Champaign Unit 4 Schools are closed on Wednesday for a “fall holiday.”
To many people, it’s a mystery why. Why have a fall holiday in the middle of the week? Why this arbitrary day? Why not a long weekend, where we would have a better opportunity to skip town?
On and off for the past decade or so, the Champaign Unit 4 School District has declared Yom Kippur its “fall holiday” when Yom Kippur falls during the week. This is instead of Columbus Day, “traditionally” a school holiday. (Columbus Day has become a lightning rod in the culture wars in recent years, but that’s a post for a different day.)
Why Yom Kippur? Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the Jewish year, that much is clear. But it’s not entirely clear the history of why Unit 4 has elected to make this a day off for its students and teachers. When I asked Unit 4 officials about it, they weren’t able to provide me with a linear history of the practice. (Last year, Yom Kippur was celebrated on a Saturday, so this wasn’t on the calendar.)
“This observation of Yom Kippur in the District is one way that we show respect for the diverse religious and cultural backgrounds of our students and the community,” district spokesperson Stephanie Stuart told me via email.
Where I grew up, the local public schools took a day off for every Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur holiday, when they fell during the week. The Jewish community was a majority (or at least it seemed to me) there, and it was just a fact of life.
I did an informal poll on Facebook to see how other districts handle Yom Kippur. It was clear that outside of communities with large Jewish populations, it is unusual (but not unheard of) for a school district to close its doors on that day.
Raising my kids in Champaign-Urbana meant that Perfect Attendance would be out of reach for them. (I say that with a touch of sarcasm, of course!) We typically spend Rosh Hashanah with my family in Chicago but Yom Kippur, we spend with our Champaign-Urbana family.
Yom Kippur is a day of remembrance, a day of atonement, a day of fasting. It is a solemn day that is bittersweet – tinged with sadness as we remember those who have passed away, yet it is also a day full of hope for the year ahead.
So while I’m sure it’s inconvenient for families and parents — and many would rather have a holiday concurrent with a weekend — as a Unit 4 parent, I want to express my appreciation to the district for this practice.
Thank you Champaign Unit 4 Schools, for bringing awareness to this holiest of all holy days for our people.
Thank you Champaign Unit 4 Schools, for celebrating diversity.
Thank you Champaign Unit 4 Schools, for making my family — and all Jewish families — feel welcome in your fold.
Laura Weisskopf Bleill is the co-founder and editor of chambanamoms.com, and she will be making her famous challah french toast casserole to break the Yom Kippur fast. You can reach her at laura@chambanamoms(dot)com.