This week marks the High Holidays and the start of the year 5777 of the Jewish calendar.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur offer Jewish people an opportunity for introspection, contemplation and recommitting themselves to doing better in the coming year.
While this is something many of us aim to do every day of our lives, the rituals of these holidays remind Jewish people around the world to end the past year and start the next on the right foot.
For Jewish students at Elon, there was an earlier deadline to prepare for the new year. Sept. 9 was the last day for non-Christian students to fill out the Religious Observance Notification Form in order to miss class for non-Christian holidays.
The policy is supposed to be an easier way for students to communicate with professors that they will not be in class.
But, as someone who has had to fill it out 4 years in a row, I believe it only adds to the stress since the students would need to talk to the professors about their absence in person anyway.
Even more frustrating is the exception to this rule. According to the Religious Observance Policy, “there may also be certain circumstances (a concert or a performance for example) which cannot be made up. In this case, the student may be advised to take that specific course in another school semester.”
This is a ridiculous expectation considering how difficult scheduling classes is in general, let alone if non-Christian students are expected to fit their classes around their religious observances. Would a concert ever be planned for Easter Sunday?
In the past, my attendance of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services has left me with only one day to miss class because of an emergency or sickness without the absence affecting my grade.
That is to say nothing of the fact that each year I choose to go to class during the Jewish holidays of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah so that I don’t miss additional classes. Students should never be forced to choose between their religious observance and academic performance.
That is how difficult it is to be Jewish on campus during our holiest days, but it doesn’t end there. During the rest of the year, there is a struggle to go to weekly services.
Christians on campus have several churches within walking distance or a short drive that they can attend, so there are ways for students to find a church that is a good or at least close fit for them. There is a mosque in Burlington now that Muslim students can attend.
While there are Orthodox services within walking distance, the closest established synagogues are close to Greensboro and are inaccessible to students without a car on campus. The closest Hindu temple is also a 20 minute drive.
But for many people, there is meaning in religious traditions beyond prayer: family.
Family is a huge and often integral part of celebrating holidays. Most Christian students can be home for Christmas during Winter Break to celebrate with their family.
Elon also gives students the Monday after Easter off, giving students a three-day weekend to travel home and back. Most non-Christian students don’t have the luxury of travel time to spend holy days with their family.
Despite the wonderful work of the Truitt Center For Religious and Spiritual Life and Hillel, my experience of Jewish holidays at Elon are not the same when I can’t spend them with my family.
If you want Elon to be a truly inclusive community, it is your responsibility to educate yourselves on non-Christian religious and cultural traditions.
It is your responsibility to help create a culture at Elon where Christianity and its traditions are not the standard, but one of many beautiful and rich faith and cultural traditions.
It will take more than including non-Christian religious leaders in calls to prayer. It will take more than calling winter events “holiday celebrations,” especially when Christmas is the only holiday represented.
Students shouldn’t schedule club events on holidays. Professors should recognize that Saturday afternoon deadlines on Moodle mean finishing work by 5 p.m. Friday for some students.
So while Jewish students at Elon are reflecting on their actions in the past year, I urge the Christians of our Elon community to reflect on the privilege they have at Elon and in a Christian-dominated society, and to do their part to make Elon inclusive of all religious minorities.
To a year of personal growth and cultural understanding: L’shana tova.