for sitting out that game,” Aspen Jewish Congregation’s Rabbi David Segal replied. “Quite the opposite. That’s the difference for these Jewish families in this situation — their kids suffer consequences for these choices.”

Some of that suffering and those consequences were articulated in last week’s meeting before Wills swooped in with her for-all-the-wrong-reasons enlightening statement. Whether Wills is anti-Semitic, ignorant, insensitive or just not terribly bright, her apparent lack of respect for diversity should be troubling to all local families, Jewish and otherwise. Obliging children of different religions, intellectual abilities and physical limitations should be a no-brainer in a public school and particularly in a community where the Aspen Idea — mind, body and spirit (not just the non-Jewish spirits) — is celebrated loudly and proudly.

If we can ensure the interests of our football team — where players sign on voluntarily — are safeguarded, then of course we can make sure our Jewish students — who are born into their faith — are similarly accommodated on their most significant religious days.

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