It’s the start of the Advanced Leadership class and I look up at the board, seeing the themes for an upcoming spirit week; the one that draws my eye is ugly Christmas Sweater Day. I stare at it for a minute and then continue working, almost hesitantly. Later, I heard other leadership students discussing incentives for an event called FHS Gives Back. Someone brings up how in the past the vice principals had dressed up as Santa Claus and elves and had gone around handing out candy canes to students and that we should do that again. Again, I thought about it for a minute and then continued on with my day.
Before I knew it, it was Ugly Christmas Sweater day. I looked around at everyone in Leadership that day. Some dressed up in these “ugly Christmas sweaters” and others wore Christmas colors. There and then I spent another minute thinking about what I was seeing. I went to feel around my neck for my Hamsa necklace, a symbol in modern Judaism that is believed to protect against the evil eye and all negative energies. As I held this symbol, I realized that I saw no menorahs, no blue and white decorations, nothing resembling Judaism. I heard no talk or evidence that anyone was even aware that Hanukkah was soon or even apart of the “holiday season,” but I wasn’t angry, just concerned. For a moment I thought about all the Jewish holidays and traditions that I love and look forward to and wondered why they weren’t incorporated into this spirit week.
Months after this event and those brief thoughts, another predominately Christian holiday came up: Easter. I saw that the Quaker Nation Station was doing a promotional event where they hid eggs around the school with coupons in them for products at the store. It was basically impossible to miss the promotional display they had put up in the windows in the main hall. I looked at it any time I walked through the main hall, trying to be observant of what was going on.
As I noticed this promotional event was going on, my friend Flora Pollack approached me. She wanted me to read the email she had sent to the business teacher and our leadership teacher about the past events that were centered around religion. Her email voiced her concerns about the religious holidays seen around our school, how events like the Easter egg hunt and Christmas activities were excluding parts of the student body, and that religious tradition should be left at home. I agreed with all of it. Although we couldn’t change those events that had already happened, we could change what lay ahead. Flora helped to reestablish Jewish Community Club at Franklin this year and is passionate about the issue of religious holidays being incorporated into schools. Pollack believes that it’s okay for any secular holiday to be celebrated in school, but that “you need to think about what message you’re spreading in regards to those holidays, especially being in 2018.” Her first reaction when seeing decorations and holidays like Christmas in school is, “Why is this here?” Pollack says that in general, she believes that religious holidays just shouldn’t be included in school because “it is very normalized nowadays and you’re just so saturated in it people don’t even realize that it’s such a pervasive thing. I just think why are these holidays everywhere that I go? School shouldn’t be the place for that.”
The perspective of knowing and celebrating the normalized holidays is a common one, yet people that know and understand the origins of these holidays feel otherwise. I come from a family of relaxed religious views and also people who feel very strongly about religion. I’ve never identified as super Jewish and I admit that there is a lot that I don’t know about Judaism, but I do know leadership and student voice. The value I have of keeping the student body in mind and paying attention to the representation of the minority groups is important, as groups aren’t being represented right now. How I feel happens to be a view that isn’t unreasonable and that gives those not being heard a voice and a platform to be heard. Through the platform of Jewish Community Club, the club plans to send an email to admin about the religious activities that have happened in the past in hopes that they will be discontinued in order to show that our administration is aware of these other perspectives and opinions.