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JSC collects testimonies on effects of scheduling first day of classes on Rosh Hashanah

<oup Jewish Students at Carleton (JSC) is collecting testimonies from its members about how they were affected by the fact that the first day of classes this fall was scheduled on Rosh Hashanah, one of the most important holidays in the Jewish tradition.

This year, Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of the Jewish New Year, fell on Monday, September 10. Fall term classes began that same day. This meant that many Jewish students were forced to choose between attending their first day of classes and participating in Rosh Hashanah services on campus.

JSC board members decided this fall to collect student testimonies about the effects of the scheduling conflict. The group sent out a Google form last week where members could write about their experiences, including their name and class year if they wished, according to JSC board member Mabel Frank ’19. The accounts will be compiled into a document that JSC members hope will influence the College’s scheduling choices in the future–even after current members have graduated. JSC hopes to send the responses to the Dean of the College and to CSA.

This is the second time in four years that the first day of classes has been scheduled on Rosh Hashanah. The same conflict also occurred in the fall of 2015. In addition, in 2016, the first day of classes was scheduled on Eid, an important holiday in the Muslim tradition.

The occurrence of these two Rosh Hashanah conflicts so close together, as well as the influence of the Carls Talk Back movement’s demands relating to class scheduling on religious holidays, were two of the factors that inspired JSC to take action, according to Frank.


In the past, said Frank, “We never felt as though we could do something about it. I think we were always told, the schedule is made many, many years in advance, and that’s about it.”

The Carleton academic calendar is developed in periods of six years, according to Dean of the College Beverly Nagel. The process of drafting the next calendar begins midway through each cycle. For example, the calendar through 2026 was approved by the College Council in May 2017, Nagel said.

“In putting together the draft calendar, we work very hard to avoid starting on Rosh Hashanah,” said Nagel. “However, per the calendaring rules, there are years in which it is unavoidable in order to adhere to the requirements for each term.”

According to the approved calendar, the first day of classes will not fall on Rosh Hashanah up through 2026. Because the next conflict with Rosh Hashanah will be far in the future, JSC members want to make sure that student testimonies are recorded now. The survey has already received many responses, Frank said.

According to Frank, JSC is not pushing to have classes cancelled on Rosh Hashanah, but simply to prevent the first day of classes from being scheduled on the holiday.
“It’s not like missing a day of class in the middle of the term–the fact that it’s the first day feels really different,” said Frank. “I think the first day of classes feels especially disrespectful and is especially difficult for students to deal with.”

According to Nagel, when classes fall on a major religious holiday, faculty and staff are notified that students may be absent and are asked to make accommodations for these students.

However, even though Jewish students knew their absences would be excused on Rosh Hashanah, the decision about whether to miss class to attend services was difficult for many.
JSC member Elyana Glass ’22 ultimately decided to miss all of her classes on her first day of freshman year in order to attend religious services. Her two classes that day conflicted directly with the daytime service offered on campus from 10 a.m. to noon.

“It was a super hard decision for me because it was my first-ever day of college, but I ultimately decided that I just wouldn’t feel right skipping services,” she said. “It wasn’t going to be a good and productive day for me if I didn’t go, so I missed my first-ever day of college. I was really sad about that.”

Glass emailed her professors beforehand and even met with them in person during New Student Week to discuss her absence. Although her professors were very accommodating, missing the first day of class was still difficult, she said. She caught up within a few days, but struggled because she had missed class introductions, discussions of syllabi and information about where assigned readings were posted.

Glass first noticed over the summer that her first day of college would be on Rosh Hashanah–before she had had the chance to become familiar with Carleton’s policies on student absences for religious holidays. “It definitely added some anxiety to starting college in general,” she said.

Frank had faced the same decision on her first day of college in 2015. She chose to attend her classes rather than religious services. Frank argues that simply excusing students’ absences is not enough to make students feel comfortable missing the first day of classes–especially first-year students.

“I think that’s an outrageous thing to say to someone, as if it’s a simple decision to make. It wasn’t so simple, and it wasn’t so easy for me to make a decision between my religious practice, which is really important to me, and the first day of college classes ever,” she said.

“A lot of people just felt as if they were between a rock and a hard place, and as if no decision they could make would be completely okay or feel completely right,” she said.
Frank recognizes that it is not possible for Carleton to make accommodations for all religious holidays. However, she noted that Carleton’s calendar “is set up with Christian holidays in mind, and no student will ever have to attend classes on Christmas.”

“I think it’s unfair to say that we shouldn’t make any religious accommodations, because they’re already made, and people aren’t thinking about them,” she said. In requesting that the College avoid scheduling the first day of classes on Rosh Hashanah, “we’re not asking for something ridiculous,” she said.

According to Rabbi Shosh Dworsky, who led the on-campus Rosh Hashanah services, about one hundred students attended services between Sunday evening and Monday. Not all of these students missed class to attend, with some students coming only to evening services.

Not all JSC members feel that having Rosh Hashanah on the first day of classes is worse than having it fall on a different school day. Aaron Forman ’21 found it easier to deal with attending services on the first day of classes, rather than missing class in the middle of the term. “On the first day, you didn’t have office hours that you were going to, you didn’t have homework that you should have been doing,” he said.

In addition, he thought the celebration of Rosh Hashanah corresponded well with the beginning of the new academic year. “A lot of the Rosh Hashanah ceremony is about starting fresh, starting new, the sweetness of the new year–and I thought that tied in well with the first day of school,” he said.

Forman argues that ideally, classes would be cancelled on the holiday whenever it falls, as well as on Yom Kippur, another major Jewish holiday that occurs ten days after Rosh Hashanah. He expressed concern over students who follow the practice of fasting on Yom Kippur, but still feel obligated to attend classes and sports practices.

Dworsky described Rosh Hashanah as a holiday that is “very important spiritually and morally,” when one “reviews the previous year and tries to make amends, and commit to charting a better course for the coming year.” In the Jewish tradition, work is forbidden on both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Dworsky added. She invited students to contact her if they are interested in discussing the issues raised by the scheduling conflict.

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