“While Seattle parents take photos, shed tears and send their kids off for the first day of kindergarten on Monday (Sept. 10), many Jewish families will be forced to choose between meeting an educational milestone and observing Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
“It is truly one of the holiest days of the year that people spend with their family and community in synagogue,” says Rabbi Allison Flash, Assistant Director of Education at Temple Beth Am. “Starting kindergarten on Rosh Hashanah is equivalent to kids starting it on Easter Sunday.”
Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of a 10-day period of prayer, introspection and repentance known as the High Holy Days. Jewish communities attend prayer services in synagogue and hear the blowing of an ancient instrument called a shofar, which is made from a kosher ram’s horn. Afterward, families and friends gather to eat a round challah (representing the cycle of the seasons/eternal life), and taste apples and honey (signifying hope for a sweet new year).
The Jewish population in Seattle grew by 70 percent between 2001 and 2014, according to research from Brandeis University in collaboration with the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle. The 2014 study estimated that the Jewish community was composed of around 63,400 Jewish individuals. An estimated 13,800 people in that total were Jewish children (aged 17 and under). The population has continued to increase as rapid job growth in the science, tech and engineering industries attracts more well-educated and ideologically progressive Jewish millennials to Seattle.
Jackie Kleinstein, a Seattle mother of two, looked forward to watching her daughter start kindergarten on the same day as her peers at John Rogers Elementary. But when she learned that the family would have to choose between a quintessential coming-of-age experience and observing one of the most significant Jewish holidays, there was no question.
“It’s just what you do,” says Kleinstein. “My daughter loves going to synagogue for the High Holy days, she looks forward to it every year.”
The Kleinstein family felt that honoring their Jewish heritage was especially important in the current political climate. The number of reported anti-Semitic incidents in the United States surged 57 percent in 2017, according to an annual report by the Anti-Defamation League. About one-third of Seattle Jews reported some type of anti-Semitic experience in 2015, mostly in the form of Jewish “jokes,” use of stereotypes or comments related to Israel.
“In these times, I think it’s more important than ever to be confident and secure in celebrating our Jewish traditions,” says Kleinstein.