Noa Kattler Kupetz
The purpose of Oneg was to ease Milken into the spirit of Shabbat, a time reserved specifically for community building. Whether the goal of Oneg was ever reached is debatable, but the student response to the schedule change that eliminated Oneg is clear: we’re angry.
In actuality, many Fridays consisted of lengthy Town Meetings, or wasted time sitting around campus filled with complaints that Milken should just end the day early so we could truly enjoy our free time. But now, with Oneg taken out of the Milken schedule, we find ourselves resenting the administration for stripping us of what some have gone as far as to label “the highlight of the week.” In the words of Kayla Ardebilchi ’14, Oneg is what “made Friday Friday.”
Putting aside the bitter sentiments about the lack of student voice in creating the schedule change, let’s talk about the pros and cons. Word around campus is that the schedule change, which many find unnecessary, will do more damage than good. But is that really true?
The schedule change provides an increase in class time by 5 minutes. As students will hesitantly admit, five minutes can actually make a difference. Also, here’s something the student never thought about—during Oneg, as we carelessly hung out, certain teachers invested time out of their schedules to monitor the activities around school. It was yet another extra duty for the faculty, and often a burden for the Judaic Studies department in charge of planning each week’s Oneg.
It seems that most of the pros lean towards the teacher. Students have expressed that the longer passing periods, which will serve to give more time for students to speak with teachers, are completely unnecessary, and will go unused. But the idea behind the extended passing periods is to slow down the day and add a Shabbat-like calm mentality to campus.
“By canceling Oneg and giving you ten minute passing periods in which you can actually ask a question to your teacher in between class may be more effective [as an aid to slowing down] than reserving time for Oneg,” Dr. Roger Fuller, Upper School Principal, said.
Going back to those extra 5 minutes—Milken parents and faculty have been fumbling around with figuring out the best way to add more class time into the students schedule. In comparison to Milken’s competitor schools, we fall short in time spent in the classroom. Not only does this put more pressure on teachers to cram their curriculum into less time, it puts an extra strain on students preparing for exams, especially those in rigorous AP level courses.
It’s Time to Reinvent
We were not getting spiritual during Oneg. Milken students have begun associating Shabbat with fun, which isn’t a bad thing, but also isn’t necessarily what the holiday is about. With the time previously used for Oneg now spread into the Friday schedule, “We can get more time on task, have teachers feel not so horribly rushed, and possibly have less homework because there is more in-class time to get the tasks done,” Dr. Rennie Wrubel, Interim Head of School, said. It sounds like the point of the new Friday schedule is to keep us relaxed, a key feeling in relation to Shabbat. Wrubel stressed that this is the beginning of a process in which teachers and students will collaborate to recreate the Milken schedule. “The goal is to give everybody a little relief by not feeling compelled to continue a program we do not feel is successful,” Wrubel said.
Is it even Shabbat?
Okay, enough with the free time complaints—let’s talk big. With no Oneg, will Shabbat even be recognized on campus? As Jessica Brazani ’13 bluntly asked, “if Shabbat isn’t recognized at Milken, then what kind of Jewish school are we?” In an email sent to the student body explaining the reasoning behind the scheduling decision, Dr. Kimberly Schwartz, Associate Principal, wrote that Shabbat will be recognized in Jewish Studies classes, and the spirit will be carried into lunch. But will this truly be done? And what if you don’t even have a Jewish Studies that specific Friday?
In response to these worries, Wrubel offered words that all Milken students should take into thought. “If we were to ask students to define Shabbat, what would they say? What is Shabbat to you, and what are we taking away that is symbolic of Shabbat?” The majority of Milken students did not reach a level of spirituality during Oneg that they will now be “deprived” of. Wrubel and the Judaic Studies department plan on brainstorming more effective ways of symbolically ushering in the Shabbat. Wrubel mentioned the possibilities of freshly baked challot being delivered to campus, and programming to occur during lunch.
What about Clubs?
Student organizations such as Yozma, Scribbler’s Anonymous, and the Beit Midrash Fellowship used Oneg as a crucial gathering time. These groups will now have to change their schedules to squeeze more meeting time throughout the school week, something that will only add a bit more stress to the Milken student.
What about Town Meetings?
Town meetings, regardless of how many eyes were rolled and sighs shared before entering the gym, brought the school together. Of course, not all town meetings take place on Fridays during Oneg, but without Oneg, Friday’s town meetings will be a special change to the schedule, and no longer a function to take for granted. I was thankful for the communal misheberach that was recited at almost every Oneg town meeting this year. It embodied what Milken aims to be: a supportive community composed of Jewish values and awareness.
The Missing Student Voice
What we also forget is the student involvement in leading and planning Oneg. The Jewish Leadership Board played a large role in Oneg preparation and execution, a role that has now been taken away from them.
“We’re depriving the student body of a piece of our schedule that is essential to the Jewish identity of our school,” Arielle Mokhtarzadeh ’14, Mazkira, said. Oneg certainly had potential, a reason that Mokhtarzadeh has created a petition to bring the program back into the schedule. Imagine an Oneg planned completely by students, a time allotted specifically for students to create a communal space together. Ideas like this were shut out by the cancellation of the program.
Ultimately, regardless of whether Oneg was spent learning from a speaker like Rabbi Mentz, playing gaga with friends, or lying aimlessly around campus, it instilled a joyous, relaxed vibe on campus that we fear will be missing without the allotted time to “unplug.”
Yet it is important to remember that the first impulse to change is often rejection. Instead of complaining about the cancellation of Oneg, why not try out this new schedule with an open mind?
“Why keep doing something unproductive rather than change?” Wrubel said. As Fuller so comfortingly reminds us, “Nothing is set in stone at Milken.” Lets hope that the cancellation of Oneg turns out more “pro” than “con.”