I am writing in response to “Common Sense Calendars: The Next Chapter” (February 4, 2021). I want to express my deepest appreciation to Rabbi Alter for his work to make the recommended yeshiva break on the Jewish Education Project calendar overlap with Martin Luther King Day, starting with the 2022-’23 academic year. As he expressed in the article, balancing work schedules and school schedules is a major challenge for many families. Any change that makes the calendar easier on families matters, even if it is just one day.
Moving forward, I would like to suggest another chapter in “Common Sense Calendars”; shortening yeshiva break. While many of the challenges of yeshiva calendars center around chagim that cannot be altered in length or timing, winter break is purely a man-made convenience for the sake of family vacations and an opportunity for older students and staff to de-stress. In my opinion, the current yeshiva break (two days and a full week) exceeds what is necessary to achieve those goals.
When we first enrolled our oldest in RPRY in the fall of 2014, the school’s yeshiva break started on a Friday. Starting with the 2019-2020 academic year, the school added on the extra Thursday at the beginning of yeshiva break. When I reached out to complain, the administration cited the Jewish Education Project calendar. There are two main obstacles for families in my social group that prevent them from taking advantage of this extended break. First, with the growing tuition crisis, many families do not have the means for flights for the whole family and 10 nights of accommodations, nor should that be presented as a social norm that people need to aspire to. Second, many parents do not have enough vacation days to allow them to take off all seven days of yeshiva break. In my social group, many parents struggle to be able to get away for 2-3 days or maybe even a Sunday-Sunday if they are so fortunate.
I want to see yeshiva break start on Friday, which will still allow those who want to get away before the first Shabbat to do so. The Jewish Education Project calendar should not cater to the few families who have the means and work flexibility to vacation for longer periods of time, at the expense of the majority who are not so fortunate.
Again, thank you to Rabbi Alter for his advocacy and I hope that his work so far is just the first step.Hava Bresler Freidenreich