My name is Evan Macy, and I’m a Jew. Not an Orthodox or Hasidic Jew, more like the Jewish equivalent of the Christians who observe just Easter and Christmas.
The difference between them and me is that the two biggest holidays in my religion, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, occur annually in late September and early October right in the middle of the fall academic semester.
For those of you who aren’t certain, Rosh Hashanah is the New Year on the Hebrew calendar, and celebration often includes attending synagogue and eating a large dinner with family.
Ten days afterward, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is a solemn holiday mostly spent in temple. Jews ask God for forgiveness of sins and make amends with both their fellow man and God before fasting for 24 hours, and then “breaking the fast.”
Now back to Temple. This year, Rosh Hashanah was on Sept. 30. I have one of those large lecture classes where nobody goes, and all the material is regurgitated at recitation at the end of the week.
The day I missed, and the only time since classes have started, the teacher took attendance. In addition, the professor announced both a quiz and a test that I wouldn’t find out about until class on Friday.
Then, I found out that Millersville University in my hometown of Lancaster, Pa., a city with just 700 Jewish families, has a “fall break” every year. Temple is the eighth most diverse campus in the United States, yet it makes no accommodations for Jewish students.
“The first school I went to [has] an official break for the high holidays,” said senior Aaron Appel. “[At Temple] I usually miss at least two or three days of classes, and since there aren’t days scheduled that we are allowed to miss, if we e-mail the professor, I am counted as absent and miss important work.”
The university claims that its policy does not discriminate, and making special arrangements for students who observe holidays during the school year are not possible. It cites the 36,000 enrolled students as the main reason for this.
Peter Jones, the senior vice provost for undergraduate studies, said Temple professors should be responsible for making special accommodations for students, and students should be accountable for classes they missed.
“The fact is that Temple’s official university calendar does not recognize religious holidays, though it does consider it important to respect the religious beliefs of faculty, students and staff,” Jones said.
“Accordingly, faculty, staff and students are reminded each year that on certain days, some members of the Temple community exercise their constitutional rights and do not meet regular assignments for religious reasons.”
However, many professors do not abide by the policies or guidelines issued by the university. Some professors request exams, review sessions, homework and projects be submitted on religious holidays, regardless of what the university suggests. There are too many classes and students for a loose suggestion to be abided by.
What can be done? Perhaps university can issue a moratorium on tests and projects on the high holidays or schedule a long weekend during the High Holiday season to allow Jewish students to miss class and have adequate time to catch up.
“We are a major university known throughout the country and the world, and to be almost faulted for missing class for the most important Jewish holidays is despicable and personally insulting,” Appel said.
Evan Macy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.