There are about 1,000 undergraduates who identify as Jewish at Stony Brook University, and I am one of them. My name is Hillary Steinberg, and if you are familiar with Judaism, you would assume I am Jewish just from my last name. If you would really like to know, I am more culturally a Jew and was raised Reform. Within Reform Judaism, there is something called choice by knowledge. This means you learn as much as you can and then pick the practices that you feel observing would bring you closer to God. By “culturally” I mean that although among school, teaching and services I was at Temple about three times a week growing up, I don’t necessarily attend services on a regular basis. I currently work for Jewish institutions, which include Temples, JCCs, and a sleepaway camp, and I lead services at all of them. However, I’m not Kosher and I don’t practice in most aspects of my life.
So let me tell you something that is probably going to piss some people off; I have no problem not having classes off for High Holidays. This is coming from someone who led teen High Holiday services for three years. I don’t feel it’s necessary to cater to a religious minority when it comes to this university. Even if it weren’t a minority I would feel that way. I love that we’re a public school; that, to some extent, means we are all equal in the eyes of our university. There is separation of church and state, and we are a public institution. We don’t need religious holidays off. We live in a secular society and go to a secular school. Since the majority of aspects of the school are not inclined toward or include religion, it didn’t make sense that days off previously did. We also must ask ourselves how many people actually would observe instead of go to class. I guarantee it is a small percentage.
I’m of the belief that religiosity is a choice. Truthfully, I did not fast this Yom Kippur, and that’s because my relationship with God, if any, is a personal choice. College students are faced with many priorities they must juggle. I had work and classes during the times of services, so I made the choice not to go to them, because those things were my priority over my religion. That’s how I feel, and Jewish students must also make that choice.
In no way am I saying that the people who choose to observe should be penalized. I want to make this clear. I entirely believe that these people should be accommodated in every way possible. Stony Brook University offers food under religious rules and houses services for various religions. To my knowledge, the majority of professors are willing to accommodate any students religiously. I believe it should be mandated that they make every effort to.
I don’t believe this is singling anyone out. Observant people are making the choice to have their priorities with observing, and should be proud of that choice and stand behind it. I stand behind my belief that there’s little reason all of us need any religious holidays off.