I have been in school basically my whole life, first as a student, then as a teacher, now as a professor. Every year (except for when I taught at a Jewish day school), I have had to navigate asking for days off for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I have been lucky, in that I have colleagues who have been more than willing to cover class for me, but this year is different. This year Rosh Hashanah is the first day of school. How can I ask somebody to take my first day of class? And what about the students? How can they navigate missing the first class?
Asking for time off from work or school can feel daunting, especially under these circumstances. I also think that people shouldn’t have to be in the position where they feel like they can’t observe the holidays the way they want to, because of school or work schedules. So, to try and make the process a little easier, I tried putting together this guide to help with the process. Feel free to use these letters as templates, and tailor them to your own contexts. I structured them based on what I would hope to receive from students asking for a day off. I’m not a lawyer and I don’t work in HR, but I hope you find this helpful in making your own plans for the high holidays.
Take charge of your high holidays! However you choose to observe Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, you have the right to make space for the holidays with time off from work or school. However, it can be really hard to ask for accommodations. You don’t want to stand out. You have important deadlines coming up. Or, this year, it’s the very first day of school.
Ask For Time Off From Work
Do it now! Rosh Hashanah is no longer sneaking up on us, and as it comes right after the long Labor Day weekend, unknowing supervisors might be inclined to think you’re asking for an extra-long vacation. Here’s a sample message you might send:
I hope your summer is going well! I’m writing to let you know that I need to be absent from work on Tuesday, September 7, and Wednesday, September 8, to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah. I will also need to be absent on Wednesday afternoon, September 15, and all day Thursday, September 16, to celebrate the holiday of Yom Kippur.
I will [delegate my work on those days to XXX]/[complete my assigned projects by X date before/after the holiday]/[be willing to trade shifts with XXX].
Thanks for understanding!
Ask For Time Off From School
This may be tricky since you probably haven’t started school yet, and if you have, you may not have a relationship with your instructors. However, now is still a good time to let them know what days you know you’ll be out for. Here’s a sample message you might send:
I hope your summer is going well! I’m writing to let you know that I need to be absent from class on Tuesday, September 7, and Wednesday, September 8, to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah. [I know it will be difficult to miss the first day of class, and I will be able to review materials from the first day after the holiday ends.] I will also need to be absent on Wednesday afternoon, September 15, and all day Thursday, September 16, to celebrate the holiday of Yom Kippur.
I will [complete all readings/assignments by X date]/[get class notes from X]/[come to office hours to discuss what I missed].
Thanks for understanding!
- What if I don’t know who my teacher(s)/instructor(s) are yet? Or what if they’re away/out of the office for the summer?
- Email the principal, department head, guidance counselor, or another relevant administrator – it’s great to keep everybody in the loop
- What if my supervisor/teacher/instructor says no?
- One option is to ask to discuss this further with them
- A second option is to reach out to HR, other supervisors, or principals, department heads, or other administrators for help navigating this.
- Many schools have policies around excused absences for religious observances – you can likely find these online.
- What if this absence is counted against me in the class attendance policy or otherwise affects my grade?
- Religious observances should be considered excused absences, meaning that the absence won’t be counted against you in any way. Seek support from other administrators if a teacher is not following this policy.
- What if they ask for a letter from a rabbi/other documentation that I actually celebrated the holiday a certain way?
- This should not be required. While many rabbis around the Twin Cities would happily provide this for you, you have the right to celebrate the holidays however you want, with no “rabbinic supervision”.
- What if I want to take off both days of RH, but other people in the office/class are only taking off one day (or vice versa)?
- That’s okay! We all celebrate and observe in our own ways. You can explain that to your supervisor/teacher if needed. Mostly, just know that you’re allowed to do what you need to do, regardless of what others are doing.
- My school district is starting on September 8 – what should I do?
- Many districts moved their start dates by one day, so school starts on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. It’s okay to still use these templates and take the day to celebrate Rosh Hashanah. It’s also okay if you only celebrate one day of Rosh Hashanah.
Interesting Links & Resources
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Minnesota Department of Human Rights