As a boy attending a public school in Connecticut, English Department Chair Ari Zito knew the task ahead for him with the approach of the two most important Jewish holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Every year, he would explain the holidays to his teachers, and why he needed to be absent to attend synagogue. In addition, he would need to make up all the classwork and homework that he missed on those two days. In middle school, as he started playing soccer for the school team, he would have to tell his coach that he needed to miss practice or even a game, which always made him feel like he was “letting the team down."
Norfolk Academy, which has a significant number of Jewish students, gives all students the day off for these two holidays: Monday, September 26, is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Wednesday, October 5, is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
“I feel profound gratitude to be in a more religiously diverse community and a more diverse community, generally," Mr. Zito observed. He offered his chapel on the holidays in the Middle School and Upper School on Friday, ahead of the three-day weekend.
Rosh Hashanah, which is literally translated from the Hebrew as “head of the year," is a joyful holiday; since Judaism follows a lunar calendar, it is celebrated in a different season from New Year in the Gregorian calendar, the most widely used calendar across the world. Yom Kippur is far more somber. For the latter holiday, Jews across the world observe a fast for 24 hours and attend synagogue throughout the day; in the period between the two holidays, referred to as the “Days of Awe," Jews are called to reflect on their behavior over the past year, seek out those they have wronged in any way, and ask forgiveness directly from those individuals.
“We reflect on all the ways we have mistreated others in the previous year, and we seek to make amends," he said. Still, despite the solemnity of the holiday, the appropriate holiday greeting for the two holidays is a joyful expression, because Jews are glad to get a chance for a clean slate and positive resolutions: “Happy New Year!" or, in Hebrew, "L'shanah tovah!"
Mr. Zito closed his chapel by offering everyone a wish filled with optimism: “I wish you all, no matter your religious tradition or orientation, whether you practice a religion or not, a year of good health, fulfilling endeavors, joy with family and friends, and a journey that leads you toward knowledge, wisdom, and a sense of peace with who you are."