By Nira Dayanim
Topping off an unprecedented semester due to COVID-19, a holiday that is usually spent surrounded by family and friends has been scaled back, shifted, and in some cases, canceled.
This year, Thanksgiving is taking place in the midst of the largest spike in cases since the beginning of the pandemic. The Center for Disease Control has responded with a warning about the difficulties of safely observing the national holiday.
Like many others around the country, Jewish students at this university are grappling with the unique challenges posed by Thanksgiving this year.
For those living on campus, a recent update from President Darryll Pines has further complicated things. This Nov. 13 update, which says that “all students who elect to travel away from campus for Thanksgiving should plan to remain away for the duration of the semester,” means that those living in on-campus housing cannot return after traveling home for the holidays.
As a result, Nina Tepler, a freshman letters and sciences major, made the difficult decision to return home to New Jersey for the rest of the semester starting last Sunday.
“I’m going home to my family in Teaneck,” said Tepler. “I decided not to change my plans because I’d been anticipating going home since the beginning of the semester.”
Many other students, especially freshmen, are in a similar position to Tepler’s. However, some have elected to forego holiday celebrations with their family to finish the semester on campus.
Zoe Sokol, a freshman bioengineering major, chose to remain at this university over Thanksgiving break instead of flying home to Atlanta, Georgia.
“I wanted to be here for the extra couple of weeks,” she said. “I just know that it would be better for me to stay on campus for as long as possible. It’s just healthier and with finals coming it’ll be better academically.”
Those who are heading home for the holidays are taking measures to ensure they can see their families without putting them at serious risk.
“[Going home] involves more preparation beforehand. I’ve gotten tested [for COVID-19] three times in the past week and a half, and I’m getting tested again before I go home,” said Avery Penn, a junior mechanical engineering major.
Sara Heckelman, a senior marketing and supply chain management major, decided to quarantine with her childhood friend, Maya Arber, a University of Delaware student, at Arber’s beach apartment for six days to limit exposure before going home.
“If I weren’t quarantining beforehand, going straight from College Park would concern me,” she said.
However, even at home, holiday celebrations will look different. To abide by social distancing measures, many families are scaling back their celebrations this year.
“Normally, our Thanksgiving is huge with all my extended family,” said Heckelman. “Now it’s just going to be my immediate family, and not all my siblings will even be there.”
Though Thanksgiving is taking place in the middle of the most tumultuous year in recent memory, this university’s Jewish students still say they have a lot to be thankful for.
“I’m really thankful I got to come to campus in the first place because a lot of my friends have been at home this entire year,” said Tepler. “I’m also excited to come back next semester.”
“I’m thankful for the extent to which I had my freshman first semester of college even through COVID stuff. I’m really thankful that I did come to campus even though things are different and modified. To me, it’s been more than I expected,” added Sokol.
Penn is also thankful for his health and his family’s health and glad he was able to return to campus after a long quarantine at home earlier this year.
“Even through it all, when I was at home during quarantine I was able to see my grandparents and my aunt and uncle outdoors. I’m thankful to be able to be around friends again after months at home,” said Penn.
Heckelman shares a similar sentiment, and although the times are challenging, she values the relationships and connections she has in her life.
“I’m just so thankful for my health and the health of my family. I’m thankful that despite all odds love, family and friendship still exist,” said Heckelman. “You really feel the power of them when other things don’t exist.”