Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity Calendar Training on Religious Holidays (Judaism, Christianity, & Islam) Transcript

The following is the transcript of the DEI Calendar training. 


Greetings, fellow Federationists. In 2022, the National Federation of the Blind released its first diversity calendar, and when we updated the calendar for 2023, we wanted to take the effort to the next level to make sure that our Federation leaders really understood the purpose of the calendar and how to use it effectively in planning meetings for the National Federation of the Blind. The organization's Code of Conduct and our underlining values guide us in noting that we want an organization that is reflective of the country around us. 

We know that blindness does not choose genders or race or religion or any other characteristic when it comes to individuals. And so, we want to make sure that we're bringing in blind individuals from all sorts of varied backgrounds. We have heard the importance for many, many Federation members of their religion as one of the characteristics of their life, and we all make compromises to participate in Federation events from time to time. But as leaders, we want to be sensitive to the choices that people have to make and to make sure that we're not scheduling federation events around major holy holidays that some of our members might observe. And, when those come from religions that we're not familiar with or don't observe. Sometimes it's hard to know. 

So our diversity calendar is meant to give us some guideposts in what we can and should avoid in planning Federation meetings.  We should also note that it's a tool. It's one tool we can use. One of the best tools in addition to this one that we have is the guidance of our members in the Federation. And, when I say that we should remember that the members that we have today are not the only reflection of where we want to be. 

So, we should be considerate of members and other parts of the federation who might observe religions, even if we don't today find members observing those religions in our local affiliate. And so, with our Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee, I've asked our coordinator of Diversity Equity and Inclusion Projects here at the national office to put this training together alongside our five-year diversity calendar to help leaders of the Federation better use this tool in your work. Remember that this calendar will be updated every year to reflect five years out from the beginning of the year. So, I want to now turn it over to Malcolm Greene.


Thank you President Riccobono. As the movement continues to grow, we are becoming more diverse. We embrace this opportunity to learn about one another in the spirit of inclusion. Our DEI calendar is a representation of this. Thank you again, president Riccobono, for empowering me to complete this project. The NFB DEI calendar for years 2023 through year 2027. It outlines holidays from many religions. 

There are also asterisks or blackout dates for certain holidays on the calendar. We ask that at your discretion honor these high holy days based on your affiliate needs and populations. More importantly, be educated on the fact that these holidays exist, what they mean, and how to allow your members to observe them while continuing with NFB business. I would like to use this opportunity to introduce Mr. Stewart Prost. He will share the Jewish calendar, its high holy days, their meanings, and possibly how to modify NFB activities during these times.  Mr. Prost, would you please share with us?


Thank you very much, Mr. Greene. First of all, I want to start out by saying that there are different levels of observance in Jewish tradition. There are what are referred to as minor holidays, an example of that, believe it or not, is Hanukkah, because Hanukkah, although it is made into a big deal because of Christmas, is a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar. It is an important holiday in that it represents a victory over religious freedom, and it's a holiday of lights. But it is, in some respect, a minor holiday for a major holiday. There is a reference to making them what they call in the Hebrew language Yom Tov, which is a holy day. 

They are days based in the Bible, in the Jewish tradition it would be in the Torah or in the Old Testament for reference, and they are Passover and Shavuot and Sukkot. Those are the three major festivals that are shown in the Torah. The other two major holidays that are also listed as blackout, these are all listed as blackout dates are Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year. 

Yom Kippur is translated as the Day of Atonement. The Day of Atonement is, it's a time between those two Holidays, it’s a time of reflection of thought. It's a way of sort of taking every year and starting over, looking at what you've done, what you can do better, what has been problematic, to ask for forgiveness from people and to ask for forgiveness from God. We believe that God is truly merciful. So, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I would say, are the most important holidays. 

They're the one people observe the most. That would be the dates that I would definitely say you need to avoid having any meetings because you will find that if someone is at all observant, they will not be attending. Now, when it comes to Passover and Sukkot, they are on the calendar, they are eight days long and it is listed as blackout holidays. One of the things I want to explain is that even during that time, there are different levels of observance. The first two and the last two dates of each of those holidays of Passover and Sukkot in particular are considered holy days. 

And what that means is people are not doing their normal business. They're not doing work. Those who are observant and in the middle is a time when, yes, you're still part of the holiday, but you're not going to necessarily stop doing work or going to activities. And I think activities for the NFB can be scheduled then, in that middle period, the middle, I guess you call it four days of each of those holidays. 

The other thing is, is that you saw on the calendar that you had references to Passover eve, Shavuot eve, Rosh Hashanah eve. Jewish holidays go from sunset to sunset. They do not go from midnight to midnight as everybody thinks. They go from sunset to sunset. What does that mean? That means that, for example, the day before Passover, Passover eve, when people are going to be gathering for what is called the Passover Seder, which is the retelling of the exodus of Egypt. Jews are commanded to retell the story of the exodus of Egypt every year and to celebrate it in a special service. Seder, which is usually done at home. But right before that, it's considered not, you could still have an activity during the day a lot of times. 

