Several Jewish students described making difficult choices to balance religious and academic obligations around the summer holidays
Yale Daily News
In the midst of the Jewish holiday season in September, students and faculty reported struggling to balance their observance with their academic schedules. And while the students found the faculty to be accommodating, some have asked the University to ease the burden they carry throughout this important time of year.
Four students and a faculty member told The News about the delay in their work and their inability to fully connect to their faith on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the two most important days of the year for people of Jewish denomination. Rosh Hashanah, the first of the holidays, began on September 6 and Sukkot ends on Tuesday. In an email to the News, Lia Solomon ’24 wrote that her experience trying to balance competing commitments was “extremely disorienting.”
âHaving that many vacation for consecutive weeks is really tough on my school life,â Solomon wrote in an email to News. âBesides missing tons of lessons, I don’t do homework on these days, so I always make up for the content and work that I missed. Honestly, it’s hard to feel settled in at school when every week since the second week of class I’ve missed at least one day.
For some students, including Solomon, this act of balancing work with school not only impacts their academics, but also their ability to engage in their faith.
Giovanna Truong ’23, who is converting to Judaism, said that by having to attend classes on holy days, she is not fully participating in the observance. As a result, she said, she felt like “an impostor.”
âI went to classâ¦ it all made me feel like I wasn’t participating in the wholeness that I maybe should be if I claim to want to be a part of this community,â Truong said.
In an email to the News, Yale College dean Marvin Chun wrote that the Jewish community âis not just welcome to Yale; it’s a vital part of it. He added that the Jewish community receives formal support from Yale College. It starts with mandatory training for all Yale College students that introduces them to the staff and policies they can use, or accommodations that allow them to reschedule their academic work when it comes into conflict with days of worship.
While Solomon described a number of the challenges of being an observant Jew on campus, he said the summer vacation – which takes place at the start of the fall semester each year – is “probably the most difficult. “.
In an email to News, Truong explained the guilt students can feel when they don’t fully participate in the vacation.
âI asked myself: am I Jewish enough to take a day off in good faith? Or, they feel guilty because they don’t take a day off, âTruong wrote. “It’s a catch-22.”
But on an individual level, all students interviewed by News had a positive experience receiving extensions from faculty. Solomon, Truong, and Richard Hausman ’24 all described the process as incredibly straightforward. Professors were always accommodating to their requests to miss classes or receive extensions on papers, they said.
Still, problems persist in Yale College’s adaptation process, according to Hausman and Truong. They both said that asking teachers for permission to miss class was a burden in itself. For this reason, Hausman attended a discussion section on Yom Kippur.
âThe default state of affairs is not very accommodating for Jews,â Hausman said. âJews are still a minority on campus, but at Yale it’s a pretty sizable minority, so it might be ethically worthwhile to make the default state accommodating to Jews. “
But Chun said he makes himself “officially” available to any students who wish to speak to him about needs requiring additional support, and that he communicates regularly with leaders of the Jewish community. âIt is very important for me to support the Jewish community at Yale, and my door is always open,â he said.
Hausman agreed with Truong that having all teachers know about the holidays before they take place and that classes are optional on those days would ease the burden on Jewish students of asking for an exemption from every teacher.
“If there was a general policy that made it easier to ask for religious exemptions for courses or work extensions, it would take a lot of pressure and stress away from individuals, as it would make it a matter of a real thing and they don’t need to be afraid to approach teachers, especially the early years, âSolomon said.
Sidney Cahn, a lecturer in the physics department, added that asking for individual exemptions from classwork places undue burden and stress on students.
âBut the students put themselves under tremendous pressure,â said Cahn, âand so [by observing the holidays], they would fall back even further. So they have to grapple with what they are going to do. Now, of course, no man can serve two masters. So it’s difficult. “
Cahn, however, did not advocate for the cancellation of classes on Yom Kippur, as the move could mean vacations of all faiths would also have to be recognized with classes canceled, which would be unsustainable.
Some Jewish students observing the Sukkot feast will continue to miss classes on September 27 and 28.
Olivia Tucker contributed reporting.