University supports Jewish students on high holidays
Brandeis, unlike many neighboring schools, gives days off for the Jewish holidays, providing students the opportunity to celebrate in a traditional manner.
One of the holiest days for Jewish students, Rosh Hashanah, fell on one of the first days of classes this year. Yom Kippur, another one of the holiest holidays, came 10 days later, and Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah all came less than two weeks after that.
When the Justice spoke to some Jewish students at Brandeis, they voiced their gratitude for the University’s support of their holidays and religious practices. Such support included offering kosher dining options, canceling classes on major holidays and planning vibrant and varied Jewish religious, educational, cultural and social programming.
The majority of American universities do not cancel classes for major Jewish holidays. Jewish students at these schools were faced with a tough decision: observe the holiday and miss some of the first days of classes, or attend classes at the expense of their religious obligations.
Molly Khabie, a freshman at Boston University — which, according to Hillel International, has a Jewish population of about 22% — told the Justice that she grappled with balancing going to class and observing the holidays, and expressed disapproval for BU’s decision. “I don’t think that the university made the right decision to have classes because many of my friends struggled with going to classes, and it also forced me to use my computer/phone, which I would have rather not used on the holidays,” she told the Justice on Sept. 26. Jewish life on campus is very important to Khabie, she said, and was influential in her decision to attend BU. She believes that the university should “take off for high holidays [so] that [you] don’t force Jews to compromise their practices in order to keep up with classes.”
For students celebrating holidays for the first time away from their families, the opportunity to attend services at college among their peers is a great comfort, said Brandeis first-year Dina Millerman in an interview with the Justice on Sept. 29. “It was strange to celebrate away from home and I missed my family and my synagogue. That being said, I still felt like I was in a supportive Jewish community and that I celebrated the holidays in an adequate way,” Millerman explained.
While Brandeis is officially non-sectarian, the strength of the Jewish community often plays a large role in the decision of Jewish students to apply and/or commit to Brandeis, according to Brandeis Hillel President Sarah Bernstein ’23. “When looking into colleges, I wanted an experience similar to what I was used to. I wanted somewhere that had a big Jewish community and a community where I wouldn't feel isolated for being Jewish, and that community was and still is Brandeis,” she told the Justice on Sept. 25. While not the deciding factor for her, Millerman said that “knowing that Brandeis has a large and lively Jewish population definitely made it stand out against schools that have constant reports of antisemitism. I never feel unsafe as a Jew on campus.”