When Rena Traube ’09, an orthodox Jew, returned to Yale from celebrating Rosh Hashanah with her family in Brooklyn, N.Y., she was overwhelmed by the amount of schoolwork waiting for her.
Traube soon decided to abandon her plans to spend Yom Kippur at home because she was still backed up with work left after the Jewish New Year.
“Yom Kippur is one of the biggest days of the year, and I ended up staying here because I couldn’t miss classes,” she said.
Some Jewish and Muslim students at Yale have faced similarly difficult choices in recent weeks, since the three major Jewish holidays — Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot — and the Muslim month of Ramadan have all occurred at demanding points in the fall semester. While many students travel home on these days to spend time with their families, others have had more difficulty reconciling their religious traditions with a deluge of midterm exams and paper assignments.
Amy Aaland, executive director of the Slifka Center for Jewish Life, said although the high Jewish holidays vary according to the lunar calendar and have tended to fall on weekends in past years, this year they happened to coincide with the peak of midterms.
“It was particularly stressful for students this year,” Aaland said.
Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg said the changing dates of Muslim and Jewish holidays from year to year make it too difficult to accommodate all students.
“We couldn’t possibly ever adjust midterms to fit the holiday schedules,” she said.
But she said a notice was sent out to faculty this year, asking them to take the holidays into consideration when assigning work. Trachtenberg said she has not received any complaints about the issue.
Because Ramadan lasts for 30 days, many Muslim students said they will not postpone a whole month’s worth of exams and papers.
Ahmed Makani ’07, president of the Muslim Student Association, said students find ways to manage their schoolwork during Ramadan.
“Still, it would be nice if professors themselves were aware that Ramadan is a significant commitment for Muslim students,” he said.
Other students said professors have been flexible about deadlines in light of the holidays.
Fatema Al-Arayedh ’07 said although she is used to greater accommodation for religious observance in her home country of Bahrain, Yale’s administration has taken steps to support students observing Ramadan.
“Yale is really trying to make it as comfortable as possible,” she said.
Makani said Yale has made food available outside of dining hall hours for students fasting during the holy Muslim month.
Shara Yurkiewicz ’09 said that, like Traube, she had difficulty celebrating Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur while keeping up with her schoolwork this month. She said her parents advised her to stay on campus and prioritize academics.
Yurkiewicz said she thinks faculty are generally understanding about the holidays — she said her English professor rescheduled class to help ease stress on students.
But while the accommodations help, Jordan Strom ’06 said, the situation is still difficult.
“It would be better if Yale did not schedule midterms on the high holidays,” Strom said. “It’s sad that students should have to make up exams and should be put behind when there are countless other days that exams can be held.”
Aaland said many professors thought it would be better to schedule exams on the religious holidays themselves so that students could make up exams instead of missing lectures.
“The students perceive it in the other way,” Aaland said. “They’d rather miss a lecture than a test.”
Aaland said on-campus services have been available for students who cannot travel home to observe the holidays.