Why I Choose to Work on Yom Kippur.
I wrote this last year, September, 2019. Due to Covid-19 concerns, I am not teaching this year. But if I was, I’d still teach on Yom Kippur.
Yom Kippur is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. We take stock, we humble ourselves, we repent — we make atonement.
I do those things. Yet, I go to work.
For the record, I always enjoyed the High Holyday services. I was often honored with readings from the bima, with a place in the choir, or at the piano. It was solemn, and it was also a joyful affirmation that I was a member of the Tribe.
Yet, for the last four years, I’ve gone to work.
I am a teacher, and I teach at a Islamic day school. My subjects are the high school sciences: physical sciences, chemistry, and biology. My students are authentically Muslim. The girls wear hijab. Both genders dress modestly. We break after third block and the students make wudu before Zhuhr, the early afternoon prayer.
As a Jew in a Muslim environment, I am responsible for the face of Judaism to my charges. It is, in the Talmudic sense, an awesome responsibility. Most of our students start with us in pre-K and continue straight on to high school graduation. As the kids grow up in a Muslim environment, I am often the first Jew with whom my students have everyday interactions.
We talk regularly about faith; the many similarities between Judaism and Islam, and our differences, too. I’ve learned a little bit of Arabic, a very little bit, and my students now know that Salaam and Shalom both mean peace. We both now know that Allah (PBUH) and Adonai not only sound alike, but refer to our respective deities.
Most importantly, I share the stories of my students; their abilities and community service and their sense of humor (Do you have dandruff? Of course not, I use Hijab and Shoulders!) with those in the Jewish community. Those who instinctively distrust Islam have had their eyes opened. Those who appreciate different faiths have had their beliefs in the inherent goodness of people strengthened. Likewise, I demonstrate that a Jewish teacher will listen to Islamic student concerns, will be fair and fun; in short — a Jewish teacher is just a regular teacher.
With block scheduling, I teach M-W-F from 8–2:00. To miss a day is to eliminate one more time when we can come together as people of faith. It also means that my students will miss a significant amount of content when I am out.
When I started at the Academy, I gave this a lot of thought. My mantra as a Jew has been, for decades, Tikkun Olam. Heal the World. I solemnly regard my time with my students as a great part of that charge. That’s why I teach on the High Holydays.
Tomorrow, on Yom Kippur, I’ll sit at the front of my classroom, and I’ll talk for a few minutes about Yom Kippur. The kids and I will draw comparisons between Ramadan and the Days of Awe, and I’ll explain why I feel I can best serve God by being with them, rather than in a synagogue.
And then, with my 9th grade physical science class, we’ll get ready to build our Rube Goldberg machines as we study force, momentum, and simple machines.
L’shanah tovah tikatevu ve techatemu
לְשָׁנָה טוֹבָה תִכָּתֵבוּ וְתֵּחָתֵמוּ
May you be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for a Good Year!