Saturday, July 20, 2019

The Millers work full-time jobs. They enjoy spending time together as a family, but struggle to do so with their crazed schedules. The Millers take vacation time over yeshiva break and treasure this week with their children. They are familiar with the research that shows the value of spending quality time with family. Benefits include parents modeling healthy family relationships, strengthening of self-esteem among children, nurturing of positive behaviors, minimizing negative and dangerous behaviors, and increased academic performance.

They are frustrated when their son (who attends Yeshiva University and has a rather long break) returns to school right before their elementary and high school children have vacation. The Millers wonder why our community cannot work to better align yeshiva break to overlap with schools such as Yeshiva College, Stern College or Lander College—institutions that educate a high percentage of our children.

Marla Goldberg is off from work on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. She actually wishes she weren’t. Why? Marla is stressed because yeshiva break begins in three days and she will have to miss another seven days of work watching her children. If only Martin Luther King Jr. Day overlapped with yeshiva break, she would at least have one less day that she needs to take as a vacation day.

The Kleins are planners. They want to put their son’s bar mitzvah on the calendar so that all their relatives have a few years of advance notice and can plan accordingly. They are especially nervous because three other boys in the class have birthdays around the same time. They want to work out arrangements with those families in a way that supports all the boys. They have reached out to the school to inquire about the specifics of yeshiva break in three and a half years but the executive director of the school told them that he does not know when yeshiva break is going to fall that year. They will have to wait.

A high percentage of Jewish day schools have moved their vacations from the end of December to mid January. While this change has both benefits and challenges, this mid-winter vacation, colloquially termed yeshiva break, has become an accepted norm in a majority of Orthodox Jewish day schools. The timing is currently determined by dividing up the days and placing vacation as close to the middle of the year as possible. Using this system, yeshiva break overlaps with Martin Luther King Jr. Day some years, but falls on the following week in other years.

I believe that the yeshiva day school world should collectively change the way yeshiva break is determined so that it always falls out over Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

This change would bring a number of benefits, as illustrated above:

1) It would be more sensitive to the needs of parents who may have the day off on MLK day.

2) It would better overlap with Jewish universities like Yeshiva University and Touro, once again benefiting many of our families and also making a positive value statement about the role these institutions play in our community and the importance of promoting these schools as ideal options for our children.

3) It would make simcha planning much easier for families who would never have to guess when winter break was to fall.

The official school calendar for the next two years is already public. Next year yeshiva break overlaps with MLK day. The following year of 2021, it does not. I am not looking to make changes for 2021, as families may have already made plans based on the publicized calendar.

We should standardize yeshiva break, beginning in 2022, so that it overlaps with MLK day every single year.

I have asked 15 schools to join me in making this change, and, to date, every single one has been either supportive of this move, or at least happy to follow the leads of the other schools.

Some schools have slightly different winter breaks, and will adapt accordingly. For example, schools that only give off one week, from Monday to Friday, will give off the same full week that others have off.

Our stated goal is to garner initial support from at least 30 schools and then adapt this new calendar policy as a school community, asking all other schools that offer vacation on yeshiva break to join us in adapting the policy.

This change will be of benefit to our families, support our values, and support our desire to establish communal norms that simply make sense.

By Rabbi Daniel Alter

Rabbi Daniel Alter is head of school at The Moriah School in Englewood.