Despite having a campus that is 19% Jewish, this university doesn’t give classes off for the High Holidays, leaving Jewish students behind if they choose to attend services.
By Eden Binder
The Jewish High Holidays are a time to join your community, whether at home or at university, in services. Maryland’s Jewish population is no different in this regard, though this university doesn’t give off for the High Holidays.
This is a trend among big Jewish North American Public Universities, as only 3 schools: Binghamton, Queens College and CUNY Brooklyn College, in Hillel’s list of top 12 biggest Jewish Universities give off for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Elijah Kessler, a freshman biology major, attended a Jewish day school before starting at UMD. Prioritizing observance, he designed his schedule so he wouldn’t miss important classes for services.
“I changed my schedule around a little bit so I’m not missing such important classes that you can’t get the notes for, such as labs. I have non-Jewish friends in classes who can fill me in on what else is needed,” Kessler said.
Kessler informed all his teachers that he would be missing class and didn’t run into any problems.
“I’ve told all my professors, and although not all of them responded, the ones that did have been totally fine, as I am not missing exams and a lot of people are missing their classes because Maryland is a big Jewish school,” he said.
Freshman biological sciences major Maya Hoffman said that her labs were preventing her from going to most services during the day. She was frustrated by the lack of accommodations offered by these classes.
“I wanted to go to my family’s house to celebrate that day, but I did not want to go through the process of skipping a lab that day as I am concerned about the whole process,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman never had to miss class for the High Holidays before she came to Maryland. Her high school in the Philadelphia suburbs gave her the day off.
She found the process of getting a religious exemption form to be a complicated one.
“In my University 100 class for my major, I remember a big question that came up was how to fill out a religious exemption [form], as there were some people who didn’t want to miss labs for the holidays, but it was a procedure to get the form,” Hoffman said. “I don’t understand why [the university] does not just give the first day of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur off… it would be so much easier.”
Hoffman’s optional tutoring session didn’t meet during Rosh Hashanah since the leader is Jewish. None of her other professors are making any accommodations for the holidays. Kessler had a similar experience, but he has some Jewish professors who canceled class.
“I have a couple of Jewish professors,” Kessler said. “One of them is purposely not doing exams on those days and then one of the other professors is not coming in, so there is a substitute, but the other classes are still going on as is.”
Hoffman attended evening services instead of day services. She noted that, as a freshman who is still making the adjustment to university and is a bit homesick, “having class is almost a way to be occupied,” instead of focusing on the missed family celebrations happening back home.
Sophomore history major and Neshama board member, Risa Wagner, left campus for Rosh Hashanah, staying with family that lives nearby. Wagner mentioned that her Jewish studies professors canceled class, and other professors are usually “pretty understanding” but that she’s had particular trouble with one professor.
“This year, one of my professors was frustrating as she doesn’t record her lectures and doesn’t have anything to give me, so I have to rely on notes from classmates,” Wagner said. “She doesn’t really do anything for students who miss classes.”
Wagner says that the pandemic last year made it easier to miss class than it has been this year.
“I think [in terms of accommodation] it has definitely changed from last year, not specifically because of the staff, but because last year with the pandemic a lot of their lectures were already recorded and online. But they’re not doing that this year.”
Just like in years past, many students missed class for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services. For many of Maryland’s Jewish students it’s an intense struggle to preserve a balance between those classes and services.