For Jewish students who struggle to balance religious observances with school, September is a month of constant catch-up

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A banner welcoming students hangs at the entrance of Maryland Hillel. Chinonso Maduforo/Mitzpeh

By Chinonso Maduforo
For Mitzpeh
@Mitzpeh

 

For the many Orthodox Jews at this university, September is not just holiday time: It’s also an intense game of catch-up.

“It’s a ripple effect. You fall behind one day and then another day because the chagim all collapse into one month,” said Eleanna Weissman, a sophomore criminology and criminal justice major. “And the more time goes on, you can race to try and finish your work; it just doesn’t work though.”

Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot all fall one after the other in September and there is little time to get much work done. This is especially the case as the semester starts to pick up momentum.

During some of the holidays, many strictly observant students cannot do any work. This pressures them to keep up with assignments as they struggle for the sake of their grades.

There are many prohibitions in place for students who observe the holidays.

“We can’t even write down things on paper. We can’t turn on and off lights; we can’t open our laptops. Even if we go to lecture, we can’t take notes,” said Weissman.

Many professors don’t completely understand the holidays. While many are sympathetic, they vary on how far they’ll go to accommodate students.

“Sometimes I’ll go to lecture but I can’t take the in-class quiz. So, I get penalized even though I’m physically in lecture and I’m learning the material. That can be frustrating at times,” said Jacob Elspas, a junior computer science and linguistics major.

Professors often offer to drop one or two of the lowest assignment or quiz grades in many courses. This may be favorable for many non-Jewish students, but some religious Jews are forced to drop grades due to holidays rather than for assignments they were present for and just didn’t do well on.

Additionally, some Jews who observe Shabbat, another day when work is forbidden, feel as though they have even less time to catch up.

“I got lucky this semester since a lot of my work is reading and books that I’m able to look at on holidays, but even with that I’m still going to be playing maybe three or four days of catch up,” said J.D. Krebs, a junior government and politics and history major. Even when the external work is accessible, Krebs, like many others in his position, still miss lectures and risk falling behind.

Although managing the workload can be difficult at times, some professors have been understanding.

“All of my professors have been very receptive to rescheduling our midterms and stuff, and I’m about two weeks ahead on work,” said Ze’ev Yehuda, a sophomore mechanical engineering and applied math major.

Some students have even found ways to recover from missing so much school.

“Office hours are helpful; most professors are pretty understanding. It’s good to have a non-Jewish classmate who you can get notes from. Any assignments that don’t include writing, that stuff you can get done,” said Krebs.

Overall, the holiday experience for many Jewish students varies, but one thing remains consistent: dedication to both schoolwork and religion.

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