Jewish educators and students can now continue to comfortably celebrate one of the most important holidays in their religion from the comfort of their homes.
The eight-day holiday, Passover, had overlapped with the annual spring break for the New York City school system since 1973 when Jewish teachers successfully lobbied for the time off.
But then, some 50 years later, the longstanding tradition broke.
It “essentially forces a choice between their faith and their education,” Councilman Eric Dinowitz said.
Teachers “wouldn’t be able to use electronics, take the subway, or write anything down,” said Rabbi Bracha Jaffe, associate rabbi of The Bayit in the Modern Orthodox community. “We can’t work on holiday days — we can work on the intermediate days like Chol Hamoed on Passover.”
Easter and Passover are separated by three weeks next year — because the Jewish holiday follows a lunar calendar — making it impossible to overlap both. Schools had only planned to take one of them off.
That is until some of those affected by the education system gathered 4,000 petition signatures, calling on Mayor Eric Adams to extend the spring recess to Monday, April 29 and Tuesday, April 30, for Passover. They highlighted there are 1.6 million Jews in New York City, and this should not be an “arena for givebacks and increased instructional days without compensation.”
“At a time when the values of inclusion are under attack, respecting the full observance of the Passover holiday should not be dependent on its proximity to Easter on the calendar,” according to the letter.
The city responded and heard. They restored the last days of Passover and added two more days off to the list, making four in total.
They also included them in the calendars for the 2024-25 and 2025-26 academic years.
That now means Monday, April 1 for Easter. Monday, April 29 and Tuesday, April 30, as the last two days of Passover. And Monday, June 17 for Eid al-Adha, Islam’s “Feast of the Sacrifice.”
The change came around the same time as the celebration at City Hall declaring Diwali as an official school holiday.
But it will not affect next school year as that particular holiday falls on a weekend. When it does come, however, it will likely be in October or November.
Diwali is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and some Buddhists. It is one of India’s most important holidays. But it also is the festival of lights — not like Hanukkah celebrated in the Jewish faith — celebrating the triumph of light over darkness. Good over evil. The human ability to overcome anything.
The new calendar change will now create 178 student instructional days, down from the original 182. Since they are under the 180-day window, it risks losing state funding. But the agency worked its way around it, using an accounting of instructional and professional development days, education board spokesman Nathaniel Styer said.
Those passing around petitions over the school calendar made clear that other holidays such as Rosh Hashana, Veterans Day, Lunar New Year and Diwali fall on the weekend for the upcoming academic year. In addition, snow days — which are now remote, would pose no threat to the 180 instructional days.
The only time Passover did not overlap with spring break was in the 1985-86 academic year, where the first two days of Passover — three weeks after spring break — were counted as school days.
Meanwhile, during that time, teachers were allowed to take two of their three contractual personal days off. And for students, they were absent without penalization, said Jeanne Hernandez, who spoke on behalf of the education board that year to The New York Times.
Dinowitz, a former special education teacher and the chair of both the council’s higher education committee and the Jewish Caucus, made it clear this was important to fix. He said he had faith city school chancellor David Banks would recognize the importance of Passover and make adjustments.
Dinowitz joined several other council and Assembly members to send Banks a letter fighting for those two Jewish holidays back.
“At a time when Jewish values are under attack, hate crimes are on the rise, and Jewish New Yorkers are experiencing a significant rise in implicit and explicit bias, (New York City public schools) must do everything it can to uplift our Jewish brothers and sisters,” according to the letter.
“That includes respecting the Jewish traditions, both in word and in deed.
“The proposed DOE calendar is especially disturbing in light of the increase in antisemitic rhetoric and attacks in recent years, particularly in New York City.”
But it was not only the Jewish holiday that was a problem. Some pointed out the calendar left out Eid al-Adha, one of the two main holidays in Islam which begins on the evening but continues to the next day.
Evening parent-teacher conferences have been removed from the calendar. Instead, they will only be available in the afternoon.
Rabbi Jaffe suggested that ways to prevent situations like this in the future could happen if someone simply runs it by someone familiar with Judiasm. And other religions, too.
“It’s easy to miss,” Jaffe said. “I don’t (know) all the holidays of other religions.”
Dinowitz, for his part, supported the change.
“Our (New York City schools) did the right thing by amending their calendar to include the last two days of Passover as days off,” the councilman said.
“Education is the most important tool we have in shaping our city’s future, and it must be inclusive of all faiths.”