High Holiday Feature: Jewish Student Dilemma; Attend Classes or Services?

For many Jewish college students, the choice can be difficult: Attend classes or go to High Holiday services?

“When I attend services, I am constantly thinking about what I am missing in class, and if I attend class, I feel bad about not celebrating the holidays,” said Jeff Margolies, a junior at Tufts University.

By the time Rosh Hashanah begins, the school year is in full swing and students are busy with assignments and preparing for midterm exams.

Some colleges and universities have informal policies that allow students to reschedule exams and major assignments due to religious conflicts.

There is no university policy at Cornell University that exempts students from class or work; however, the Hillel can “write a note excusing us from gym,” said Rachel Harris of Cornell. “Otherwise, we have to discuss the matter with our professors individually. They are usually pretty understanding,” said the senior at the Ithaca, N.Y.-based school.

Across the nation, however, many campuses have increased their awareness of the High Holidays during the last decade.

“There are fewer academic conflicts now than ever before because the Hillels on campuses and other campus professionals concerned with Jewish campus life helped to sensitize the administration to concerns of the Jewish students,” said Rhoda Weisman, the director of Hillel’s Steinhardt Jewish Campus Service Corps.

Weisman added that if students do encounter any conflicts or concerns, they should contact the campus rabbi or Hillel director for assistance.

“Usually students just tell the professor that they have to observe the important holidays and ask to be excused. Whether to excuse the student is up to the discretion of the professors, but most are accepting.” said Margaret McKnight of the Office of Religious Affairs at the University of California at San Diego.

But conflicts still arise. At Miami University in Ohio, Greek Week, when fraternities and sororities participate in activities that raise money for chairities, was scheduled during the High Holidays. This was a major issue for Jewish students who want to get involved in Greek life on campus, said Hollis Kramer, a former Hillel Steinhardt campus fellow.

“One of the biggest issues that Jewish students on campus face is that the non- Jews do not know about the holidays,” she said.

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