School Committee OKs 2021-2022 Calendar; Late Start on Sept. 9 Due To Construction, Religious Concerns

Photo: The calendar for the 2021-22 school year

It will be a later start than anticipated for the next school year as the Belmont School Committee unanimously approved the 2021-2022 school calendar, one which nearly all in the committee and district is hoping is a return to “normal.”

The delay of more than a week in the start date for the nearly 4,800 students is due to a pair of events; the opening of the high school wing of the new Belmont Middle and High School and observance of a Jewish High Holiday.

While existing district policy calls for the school year to start the Wednesday before the holiday when Labor Day occurs later than Sept. 3, Superintendent John Phelan told the committee the first day of classroom study for students – COVID variants pending – will move from Sept. 1 to Sept. 8, as “we need to consider starting after Labor Day for the construction project.”

The committee also voted unanimously to push the start back an extra day to Thursday, Sept. 9 in deference to the final day of Rosh Hosannah, the Jewish New Year. The vote runs counter to School Committee policy passed in 2016 after a contentious debate to no longer celebrate Christian and Jewish religious observances as official district holidays.

But Committee member Amy Checkoway, who sought the extra day delay, the holiday comes on the important first day of school in what she hopes is “a normal-ish year.”

Committee Chair Andrea Prestwich noted that the collision of one of the “most important Jewish holidays” and the opening of the school year creates “a perfect storm” of competing pressures on many families in Belmont.

While she supported the existing language not to favor religions over others on the calendar, Prestwich said she changed her mind because it is the very first day of school. Taking time off on that day would be more disruptive than any other day of the year, she said.

Committee member Michael Crowley said because a significant number of teachers and students when they all are needed to be in the classroom.

“It’s just not the best choice for a first day of school,” said Crowley, one of the five votes in favor of starting schools two days further down the calendar.

Highlights of the ’21-’22 calendar are:

  • The start of school for grades 1-12 takes place on Thursday, Sept. 9 with kindergarten half days on Friday, Sept. 10 and Monday, Sept. 13.
  • Winter recess will begin on Friday, Dec. 24 with a return to school on Jan. 3, 2022.
  • The week long February recess will take place the week of Feb. 21 and
  • Spring recess April 18 – 22
  • The last day (which includes the five snow days) will be tentatively Monday, June 27.

Shanah Tovah: Rosh Hashanah Begins Sunset Sunday

Photo: Shanah Tovah!

Is it already 5779? How time has flown! The Jewish New Year known as Rosh Hashanah begins at sunset (a few minutes after 7 p.m.), Sunday, Sept. 9 and lasts until Tuesday evening.

Rosh Hashanah – which in Hebrew translates to “head of the year” – is a time of inner renewal and divine atonement. It begins the period of the High Holidays culminating with Yom Kippur on Tuesday evening, Sept. 18. It is a time for observant people to acknowledge their sins of the previous year and are judged for their transgressions by God.

The holiday will affect after-school activities and athletic events in Belmont’s public schools. Under current district rules, teachers should be aware of the holiday when assigning homework and tests as some students will be attending religious services. 

Meals include apples dipped in honey to symbolize a sweet new year and at least one brisket dinner. Other traditions include participating in tashlich, Hebrew for “casting off” in which people go to a nearby body of water and throw in pieces of bread, which signifies the washing away of sin.

Rosh Hashanah: 5775 and Counting

Written by Len Abram

The Rosh Hashanah holiday observance begins at sundown on the evening of Wednesday, Sept. 24, continues through Friday, Sept. 26.

The season is fall, with dead leaves under foot, a surprising a time to celebrate a new year. The traditional American observance for the new year is itself at the end of December. What we call the dead of winter, like the death of nature in the fall, may be just the right  time to express the hope of renewal.

Jewish people across the world are about to celebrate a New Year. From the evening of Sept. 24 in the evening through Sept. 26. Rosh HaShanah, literally “the Head of the (New) Year,” is celebrated for two days. These two begin ten days of life review, called the “Days of Awe,” or “Days of Repentance.” The awesomeness of the time might have something to do with tradition that the outcome of the following year, the fortunes and misfortunes for a person, may be at stake.

The Rabbis of old, for example, imagined a book of life and death, wherein is  written the fate of each Jewish person. Even as metaphor, the images reinforce the seriousness of the period, which end in a 25-hour dry fast. The Jewish calendar for the coming year is 5775. Traditional Jews count the years of earthly existence not by geologic time, but by their estimation of Creation in the Bible or Torah. This year is the 5,775th year since the words, “Let there be light,” were spoken, when a theological Big Bang set in motion what would become all that we see around us, including us.

The ten days of prayer and reflection lead to the most sacred day in the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur, “the Day of Atonement.”  This year it is observed from Friday to Saturday night, Oct. 3 and 4. Just like the traditional American celebration with its New Year’s resolutions, Yom Kippur  is often accompanied by vows to improve a person’s life. The Jewish community not only makes vows to improve, but also asks to be excused or forgiven for vows not completed from the previous year.

There may be historical background to the Kol Nidre or “All Vows” prayer, which begins the solemn evening with beautiful music. Jews ask to be forgiven for broken vows. During times of persecution, Jews were required to renounce their faith and take another. Although the prayer is hundreds of years older than persecution in Spain, the prayer fits the common theme of forgiveness.

When the prayer Kol Nidre is repeated three times, so as to give everyone in attendance the chance to participate, the vows referred to are individual vows. It does exonerate a  Jew from legal vows  or from vows between a Jewish person and someone not Jewish.

At this time of year, Jews are encouraged  to make amends for their mistakes and offenses between themselves and their Lord and themselves and their fellow human beings.  Repentance, prayer, and good deeds, such as charity, help in the process of cleansing the soul. The  end of the fast and a renewed spirit to do and be better are celebrated by a tradition several thousand years old,  the blowing of a ram’s horn, called a shofar.

This past year has been particularly difficult for Jews. Israeli Jews have been under rocket attack and have gone to war with Hamas in Gaza. In addition, anti-Semitism has increased, especially  in Europe, where virulent anti-Semitism contributed to genocide 70 years ago.  No doubt this will be one topic for the many sermons given at synagogues, as Jews look forward with hope to another year.

Services will be held across the Commonwealth and locally at Beth El Temple Center on Concord Avenue.