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Santa Monica Board Member Wants Jewish Holidays Recognized on School District Calendar

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By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

December 17, 2014 -- Christmas is the only religion-based observance noted on the holiday closure list in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School’s official calendar. The dates for the Jewish observances of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are on the list, but the names do not appear. Instead, the term “local holiday” is used.

Newly elected school board member Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein wants this situation changed.

“It is in the spirit of who we are, and the multi-cultural community, and what we’re trying to achieve together,” Tahvildaran-Jesswein said. “It seems that we would want to note that the reason why we’re off is … because so many of our brothers and sisters are celebrating the High Holy Days or New Year.”

 He continued, “That should be said, particularly when we’re naming the Christmas holiday.”

Tahvildaran-Jesswein made his comments during last Thursday’s meeting when the board was voting on a usually routine item of the 2014-15 school year calendar.
 He said the comments came from his experience as a Santa Monica College professor of ethnic, race and gender politics. A topic discussed in his classroom is “politics of recognition.”

A unnamed former school board member told Tahvildaran-Jesswein that legal issues prevented the recognition of  religious observance days on the school calendar, he said. But Tahvildaran-Jesswein said he didn’t “buy that.”

 “With some very smart people, there should be a way to be able to say that in our local community there is a celebration and marking of Jewish holidays,” Tahvildaran-Jesswein said.

Jose Escarce, a board member since 2000, said this topic had never been discussed on the dais, but he believed it to be one worthy of conversation. Others agreed with him. 

Escarce said rather than adding the names of the Jewish holidays to the calendar, Christmas should be removed.

“Surely, we have some Muslim students and surely we have some Hindu students,” Escarce said. “And then why aren’t we mentioning the very important days for them.”

Tahvildaran-Jesswein disagreed with Escarce’s proposed solution, saying it was important to note Christmas in the calendar as well.

The board unanimously approved the calendar, so no changes will be made regarding the status of holidays for the 2014-15 school year. However, District staff will research the issue, including legal implications, and come back to the board with information for a later meeting.

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