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Twins Who Head Their Class Boycott Program on Shabbat

Lynn and Susan Stein are twin sisters and valedictorians of their graduating class at Woodson High School in Fairfax, Va., but being Orthodox Jews, they will not take part in the school’s commencement exercises June 7 unless Virginia’s Supreme Court orders the Fairfax County School Board to hold them on a date other than a Saturday. June 7 falls on a Saturday.

The twins are the eldest of seven children–five girls and two boys — of Dr. Jerome Stein, who practices medicine in the historic city of Alexandria, and Mrs. Evelyn Stein. The family came to Virginia from New York when the twins were infants. Fairfax does not have on Orthodox synagogue. The Steins are members of the Conservative congregation Olan Tikvah which is within walking distance of their home. The twins plan to major in biology in college starting next fall, Susan at Brandeis and Lynn at Haverford.

Washington attorney Michael Hausfeld, who represents the Twins, went into the Fairfax County Circuit Court to have the graduation date changed. He told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the court was sympathetic to the girls’ position but it held that attendance of students at a graduation ceremony is not mandatory and that the girls will get their diplomas. The case is now before the highest Virginia tribunal.

NEED FOR A SENSITIVE POLICY

The Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington considers that the Fairfax County School Board, which scheduled the commencement should establish a policy on graduation which is sensitive to the needs of Jewish students.” The Council invited the girls to address its leadership as a way of “recognizing them for their courage, academic achievement and commitment to Judaism.”

In a review of the history of their fight for a date change and in describing their motivation as growing from their strong, positive Jewish commitment, the girls said:

“When society begins to differentiate its members by reason of their sex, their race, or their religion, then it begins to disintegrate the forces that bind it. When we can no longer tolerate any human being because he or she is a minority, a woman, a Black, a Mexican, a Jew, a Catholic, or an American Indian then we mark the beginning of our own decay. We must have pride in ourselves if we are to remain a proud society. We must stand erect, both as a nation and as individuals. We must learn to tolerate and continue to be tolerant of differences. This is the strength of our democracy.

“We cannot be ashamed of being different and for asking that our differences be accommodated when reasonably practicable. Next Yom Kippur, then, while reciting the Al Het, we should ask ourselves — have we been ashamed? Ashamed of being different? Ashamed of being an individual? Ashamed of going against conformity? Ashamed of standing up for what we believe? Ashamed of who and what we are? Ashamed of being a Jew? These are things to be proud of. The only thing to be ashamed of, is being ashamed.”

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