April 19, 2024
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Letter From Bergen Yeshiva Heads Regarding 2023 Winter Break

We write this letter to help our community understand the background behind the timing of winter break for the upcoming school year (2022-2023).

Mission-aligned values are at the core of communal decisions we make in all our schools. We would like to share some of the values that highlight our view on this topic.

We believe in the power of an achdut-oriented, unified, community-based approach. We are all working towards the same goal for our families and our community, and as such, look to collaborate and work together whenever possible. We also recognize that there is, at times, tension between a school’s individual needs and the community’s needs. We expend significant energies to pursue, balance and negotiate both of these goals as often as possible for the sake of the larger community.

We believe that the stress for frum families of balancing life, work, parenting and other important goals, while continuing to strive to be ovdei Hashem, is a challenge for all our families. Working to alleviate some of these stresses, whether those differences are big or small, is something we strive to do when able.

For the past five years we have been working on a project to always have Yeshiva Break overlap with Martin Luther King Jr. Day. MLK Day is on the third Monday in January. Historically Yeshiva Break has started on the Thursday of the third week of January. This means that in many years, Yeshiva Break would start three days after MLK day. MLK day is a federal holiday and in recent years the number of workers who have off on this day has risen significantly. In 2019, a survey by Bloomberg Law showed that 45% of employers give all or most employees a day off for MLK day. That number has doubled since 1990 and the trend numbers are expected to continue and grow.

Many of our families use most of their days off from work for Yamim Tovim throughout the year. The large number of parents that have a day off for MLK Day and then need to stay home just three days later in order to be off with their children was a significant factor in our decision to pursue this small calendar change.

In addition, the change generally aligns better with Yeshiva University and Touro University, facilitating for entire families with children of varying ages the ability to spend quality time together, and further aligning us with these institutions of significant importance to our community.

We believed that this change would help many of our families and further our goal of working to help our school communities.

The reason this change took five years was because we wanted the decision to be broad based and inclusive. We reached out to the Jewish Education Project (formerly known at the BJE) as they set a proposed calendar for yeshiva day schools every year. We then reached out to tens of schools to explain our rationale. These calls were overwhelmingly positively received. The JEP then held a vote on this question and the determination was made 14 months ago, in January of 2021, to change Yeshiva Break so that it always overlaps with MLK Day. The decision was made at the time that the change would be effective starting yeshiva break of 2023 so that there would be plenty of time before the change was to take place.

At this point in time, the vast majority of schools in our orbit in the greater New York/New Jersey area planned to accept this voted-upon change.

We recently learned that a large school in New York made the decision to not follow the new calendar. This posed a dilemma for other schools on Long Island and Queens who have overlapping families, forcing them to begrudgingly change their calendars as well so that the schools in that area would be in alignment. The result of this domino effect is that in the course of a few weeks, the work that had been done in the last five years was largely erased in many communities, catching communities such as ours by surprise, as we had no idea that changes were being contemplated before they were decided and finalized.

At this point in time we have already published our calendars for this coming year and families have made plans based on that calendar. We will maintain the published calendars for this coming year, following the communal vote that was taken by yeshiva day schools affiliated with the JEP. We hope to engage in a larger conversation in the coming months about this topic and its implications for future years.

Ben Porat Yosef, Rabbi Saul Zucker
RYNJ, Rabbi Daniel Price
Tenafly Chabad Academy, Orite Rubenstein
The Moriah School, Rabbi Daniel Alter
Yavneh Academy, Rabbi Jonathan Knapp
Yeshivat He’Atid, Rabbi Tomer Ronen
Yeshivat Noam, Rabbi Chaim Hagler
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