Above The Fold: Yeshiva week: A phenom

Jewish men study in a yeshiva. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
Jewish men study in a yeshiva.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
It’s called Yeshiva Week and it has become a phenomenon in American Jewish life.
Not too long ago, when it came to winter vacation, Jewish day schools were like all other public and private schools across the country. Vacation time was determined by the Christmas and New Year calendar. It began at the end of December and continued until some time after New Year.
With each passing year, for many if not most, Jewish day schools and Jewish high schools, those days are becoming a distant memory. With the success of Jewish day school education, Yeshiva Week has taken on such significance that even airlines and hotels have accommodated to the phenomenon. How they have accommodated – they did what they do best – raised fares and rates to meet the influx of vacationers in what was once a dead vacation period. Woe to the unfortunate traveler who thinks they have outsmarted the system and chosen an “off peak” time to vacation!
Over the past decade, many Jewish day schools have designed their vacation to fall somewhere towards the middle-to-end of January. The most popular time is a 10-day period beginning the third Thursday of the month – but this is not Torah, and each school decides on its own whether to start a little earlier or even a bit later. “Week” is actually a misnomer, but the name has stuck.
It’s not an anti-social move. It’s not that Jewish students can’t populate vacation hot spots at the same time that everyone else does. It’s not a move to inconvenience working parents who find it more convenient to take time off to be with their children when all their colleagues are doing the same thing. And now it’s not even a cost-saving move.
Yeshiva Week, believe it or not, makes educational sense. The break comes at the end of the first, or what is called winter, semester and so the return to school marks the beginning of spring semester. With the old system, the academic year was interrupted by a 10-day vacation and students returned to school and were plunged almost immediately into end-of-semester exams.
This yeshiva break allows for a much smoother educational transition and it also mimics many university schedules.
As with all schedules, there are certainly hiccups in the system. The first issue is that the Yeshiva Week schedule is not universal.
More and more schools are sharing schedules and calendars in an effort to keep parents with children in different schools from tearing their hair out as they find ways to entertain their children for what becomes their personal Yeshiva three weeks. But it doesn’t always work. Some girls-only schools deliberately schedule their vacation days either earlier or later than the dates chosen by their community’s boys-only yeshivas and mesivtas in an effort to prevent fraternization. Of course, that effectively destroys family travel because many families have both sons and daughters, and the only overlap between them, if they’re lucky, is the Shabbos between the two schedules.
Hold outs of the original Christmas/New Year vacation schedule argue that the traditional winter vacation schedule marries better into the work world which is already designed for family vacations. And they have a very valid point. So much so that for some families, the issue of Yeshiva Week is one of the determining factors in selecting a school. Coordinated vacations are essential. Never underestimate the significance of family vacations.
As for the jacked-up prices airlines, hotels and all manner of vacation fun spots are now charging, it’s easy to blame some nefarious chief executive who discovered the phenomenon. But it’s probably simply a computer algorithm that noticed a spike in requests and adjusted prices to accommodate for supply and demand. It is definitely not, as some exasperated parents used to think, an act of antisemitism. Let’s keep it all in perspective, please.
So be prepared. Southern Florida and all of Israel are top contenders for Yeshiva Week frenzy. Bisli and Bamba will be flowing down the aisles. Business travelers will stick out like sore thumbs – baseball caps and backpacks will be the de rigueur dress code. And when you get stuck in Yeshiva Week quicksand, when you can’t get a reservation in your favorite restaurant, or even walk quickly down the streets of your own neighborhood, take a deep breath and remember – this is good for local businesses.
Embrace the phenomenon. Yeshiva Week is upon us.