By Melissa Hunter
When my oldest daughter was three years old and I was pregnant with my youngest, my husband and I decided to move to the home where we would raise our family. I hoped for a neighborhood near our Cincinnati family that was in a good school district and had lots of kids who would become our daughters’ playmates. We spent months looking at open houses throughout the greater Cincinnati area, including the Sycamore (my alma mater), Loveland, and Mason school districts. Mason ultimately won us over for many reasons, not the least being the diversity of community and the opportunities we saw for young families.
I’ve lived in Cincinnati my whole life. Growing up, driving to Mason felt like driving out to the country. Thirty years later, beautiful subdivisions with large yards and tree-lined streets had popped up where fields used to stand, as well as an abundance of stores, restaurants, and entertainment venues. The land on which the high school, community center, and municipal building sat felt like a college campus with mature trees, rolling hills, flower beds and park benches beautifying the grounds between the red brick buildings. I fell in love with the community, and when we walked through the rooms of our new house, it felt like coming home.
We’ve now lived there for 18 years and have celebrated many family milestones within the walls of our home. Our daughters have grown up in the Mason school district, one of the finest in the area, and have benefitted from the opportunities provided by such a large and diverse school.
One year when our daughters were in elementary and middle school, we purchased a Wii for them for Hanukkah. Often, they were more interested in populating the Wii universe with avatars than playing the games we bought. On one such occasion, my oldest daughter created a number of “characters” based on her school friends and classmates. I sat beside her as she shared their names and little facts about them, but the one thing I noticed was the color of their skin. My daughter had made avatars in various shades of tan and brown and ivory. It delighted me that so many of her friends came from Indian, Hispanic, Asian, and Muslim families. I felt my daughters were living in a community that reflected the America I loved, an America that was a melting pot of all races and faiths.
This was perhaps so important to me because of my own past, or rather, that of my family. My grandparents and most of my father’s extended family were Holocaust survivors who found a new life in America. The fact that they had survived one of the greatest atrocities in humanity has always affected me. As an adult, I strive to be an advocate for justice and tolerance, and I saw in Mason a reflection of my beliefs.
One example of this is when the city holds its annual Heritage Day to represent those of different backgrounds, cultures, and faiths who live in the Mason area. This past year, however, I was dismayed to discover that Heritage Day fell on Rosh Hashanah, one of the most sacred holidays in the Jewish religion.
I first learned of this when my daughter asked me to sign her commitment form for Color Guard for the academic year. She has been a member of the award-winning Guard and Mason Marching Band since Freshman year, and it has become her passion, her happy place, providing her with structure, keeping her physically active, and giving her a wonderful group of friends. Members are required to attend most if not all practices and to participate in Friday night football games and local parades while honing their performance for competition. The fact that Friday night is Shabbat is something with which I’ve had to come to terms. At her age, I also preferred to spend Friday night with my friends rather than at family dinners (which we always had at my grandparents when I was younger). When I became a parent, however, I wanted to instill the tradition of Shabbat in my own daughters. We hosted many family dinners and attended family-friendly services at our synagogue. It seems we’ve come full circle, and like my own parents, I allow my teen daughters to choose what is best for them. The roots of Judaism I was given as a child are deeply instilled in me and something I came back to as an adult. I have faith my daughters will as well.
And I admit that when we now sit in the stands to watch my daughter perform on the football field, I feel immense pride. There is something peaceful, almost spiritual, about watching the sun set over the stadium and listening to the music and cheering crowd and feeling a sense of camaraderie with the community.
But when I learned that Heritage Day fell on Rosh Hashanah, I felt ostracized from that community. I knew how important Color Guard was to my daughter, but I also knew how important this holiday is to our family. Not only is it one of the holiest days in the Jewish faith, it is also a day we devote to family, good food, and reflection. This led to a long conversation with my daughter in which she played devil’s advocate (in the end, she chose to honor the holiday and be with us despite the pressure to attend practice and march in the parade).
“Mom,” she told me, “if Mason took into account everyone’s traditions and holidays, it would be impossible to hold any event. Heritage Day falls on the same Saturday every year. This year it happens to be Rosh Hashanah. This is just one year.”
I knew she had point. Yet I had the same thought that often comes to mind in moments like this… that while being Jewish is considered a minority, our traditions are often overlooked or considered less of a priority. In my own experience as a student (and a mother to students), many tests or assignments were scheduled on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, or if those days fell on the weekend, group photos for sports or activities or rehearsals often took place on those days. This was just another reminder of the constant battle to be considered when the community plans its calendar.
So what to do?
For me, I plan to address this issue in our first DEI meeting this coming year. I plan to write to the city to make them aware of their oversight in the hopes that this won’t happen in the future. I’m very proud of being Jewish, just as I’m proud of the community where I live, so sharing with that community what is important to our faith is one step I can take. I don’t expect things to change overnight, but it’s a start.