Section: Opinion

High holidays clash with class schedules

Balancing class with Yom Kippur fasting should not be difficult.

The days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are big events in my memory — marked by wearing hand-me-down dress pants from my sister with uncomfortable little black flats and scratchy sweaters. Before services began, I remember listening to my mom’s yearly lecture to my sister and I, scolding us to take the Jewish new year more seriously: It is the time to reflect on the actions of our past year and consider how to better ourselves. I distinctly remember chiding myself for not feeding my guinea pig on time. My mom’s lecture paid off: He grew into his nickname “Fat Fred.”

I do not consider myself a highly religious person, but these moments — the most significant, perhaps, of my Jewish education — have stuck with me as footholds for my Jewish identity.

Growing up, I always had Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur off from school. These are the largest holidays on the Jewish calendar — they represent the beginning of the new year, a time to reflect and repent for the sins of the previous year. Both public and private schools cancelled classes. I spent the days off with my family in services on Yom Kippur, trying to ignore my stomach growling (due to the required fasting) while reciting the Hebrew prayers and songs.

Since arriving at Kenyon, my Jewish experience has been different. Hillel provides a dinner at the Parish House and evening services the night that Rosh Hashanah begins, and then two hours of services the day of, from 10 a.m. until noon. The busy life of a Kenyon student barely allows for this little interruption to observe the holiday. And even if I excuse myself for two hours to attend services, I find myself sitting in Peirce on Rosh Hashanah with my friends as if it is any other meal.

This year, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur happened to fall on a Monday and a Wednesday respectively, which means my Monday-Wednesday-Friday classes from 10 until noon conflicts with the two-hour services for both holidays. Having missed this class for Rosh Hashanah, my professor discouraged me from skipping again on Wednesday, as we learned a highly technical procedure. What should I do? On the largest holiday of my year — the day I fast and consider who I am, how I treat people and how I can improve — I will be going about my regular schedule, attempting to participate in five hours of class as if it is any other day. I should be in services, reflecting and observing this holiday.

It would be unreasonable to ask for all classes to be cancelled, like my high school did. Jewish students are in the minority at Kenyon, and thus the entire school should not shift accordingly. (It is interesting to note that Oberlin cancels classes on Yom Kippur, but Wooster and Denison do not). I want to be able to observe the holiday as I choose — not choose between academics and religion, not choose between falling behind academically or losing part of my Jewish identity. I would prefer if, as some do already, professors cancel class if it suits the majority or refrain from scheduling unmissable classes on these important days.

Dani Gorton ’18 is a studio art major from New Haven, Conn. Contact her at gortond@kenyon.edu.

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