Last semester, Stony Brook University decided to join the University of Florida, New York University and an increasing number of other universities in no longer observing major religious holidays.
Among the observances taken off the calendar were Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, two of the most important holidays in Judaism, and the university’s decision has drawn outrage from the estimated 2,500 undergraduate and 1,000 graduate students who identify with Judaism, according to the Stony Brook Hillel.
Since SBU no longer observes these holidays, students have to make up assignments and lectures they miss due to these religious observances. The month before Rosh Hashanah, Ellul, the final month of the Jewish year. This is a month of self-improvement and prayer. Rosh Hashanah is then a several-day long period of introspection, repentance for sins and self-improvement. Not too long after this comes Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. Yom Kippur is traditionally observed with 25 hours of fasting and prayer.
“It’s upsetting; we’re being put at a disadvantage because of something out of our control,” said Batsheva Sholomson, President of the Hillel.
According to Sholomson, Hillel’s questions about the calendar change and requests to reverse it fell on deaf ears. According to members of Hillel, although they made several petitions and talked to several news stations to try to stop the calendar change, nothing happened and the students and faculty were left to sort out the new schedules for themselves.
Among the students affected most by this change is David Chadow, a senior biology major. Although his professors are being accommodating, he will miss seven days of classes in the next few weeks, along with numerous assignments, all due to religious ceremonies.
“I’m taking some pretty difficult classes, at this level missing seven days can be difficult to make up,” Chadow said.
There is a good side to this disheartening story too, however.
“Everyone is doing whatever they can to help, and Hillel has been great with helping everyone out and talking to the faculty. No one is compromising their beliefs, even though our school is not being accommodating,” Sholomson said.
Through all of the hardships they have faced, the Jewish community at SBU is as strong as ever. Most of the faculty members are being supportive of students who need to miss classes and are giving ample opportunity to make up whatever assignments they miss. Still, though, there will be many students who will fall behind for observing their beliefs.