Students juggle religious, scholastic commitments for Passover

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By Tom Hart
Staff writer
@Mitzpeh

An exodus is coming — one lesser in scope and stress than the one Jewish students will be remembering on April 10, but the pressure is still on for some.

Senior bioengineering major Ben Kaplan will be going back home to Baltimore for Passover at the start of the holiday.

“It won’t be such a far trip,” he said, since he can go back to College Park during Chol Hamoed, but “it definitely could interfere with classes.”

Chol Hamoed refers to the second through sixth days of Passover and Sukkot, where usual activity restrictions of Jewish holidays are relaxed.

Rebecca Grossman, a senior electrical engineering major, is traveling home to New York. Though she will have to miss class until April 18, she said her professors are “pretty chill” about her religious obligations.

“I just treat it as an excused absence” if students give notice, Daniel Butler said. Butler is a Ph.D. student studying protestant reform history, who has assisted professors in — and taught — history courses. Butler and Kate Bailey, another Ph.D. student, say they have between two and five students a semester who have to miss regularly scheduled class for Passover.

“By and large, I haven’t noticed the impact in students’ work at all,” Bailey said of the history courses she teaches. Bailey studies Jewish history and said she has been a teaching assistant for  a number of Jewish studies courses, for which classes were simply cancelled for the length of the holiday.

This university acknowledges Passover, but only the first three of nine days, according to the faculty handbook.

This presents an issue for Grossman. She does have time in the middle of the week to get some work done at home, but she said it’s no substitute for being on campus with her lab groups.

“As we get towards the end of the semester, projects tend to be due, so I’m missing a whole bunch of sections of different labs,” Grossman said.  

Kaplan said it could be worse — he said he missed seven days of classes in the fall because of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot falling in succeeding weeks, compared to the four he will miss for Passover.

Junior business information systems major Effi Feldblum said he will only miss the first three days — mainly to see family, as he said he is not a strictly observant Jew.

“I don’t think it’s a religious thing, so much as a family thing and a cultural thing,” Kaplan said when asked why some Jewish students may prioritize the coming Seder over other Jewish obligations.

Grossman said because the story of Exodus is “such a tenet of Judaism and Jewish culture,” many Jewish students will miss class to celebrate, even if they aren’t strictly observant.

The school workload remains, regardless of religious commitment.
“I don’t know if frustrating is the right word,” Grossman said. “I enjoy the holiday, but it requires planning.”

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