Student fasting on Yom Kippur disrupted by coursework, scheduling
Breakfast comes late for some on the high holy day of Yom Kippur.
After the final words of the Neilah service, hungry students at the Hillel building flocked to the buffet spread to finally get some food after 25 hours without so much as water.
This Wednesday, Sept. 19 marked the Jewish new year, a day of a fasting and atonement. Though the most important holiday to practicing Jewish students, university policy toward religious absences leaves much to be desired for those who take off class to pray.
Senior Hannah Greenberg, the president of Hillel student life, had just broken her fast after the sundown service. Though starving, she was worried about her classwork and an internship, which she said is a common stress for students that observe the holiday.
Before coming to the university, Greenberg didn’t have school on Jewish holidays. But now Greenberg said she is used to having to make a choice between practicing her faith and going to class.
Greenberg had help from the Hillel services in requesting classes off, but emailing professors or the dean of students can be intimidating. She said nothing is done intentionally to give religious students work on holy days, but she believes professors need to be more accommodating to their students.
“No one wants to be in a four-hour biology lab if they’re fasting,” she said. “Sometimes the professors don’t even know [about Yom Kippur], for freshmen for the first time not having school off it can be intimidating to ask.”
Rabbi Nick Renner of the university Hillel foundation finally sat down after finishing a long day of prayer services for students and faculty while fasting. He explained that Yom Kippur is a day of atonement, when the individual and community wipe the slate clean of sins in redemption. The high holidays begin with Rosh Hashanah in celebration of the Jewish new year, punctuated by a day of fasting with Yom Kippur.
Ideally, he believes no classes should be held on major Jewish holidays out of respect for the tradition. But when it comes to academic policy, he leaves it up to administrators who better understand how to procedurally apply a system to respect Jewish students.
“Any possible measure to make it easier for students [would be welcome],” Renner said. “Every effort should be taken.”
Also enjoying his first food in a day was sophomore Jeremy Davis. Davis has had problems with how he was treated for celebrating Jewish holidays in the past. He said it is common to have professors who have scheduled exams on Yom Kippur not realizing there’s an important holiday that day.
One professor in particular would not respond to his emails to ask for class off and only talked to him in person, saying she doesn’t believe students that only email to request absence.
“I told her that was insulting,” Davis said.”No matter what I’m still going to happily observe, but I would love to be respected.”
Davis believes the two month winter break is somewhat absurd. Everyone gets to take off for Christmas, but a break that rivals the length of summer vacation is just a ploy to add a January term, Davis said. Why not take a couple of the days from the winter break to be used for religious holidays, Jewish or otherwise, throughout the year, he asked?
Davis and Greenberg both agreed that even a simple email to notify students and faculty about important holidays would make things better.
The dean of students office sends out a religious absence reminder at the beginning of the semester, which specifically mentions high Jewish holidays.
Even still, both Davis and Greenberg believe a letter from President Dennis Assanis himself would help professors be mindful, and educate students about holidays, both Jewish and otherwise.
“Even though we’re not in class, that doesn’t mean we’re having a celebration, we’re praying” Davis said. “[To show support] if President Assanis sent out emails to all of UD before major holidays it would help. Profs could be informed and re-schedule assignments, students would learn about the holidays, it would be educational to everyone.”