(New York Jewish Week) – New York City educators and parents are protesting after the city announced that public schools would be open for part of Passover next year, breaking from a longstanding tradition.
The eight-day holiday has overlapped virtually every year with the city’s spring break since 1973, when Jewish teachers successfully lobbied to guarantee the alignment.
But next year, Easter and Passover are separated by three weeks, making it impossible for the city’s weeklong school recess to overlap with both of them. The school-year calendar released last Friday revealed that the NYC Department of Education had scheduled the final two days of the holiday, April 29 and 30, as school days.
Because those days are Jewish holidays, when certain activities are prohibited according to Jewish law, observant educators and students would not be able to attend. The departure from tradition has put those people in a difficult situation, in part because educators have limited flexibility to take days off under their union contract.
“I’m religious and I am required by my religion to take those days off, regardless of whether we have school or not,” Yocheved Diskind, an occupational therapist at a public school in West Harlem, told the New York Jewish Week. “So now I have to take two extra days off and I don’t get paid at all for them.”
Diskind is one of around 1,500 people to have signed a petition calling on the city to extend the spring recess to include the Passover holidays.
“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,” says the petition, whose first signatories are from the occupational and physical therapists’ chapter of the United Federation of Teachers.
The pushback comes at a moment when the structure of the school year is being contested on several fronts. In a bid for inclusion, the education department has recently added holidays from multiple traditions to the school calendar — including the Muslim holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha; the Chinese Lunar New Year; Juneteenth and, potentially in the future, the Hindu festival of Diwali. Depending on how each holiday falls, the new days off can put pressure on the city to meet a 180-day minimum set by state law.
At the same time, the city education department and its teachers union negotiate annually over when teachers must work, and the city’s goal is to maximize the time that teachers are required to be in the classroom. Next year’s school calendar includes 185 required workdays for educators, including 182 instructional days, leaving some in the union concerned that members are being exploited.
“They used to build in an extra two or three days: In case they had to cancel for snow days, they would still reach 180 days. But since the pandemic, snow days are all remote days,” Diskind said. “So there’s no reason to build in even an extra two days into the calendar without extra compensation.”
The city, meanwhile, says it negotiated the new calendar with the union and that the holidays that are required contractually to be days off are. About the end of Passover, Nathaniel Steyer, the DOE press secretary, told the New York Jewish Week that the union “never ever brought this up” in negotiations about the calendar.
The UFT did not respond to repeated requests for comment by press time.
“There is no precedent for giving all days of Passover with a split,” Styer said in a statement. “There has been a split three times in recent memory — with the last night falling on the weekend. It is in our labor agreements that only the first two days of Passover and Good Friday are covered. Spring Recess is not in our labor contracts, but we generally attempt to cover most of Passover & Easter, when they are aligned on the calendar.”
New York City is among the rare school districts where Jewish holidays have been baked into the school-year calendar. For decades, the city had so many Jewish teachers and students that having classes on major Jewish holidays was a fool’s errand. The 1973 agreement around Passover came as the number of Jewish students and teachers was dwindling.
Now, the district has relatively few observant Jewish students; Orthodox schoolchildren in the city almost all attend private schools. But there are significant numbers of Orthodox education department employees, including in support services such as speech and occupational therapy. (The petition notes that students who attend school on Passover might have to do so without the support of these providers.) And the expectation not to have school on major Jewish holidays has largely survived, at times resulting in quirky calendars, such as a five-day gap between the first and second days of school in 2010.
The school calendar departed from the 1973 Passover agreement only once, in 1986, according to the petition. That year, Passover and Easter were not close in time, and adding two additional days off would have taken the district below the state requirement. Teachers then were given blanket approval to take the days as personal days, the petition says.
Diskind, the occupational therapist in West Harlem, explained that teachers could take the two days of Passover as personal days next year but would be left with only one discretionary day for the rest of the school year. They could also take time off without pay, an option that some Jewish educators exercise when other Jewish holidays fall on school days, but doing so has financial repercussions. (During the next school year, the fall Jewish holidays all land on weekends except for Yom Kippur, when schools are closed. Shavuot, the two-day spring festival, falls midweek in June.)
“Most people choose to take an unpaid day off because you generally need to use personal days for other reasons that would not be excused throughout the year,” Diskind said. “In the long term, unpaid days also require you to stay longer in order to reach your pension.”
Districts around the country have contended with how to accommodate religious observances — and not everyone believes the solution is ever to close schools at all.
David Bloomfield, an education professor who was a parent leader in New York City when his own children attended its public schools, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in 2020 that he thought districts should ramp up their protections for students and teachers who miss school for religious reasons instead of trying to adjust the calendar to please everyone.
“With the growth and sensitivity toward diversity, it’s one thing for a hermetic community to observe its traditions,” Bloomfield said. “But as we become more diverse, we have a harder time accommodating all of those important ceremonial obligations.”
“New York City is home to a diverse population, including 1.6 million Jews. People who celebrate Passover are a part of the rich fabric of our city,” says the petition. “The Passover holiday should not be an arena for givebacks and increased instructional days without compensation.”
“The proposed DOE calendar is especially disturbing in light of the increase in anti-Semitic rhetoric and attacks in recent years, particularly in New York City,” it also noted.
The number of anti-Jewish hate crimes in the first five months of the year was 100, according to data released this week by the New York Police Department, showing a 25% decline from 135 during the same period last year. Jews accounted for the victims of half of all hate crimes in the city last year and remain the most-targeted group, according to the police data; two men recently pleaded guilty to hate crimes related to a high-profile 2021 attack on a Jewish man who was beaten while walking to a pro-Israel rally.
Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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