As the Jewish High Holy Days get underway, many Jewish students at Yale are traveling, missing sections and even skipping lectures to attend religious services and observe the holiday.
Rosh Hashana, a two-day celebration of the Jewish new year, starts Wednesday evening and is followed 10 days later by Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. The Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life will be holding Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and alternative nondenominational services, and Chabad of Yale will be offering services as well.
“There’s a core group of observant students who would definitely not, due to religious practices, go to class on Rosh Hashana,” said Juli Goodman, director of Jewish Student Life at Yale. “Because the High Holidays are such a widespread celebration in Judaism, it affects a really large number of Jewish students.”
The High Holy Days are among the most widely observed Jewish holidays. Jewish Yale students may be returning home to celebrate the holidays with family, choosing to spend time in religious services that conflict with their regular lectures or abstaining from coursework as part of their observance. These students communicate with their professors and section leaders to schedule around religious obligations.
In past years, some students have attended services with a backpack to go to class afterwards, Goodman said, and others miss lectures when class and services conflict. Yet other students will attend services on the first but not the second day of Rosh Hashana or will miss classes but keep up with reading and homework, according to Joe Linfield ’18, president of the Hillel Student Board at Yale.
“I’ve never had any issues,” Linfield said regarding coursework during the High Holidays. “What’s key is communication and letting your professors know ahead of time that you’ll be missing class, how the work can be made up, how the assignments can be made up, getting the notes. Professors have been accommodating and understanding.”
Other observant Jewish students said that academics are not the only thing they must balance with their religious life.
Max Martin ’18, president of Chabad at Yale and a varsity squash player, said his coaches understand if he has to miss practices for religious commitments.
“Even if you don’t go to synagogue every other week of the year, most Jews will celebrate Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur in some capacity” Martin said. “I think it carries a lot of weight.”
Martin said he is spending the holidays at his home in New Haven and at Chabad of Yale.
Jewish holidays fall on different calendar dates each year because of their accordance with the fixed lunar Hebrew calendar. Yom Kippur is always 10 days after Rosh Hashana, and the harvest holiday Sukkot falls one week after Yom Kippur.
This proximity means that in years like 2017, when Rosh Hashana falls in the middle of the school week, and Yom Kippur and Sukkot fall towards the end of the subsequent weeks, some Jewish students choose course schedules without Thursday or Friday classes.
“They’re cognizant during shopping period of when the high holidays will fall,” Linfield said. “They’ll plan to not take Thursday classes,” Goodman said, “because for essentially the next month they’re going to have a hard time going to any Thursday classes.”
The High Holy Days are closely connected with family for many Jewish people. Ritual practices include sounding the shofar, an instrument crafted from a ram’s horn, and eating apples with honey to symbolize the hope for a sweet new year.
Spiritually, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are considered times of individual and communal reflection, Linfield said. People observing the holidays think critically about their actions during the last Hebrew year and about personal improvement for the one ahead.
Sundown on Wednesday marks the end of year 5777 in the Jewish calendar.
Emily Schussheim | firstname.lastname@example.org