Holy day or holiday?

Zachary Sherman

Zachary Sherman

Hearst Connecticut Media

During the 1959 World Series, Sandy Koufax was scheduled to pitch in Game 4 against the Chicago White Sox. However, when Game 4 started, Koufax was far from the pitcher’s mound. Instead, he was at home celebrating Rosh Hashanah with his family.

I know what many of you are thinking as you read this — are you serious? Yes, I am. Koufax made his religious observances a priority over his legendary baseball career, missing games during the 1961 and 1963 season for Rosh Hashanah and 1965 for the observance of Yom Kippur. Sandy Koufax was not trying to make some noble point or universal statement to his teammates, his fans, or his country. He was simply doing what he was raised to do and believed in. Koufax was taking the day to sit in synagogue to celebrate the New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and atone for his sins (Yom Kippur).

For the majority of the Wilton school district student body, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are days off to relax, hang out, and have a homework-free break. It is a little perk for the non-Jewish student population, but what about the 10 percent or so of us that use those “days off” to practice our religion as a family and a community? Teachers will say “have a great day off,” students will talk about the plans they made, yet no one really stops to ask why school is closed.

Before I continue, I’d like to clarify that this is not an educational piece about Judaism and the meaning of the High Holy days. Rather, it is a glimpse into what these days mean to me. When I was in elementary school, the High Holy Days meant something completely different to me than they do now. At that time, I only went to synagogue to hang out and socialize with my friends. We’d talk about football while getting constantly reprimanded by the Hebrew School director and volunteers for not paying attention. They’d give us challah bread and grape juice and try to teach us about the meaning behind the holidays. Ironically, some of my friends are now the ones who teach these children about these days.

As I got older, I began to really think about the meaning of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and appreciate their significance on a more macro level. I am now in awe at the idea that Jews in Wilton and across the world flock to synagogues on these days to recite the same Hebrew prayers that have existed for centuries. While many of those individuals may never step foot in a synagogue to pray on any other day of the year, there is something unifying even to the least religious Jews as they shake hands with their neighbor seated next to them and wish them a happy, healthy, and sweet New Year.

Yom Kippur is still a bit of a work in progress for me simply because fasting is not easy for a teenager. So while I dislike this aspect of the holiday, I do like the fact that when I break the fast, I am surrounded by my extended family. After all, no holiday feels complete without family.

Zachary Sherman is a senior at Wilton High School. He shares this column with three classmates.