School on Sukkot?

School+on+Sukkot%3F

Aviva Schilowitz ’24

Many students look forward to an extended Sukkot break each year. Some families wish to take a family trip to Israel for the holiday; others want to enjoy the annual Chol Hamoed rain-fest at Six Flags Great Adventure. And many Ramaz students just want to hang out at home with their families in the Sukkah. However, Ramaz students this year had to commute to the building on 79th street and sit through a full day of classes on Chol Hamoed Sukkot. Ramaz is one of the few local Modern Orthodox schools that hold sessions on Chol Hamoed Sukkot each year. 

According to Rabbi Schiowitz, Ramaz Upper School’s Director of Judaic Studies and Religious Life, Ramaz’s practice of having school on Chol Hamoed is “so old that it is hard to know the original purpose.” That said, he ventured to guess there are several reasons for it. First, Ramaz caters to city residents, many of whom do not have access to outdoor space to build a Sukkah. In contrast, Ramaz has a “really nice, large sukkah, and many city families do have easy access to a Sukkah.” Rabbi Schiowitz pointed out that this is less of a problem for suburban schools that teach students with their own Sukkot at home. Ms. Miriam Krupka, the Dean of Faculty, agrees that school on Sukkot is uniquely valuable at Ramaz. “We stand alone in the Yeshiva League in terms of the percentage of students who don’t have access to a Sukkah. Now they have access.” 

Additionally, Rabbi Schiowitz feels that Sukkot is an important educational opportunity for students. Having school on Sukkot allows students to learn about the holiday in a hands-on way. Students “have the opportunity to learn about Sukkot in the Judaic Studies classes and to say the Tefillot and Hallel with lulavim.” He noted an important practical consideration: school helps with childcare for Lower School students. Many parents have to work on Chol Hamoed. Not having school is a hardship for those with younger children.

Mrs. Krupka explained that Ramaz’s approach to Chol Hamoed schooling is a balance between Simcha and school work. While there are days, like Yom Ha’atzmaut, when the school is fully engaged in Simcha, Chol Hamoed are days when Ramaz tries to incorporate both. In other words, Ramaz includes regular academic classes in the schedule, but also tries to make the days more exciting than normal. For example, Ramaz Upper School students look forward to special breakfasts and lunches in the Sukkah, as well as games and fun activities. 

Hannah Moskowitz (’24) expressed mixed feelings about not having a break on Chol Hamoed. “I wish I was in my Sukkah with my family but at the same time I enjoyed my friends’ company. I just wish I had my leisure time.”  

Ultimately, Rabbi Schiowitz finds the tradeoffs worth it. “I personally find it inconvenient to go to work on Sukkot while my family is on vacation, [but] the feeling in the air on Sukkot at Ramaz and especially in the Sukkah is really special.”