University should observe important Jewish holidays
Published: Monday, October 1, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 1, 2012 17:10
The most crowded days in a synagogue are usually the High Holy Days, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. During Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for Jewish people, congregants atone for their sins and ask for forgiveness. Because of their importance to the Jewish religion, the High Holy Days are sometimes the only services Jews attend all year. However, sometimes choosing to observe the holiday in such a fashion requires missing work or school.
Many secondary schools with sizable Jewish populations cancel school on Yom Kippur so that students can attend synagogue with their families and observe the holiday’s customs, which include fasting and not working. However, giving college students the day off is far less common. Although services are often available on campus through Jewish organizations like Hillel or Chabad, students are nevertheless faced with the choice of how to observe the High Holy Days—most importantly, Yom Kippur. Should they miss class to attend services? Should they go to class, but still participate in the customs? Should they commemorate the holiday at all? As a part of a substantial Jewish community here at the University of Delaware (10 percent, according to hillel.org), I am frustrated that Jewish students are forced to make a choice about the extent to which they observe Yom Kippur, given that classes were still in session.
The most prominent custom of Yom Kippur that Jews observe is fasting, and any form of work or use of electronics on Yom Kippur is generally avoided as well. These traditions are especially difficult to observe in a college setting, and unfortunately some students may choose not to observe tradition if they feel they cannot miss class or a day of studying. Other students may choose to attend class, but still observe the customs. However, focusing on a professor’s lecture or taking a test can be difficult on an empty stomach, and writing a paper is much harder without a computer. Although professors would count a student’s absence from class as excused, sometimes students may feel it necessary to attend certain classes like lectures or labs that are inconvenient to make up.
Attending services is also an integral part of observing Yom Kippur. Having classes on that day may result in fewer college students participating in services than if they were given the day off. Often times, one’s connection to the Jewish community is stronger the more Jews that are present. Since Jewish people only comprise less than 0.2 percent of the world population, according to jewishvirtuallibrary.org, and 10 percent of the population at the University of Delaware, it can be comforting to feel a part of a Jewish community. Unfortunately, such a connection may not be as strong if only a small portion of the Jewish population on campus attends services. Furthermore, participating in services forces congregants to think about the meaning of the holiday more seriously, and sadly many students may not fully acknowledge the importance of Yom Kippur if they are busy attending classes and keeping with their schoolwork.
The University of Delaware is by no means the only college that holds classes on Yom Kippur. In fact, nearby Rutgers University has the “third largest Jewish population of any campus in the country, comprising 16 percent of the student body,” according to hillel.org, and does not give students the day off. However, if the University of Delaware does decide to suspend classes for Yom Kippur, it would be a model for other universities that demonstrates how to further promote diversity. The University of Delaware’s website states that it will “foster a robust educational environment in which all people are welcome and feel welcome—one that supports critical thinking, free inquiry, and respect for diverse views and values.” Enabling Jews to conveniently celebrate their most holy day of the year would only add to this accepting environment that the university promotes.
The University of Delaware encourages a vibrant and engaged Jewish community through welcoming various Jewish activities and organizations on campus. If the university continues to support their Jewish students despite their small population, hopefully other religious groups will also be motivated to get more involved and enhance their presence at UD.