NORTHBOROUGH, Mass. —Members of the Jewish and Christian communities spoke out Wednesday against a proposal to eliminate religious holidays from the school calendar in Northborough and Southborough.
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“Why don’t you pick Christmas and Easter and have school on those two days?” said Adam Winter of Northborough. “How would you feel?”
Winter’s comment reflected the depth of emotion many in the Jewish community expressed to members of the Southborough, Northborough and Northborough-Southborough school committees about the topic.
A recent calendar study committee recommended dropping Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Good Friday from school calendars in all three districts.
The committee – which included parents in addition to administrators and school committee members – reasoned that doing so would create more continuity to the beginning of the school year and would be more fair to Hindus and Muslims, who get no dedicated days off.
But Jewish residents from both towns said Wednesday that removing the holidays would be a step backward.
“We’ve been here before,” said longtime Northborough resident Jonas Goldenberg, who said he remembers when the decision was made to institute the holidays.
“It really feels like it’s moving back in time to (when) people weren’t sensitive to the religious beliefs of others.”
Goldenberg and others said a commitment from the school to not hold tests or major athletic events on the religious holidays isn’t enough.
“It’s a sign of respect for another religion,” he said of the day off, and helps teach children of other religions the meaning of tolerance.
Rachel Gurevitz, rabbi of Congregation B’nai Shalom in Westborough, said parents in some towns have told her teachers don’t always follow the directive to not hold tests on holy days.
Rabbi Michael Swarttz of Beth Tikva Synagogue said the policy change would be “a great step backward” as Jews increasingly struggle to maintain their religious identities in modern society.
Rachel Lipkin, a teacher in Southborough, said her fourth-grader son asked her to speak up because he felt it would be “really scary” to choose between school and his religion.
“The choice just isn’t a fair thing to put on young children,” she said – a comment echoed by several others.
Ernie Rivard, associate pastor at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church and chairman of the Northborough Interfaith Clergy Association, also spoke against the proposal.
“In a way I think it marginalizes some of the sacred (aspect),” he said, by treating it just like any other day.
Most of the 12 or so people who spoke are against the policy, as another 15 or so audience members nodded their heads in agreement. Several School Committee members indicated they had concerns about the policy, including Joan Frank, who said she wouldn’t vote for it.
Susan Dargan, chairwoman of the Northborough-Southborough School Committee, suggested the three committees get their policy subcommittees together and try to make one unified recommendation to take back to their respective boards.
A date for that meeting was not set, but Dargan said it would be a public meeting that will be posted soon.