When Yom Kippur fell on an academic day this past fall, senior Lindsay Rosenzweig was faced with a difficult decision: fall behind on eight hours of internship work in favor of attending religious services, or not attend services. Despite choosing her internship at the Family Justice Center over attending services, Rosenzweig said she still took the holiday seriously and fasted — having to endure the day with no food or water.

“I was put in a position of losing significant amount of work hours. It really came down to that,” Rosenzweig said. “I'm sure that my peers can share similar experiences of either missing class and having to struggle making up that work, or going to class and missing the observance aspect of the holiday. It really is difficult to do both.”

With Elon’s Jewish community in mind, Rosenzweig, co-president of Elon Hillel, said Hillel is pushing for Elon to add Yom Kippur as a day off to the academic calendar. Rosenzweig said that Elon’s consistently growing Jewish population is also grounds for addressing this change now, compared to in previous years.

According to Elon University’s 2021-22 factbook, 557 undergraduate students reported themselves as Jewish out of a total of 6,301. Hillel also reported that the class of 2025 has 184 Jewish students — Elon’s largest Jewish representation in one class ever.

According to Rosenzweig, Hillel began advocating for a calendar day off when they heard Elon’s calendar committee — the party responsible for planning and confirming the academic calendar — was discussing it. 

In March 2022, Elon’s Multifaith Strategic Planning Committee sent a memo to Elon’s Calendar Committee titled “Issues to Consider for the Academic Calendar Regarding Religious Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.” Using data obtained from the 2022 preliminary report released in January  2022, the committee recommended adding one Jewish holiday as a day off on the academic calendar.

Highlighting Yom Kippur as the holiest of the Jewish holidays, as perceived by Elon’s campus as well as other universities across the country, the committee wrote they “acknowledge that canceling classes on only one Jewish holiday — Yom Kippur — falls far short of what some Jewish students and staff members have recommended.”

Although Rosenzweig recognizes that students are able to fill out religious exemption forms in order to observe these holidays under excused absences, she pointed out that students still have to worry about the work they miss while out of class. 

“It's a great first step. It doesn't check all the boxes, though,” Rosenzweig said. “It doesn't mean that just because you're offered a religious holiday, they're gonna scale back the assignments, scale back the presentations — the lectures that they give. So while you are legally missing a day of class for an excused reason, it doesn't mean you're not making up everything you're missing. It doesn't mean that that's not in your mind.”

Other co-president senior Zoe Kurtz, said that many of her professors only offer two or three excused absences throughout a semester, so people are reluctant to file for these exemptions when it comes to planned events.

“For most students in their first semester, in my classes, you get two absences. And so there's Rosh Hashanah and there's Yom Kippur, so those are your two absences,” Kurtz said. “They are excused, but then you still have to count those in your mind. A lot of Jewish students don't want those to be their absences. You have to count for sick days, or emergencies, and so taking that into consideration, many students aren't comfortable taking those days off.”

Rosenzweig also said she shared Kurtz’s concern in regards to Elon’s Jewish community during Jewish holidays.

“God forbid you get sick, God forbid something happens and you have to leave,” Rosenzweig said. “Those are absences that are being used against you, and a lot of people in the Jewish community still see that on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah.”

Kurtz said she feels like this will be a great change for faculty, staff and students because it will allow them to feel more comfortable, open and supported with practicing their religion at Elon.

“I think what makes this so special to me is that my sister's a first-year here, and so I want my sister to have the opportunity to have what I didn't have,” Kurtz said. “I've had so much at Elon, I've had the best four years here. … I want to give back to the Elon community, and the Jewish community here.”

In the future, Rosenzweig said she would love to see other religious holidays included on Elon’s calendar — Jewish or otherwise.

To affirm Hillel’s position on advocating for the calendar change, Rosenzweig and Kurtz said they will be writing a letter to Elon’s administration and having Hillel’s executive board sign it.

“While it is one day out of the academic year, it is a really difficult day … to make everything come together,” Rosenzweig said. “I would just like students to not have to choose between those things. They should be able to just go and observe without having to worry about how much work they're going to miss.”

Rosenzweig and Kurtz also said they are looking to hear from Jewish students, especially within the Hillel community, to share their experiences of being Jewish at Elon and balancing practicing their religion with attending classes. They plan to share these experiences with the administration to emphasize how this change could greatly support people in the Elon community.

Students can share their experiences through email, sending them to Rosenzweig or Kurtz at lrosenzweig@elon.edu and zkurtz2@elon.edu respectively.

“This is not to badmouth the university, it’s not to badmouth the administration,” Rosenzweig said. “We want Elon to be a more inclusive environment. We know Elon wants to be a more inclusive environment, so we are using this as a call to action to the administration to be more supportive of Jewish students on campus.”