Chabad petitions to cancel class on holidays

Ruth Burstyn tells her 15-year-old granddaughter Shayna – whose parents attended UM – how she would like to cut her chocolate marble cake. The dessert was prepared for Thursday’s celebration of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year. Sagette Van Embden//The Miami Hurricane

While school was in session last Thursday and Friday, many Jewish students chose not to attend as they observed Rosh Hashana, one of the most sacred days for the Jewish community.

“We shouldn’t be forced to decide between going to class or practicing Judaism,” senior Daniel Namvar said. “It’s unfair.”

UM’s Chabad organization, which acts as a home away from home for Jewish students, is addressing this issue by seeking to have the university close on the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur during the 2012-2013 school year.

“I don’t anticipate that this will change in the future unless the Faculty Senate or the Student Senate determine that this is an issue that they want to address,” said Scott Ingold, the associate vice president for the university’s Office of the Registrar and Division of Enrollment Management.

Chabad members have been circulating a letter to petition the administration in favor of the High Holy Day shutdown. Written and online petitions have reached more than 700 signatures, as of last Thursday.

“We’re trying to make it easier for a student on campus to be Jewish,” said junior Isi Stein, president of Chabad.

Both sacred holidays require Jews to abstain from all work-related activities in order to partake in reflection and self-sacrifice, according to Chabad’s letter.

Additionally, all public schools in South Florida are traditionally closed on these days.

The academic calendar is based on providing a total of 69 class days of instruction.  UM is open on Good Friday, Veterans Day, Columbus Day and other holidays. It has not shut down for those holidays throughout the year because the more holidays that are officially observed, the longer the semesters become, Ingold said.

The problem of defining which religious holidays fall into the category of a major holiday may raise additional issues.

The university’s current policy permits students to observe their respective holidays without incurring penalties from their professors, and instructs professors not to schedule tests or important activities. However, this practice has been ignored by some professors.

“I had to miss my bio lab, so I missed a presentation with my group and they had to present without me,” said freshman Michael Groswald, who also had a test scheduled Thursday.

Students who miss class sometimes email or talk to their professors ahead of time, but their professors are not always understanding, Stein said.

“It’s a shame because a lot of professors, especially Jewish professors who are not observant, say to students, ‘I’m Jewish, but I’m here, so you’re going to be here on that day,’” Stein said.

Senior Erica Lewis argued that, although the university considers missing class an excused absence, students still have to worry about making up any missed work and catching up on class materials.

Freshman Rebecca Singer went to Rosh Hashana services only on Thursday to find a balance between attending classes and observing the holiday. She took school being open as an opportunity to make an important personal decision.

“It’s a chance for me and other freshmen to figure out our ideas and feelings about how religious we should be when we’re away from our parents,” Singer said.