The same thing goes with the last day of a given holiday. If you have an event that starts after sunset, that's going to be okay. The other thing is that many Jews have different levels of observance. Some people do not observe those holy days, or a number of people do not and may not have any sort of problem with having an activity on a given day. 
My best suggestion is, is you talk to your members who are Jewish saying, you know, is this date going to be a problem for you and you'll find some people will say yes and some people will say no. So, it really varies. I would say Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and the first night of Passover are dates that you really, really want to avoid. When it comes out to the blackout dates, your best bet is to try to reschedule the event, or if it's an event that you're going to have multiple times, for example, if you have a national call or you have an activity that's like on a zoom, having it multiple times and having it at another time when it isn't a Jewish holiday is a really good idea and besides, it will increase participation.  
Again, in terms of a local level or the state affiliate level, identify your members who are Jewish, ask them what their observances are and if there is a problem with the date and if there is, do their best to try to reschedule it. I think that's the way you do it. I think that's going to be the way because if you look at that calendar, you say, gee, there's a lot of blackout dates and it really is not a big deal. Just to go over it, Passover, like I said, it is the celebration of the exodus from Egypt. Like I said, the first two to last two days are considered holidays or holy. Shavuot, which is seven weeks afterward. 

It literally means Feast of Weeks is a holiday that celebrates that when the Jews were given the Ten Commandments or the Torah, and that is a two-day affair. Then if you go through the calendar in the next one in there is Rosh Hashanah, and that is the Jewish New Year as I explained earlier on Yom Kippur. Sukkot is a harvest festival. It is traditional for people to come and sit in what are called Sukkot or Tabernacles as a translation that people use.  So that's basically what I have for you Mr. Greene, and I'm going to turn it back to you. Thank you.


Thank you, Mr. Prost. That was awesome.

Wow. Next, we have the Reverend Dr. Carolyn Peters. She will share the Christian calendar, its high holy days, what they mean and possibly how to modify NFB activities during these times.


Thank you, Mr. Greene for the opportunity to share today. First of all, in the Christian faith, we have Catholics as well as Protestant denominations, and there are multiple denominations in each. I would say that Easter and Christmas are the most important holidays, and those would be our blackout days and of course, Christmas Eve. Easter is the foundation of the Christian faith. We're talking about the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, of course, that day is always on Sunday. So that would be a day of observance for all Christians. 

Then we'd look at Christmas, which we're referencing the birth of Christ, and that's on the 25th of December. And that date fluctuates, so whatever day that is, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day should be observed and be a blackout day. For accommodations what I would recommend because it’s not that many days, but a courtesy to those individuals that cannot participate. 

We're doing so many things with Zoom now that these opportunities or activities can be recorded. And I would also ask for consideration for those that are deaf and hard of hearing that we utilize the captions either by Zoom or, you know, however, we can facilitate that so that people can participate actively in the programs that are being sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind. And I think that's what I have for you right now. Mr. Greene, so thank you for allowing me to share that.


Thank you. Reverend Dr. Peters, you were outstanding.


You're very welcome.


Ronza Othman and Tasnim Ashuli will share the Muslim calendar, inform its high holy days, what they mean and possibly how to modify NFB activities during these times. Ronza please begin and share with us.


Thank you, Malcolm. You may have heard of Eid al-Fitr or the Feast of Feasting, which is the first of our high holy days and a blackout date in terms of event planning and Eid al-Adha, which is the 10th day of Hajj.  Eid al-Adha is the other blackout date for planning purposes.  Islam follows the lunar calendar as opposed to the solar calendar, which most other holidays that you might be familiar with and secular and non-secular holidays and commemorations follow. The lunar calendar in Islam advances by ten or 11 days every year. That means that our events are not static.  So, for example, Eid al Fitr was in early May in 2022, and it'll be around April 21st in 2023, so it moved up ten or 11 days.  
The dates for our holidays and observances are known in advance with high confidence but not certainty, because Islamic scholars believe that there needs to be a visual sighting of the moon via the naked eye in order to confirm the holidays. That's why for planning purposes, it's best, particularly on the blackout dates in the high holy days, to avoid planning on scheduling activities, events, conferences and conventions on the day itself, but also on either day before or after that particular blackout date. Again, in terms of the high holy day, there is the Feast of Feasting, or Eid al-Fitr, which celebrates the end of Ramadan, and also the conclusion of the month when Islam and the Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. It is three days, long, but the first day is the high holy day or the blackout day, when Muslims observe it by holding prayers, visiting loved ones, both living and passed on at the cemetery and of course, feasting. Eid al-Adha, the second high holy day and blackout date for planning purposes is the feast of sacrifice. And it commemorates two things. It commemorates the end of Hajj, which is an annual pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, two of Islam's holiest sites. And it also commemorates, which is in all of the Abrahamic faiths, the Prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son on God's instructions. This is a four-day holiday, the first day being the blackout date.


And next, we have Tasnim for more information about the Muslim calendar.


As far as accommodations, we recommend that NFB organizers and leaders include the religious and cultural diversity in their programing. We also recommend that they provide Halal, Zabihah Halal, which is a specific type of halal meat or food option for any meals that they offer and asks their members specifically what they recommend in terms of their dietary restrictions. And there are conveniently available stores that sell this type of meat or beef or lamb or chicken. Seafood is mostly always halal. Also, we recommend that prayer, especially Friday prayer services be blacked out during an agenda, during an event like on the agenda and also offering the space for that Friday prayer. In Islam we have five daily prayers.  If you have any questions or concerns or any clarifications, you can always reach out to the NFB Muslim Group at [email protected] Which is [email protected] and you can reach me Tasnim Ashuli at the NFB Muslims group.

Thank you.


In closing, I would like to thank our president, our guests, affiliate leaders for your willingness to share and openness for learning and implementing potentially new information, new values, new ideas for a more inclusive and sensitive National Federation of the Blind.

All your efforts are noticed and appreciated. Thanks again. This is your DEI coordinator, Malcolm Greene.