As Shabbat nears, we want to take a moment to reflect on last night’s deeply disappointing vote by the Fairfax County School Board. Like so many of you, we hoped that meaningful progress was finally within reach, after years of struggling with FCPS over unfair treatment of Jewish students forced to miss school on our holidays, endure inappropriate Christmas-related activities, and bear the brunt of increasing incidents of antisemitism.
The school board’s decision to deny all four requested closures on days coinciding with Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Diwali, and Eid was a slap in the face to Fairfax County’s Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh communities. There is no way to sugar-coat the disrespectful, dismissive, and ill-informed approach that too many school board members adopted towards our interfaith coalition throughout this process.
And yet, there is still much to be thankful for, and much in which we can collectively take pride. The outpouring of activism and unity within Northern Virginia’s flourishing Jewish community has been tremendous. Just as importantly, the interfaith cooperation catalyzed by this crisis has created bonds among our communities that deepened and strengthened as the weeks wore on.
Together, we rallied for what is right; we did so in the face of a stunning lack of cultural competency among FCPS leadership and repeated demonstrations of unconscious bias, hurtful comments, and unrecognized privilege. Thank you to our coalition partners whose allyship lifted us up and will buoy us long after this fight is won.
We are also inspired by the five courageous members of the school board who withstood intense opposition and pressure to support our cause. These leaders raised their voices for religious equity, for the recognition and fair treatment of students who have felt unseen for so long, and for a school system that gives more than lip service to the ideals of One Fairfax. School Board Members Laura Jane Cohen, Karl Frisch, Rachna Sizemore Heizer, Melanie Meren, and Abrar Omeish deserve our gratitude. Please take a moment to email them with your thanks.
It took thousands of concerned Fairfax residents from all faiths to execute an advocacy campaign of this magnitude. Many thanks to all of the Northern Virginia synagogues and to the Pozez JCC of Northern Virginia for their active participation. And special thanks to our colleagues at Temple Rodef Sholom and Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation, led by Rabbis Jeffrey Saxe and Jessica Wainer and Cantor Michael Shochet, for their leadership and support.
This struggle is far from over. The school board received nearly 16,000 emails resulting from our coalition’s action alert, and nearly 500 students signed their own petition demanding religious equity in their schools. These voices—your voices, will be heard.
We won’t stop fighting for what is right.
The JCRC will continue advocating until the Fairfax County School Board achieves what nearly every neighboring school district has accomplished: an inclusive, equitable school calendar that accommodates the needs of minority faith communities.
Let us take pride in our community’s resilience and resolve. The journey may be long, but we will not abandon the fight until the Fairfax school calendar reflects the best of Greater Washington: a region of justice and belonging for all.
Ron, Guila, and the entire JCRC team