By Jeremy Appel
(AJNews) – For the first time, the Edmonton Public School Board (EPSB), which includes Talmud Torah Jewish day school, has scheduled a non-instruction day for Yom Kippur to accommodate Jewish students. In response, Beth Israel Synagogue is offering free tickets for Yom Kippur to families with children in the K-12 school system.
Michael Sadovnick, Beth Israel’s treasurer, told Alberta Jewish News they have considered making Yom Kippur tickets free for some time “as a way to get people into our doors and to experience Yom Kippur for all those people that may not go to services during the year.”
EPSB’s decision to give students at all its schools the day off proved the perfect catalyst for putting their plan into action as a pilot project.
Sadovnick noted the importance of giving students the day off at all EPSB schools, not just Talmud Torah, because Jewish parents with kids in public schools are likely to be reluctant to have their children miss a day of school to attend shul.
“There’s more and more people who are not going to Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah or being connected to their synagogues in their communities,” he said. “Synagogues everywhere have declining membership.”
Previously, synagogues were Jewish people’s main connection to their community, out of which came the Jewish federations, day schools and family services. But now that there are various Jewish community institutions outside the shul, synagogues are no longer the community hubs they used to be.
It doesn’t help that membership fees in many communities are prohibitively expensive, particularly for those who only attend on the high holidays. At Beth Israel, for example, tickets for non-members who want to attend Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur cost $570 for a family, but the cost of high holiday tickets are included in the price of membership.
“That’s why we’re hoping that this program will remove the barrier from Yom Kippur attendance,” Sadovnick said.
“We’re going to celebrate it with a nice break-the-fast at the shul to try to show to these families that this is an institution that’s integral to the community, from Yom Kippur, of course, to brises, weddings, and funerals.”
In June 2022, the EPSB voted to approve the calendar for the 2023/24 school year, which includes six cultural “dates of significance” – Yom Kippur (Sept. 25), Diwali and Bandi Chhor Divas (Nov. 12), Lunar New Year (Feb. 10), Eid al-Fitr (April 10), Eid al-Adha (June 17), and Summer Solstice and National Indigenous Peoples Day (June 21).
“The Board of Trustees is committed to exploring the incorporation of these days where feasible, with the goal of creating a more inclusive school year calendar,” reads a recommendation report from EPSB Superintendent of Schools Darrell Robertson.
As a result, a non-instruction day was scheduled on Sept. 25 for Yom Kippur, non-instructional days were also scheduled on Nov. 13 and 14, respectively, for Diwali and Bandi Chhor Divas, and an operational day was scheduled June 21 for Summer Solstice and National Indigenous Peoples Day.
Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha occur on exam days, but the board wrote to Alberta Education to inquire about moving the exams to accommodate Muslim students.
Jeremy Appel is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter