Students, Faculty speak out about Rosh Hashana on first day of classes

By: Tori Pender

Sept. 8, 2021 means different things to different people. For some, it is arriving at Rider to attend fully in-person classes for the first time since March 2020, while for others, it is the second holiest day in the Jewish religion, Rosh Hashana. Some students and faculty expressed their opposition to the semester starting on the High Holiday.

“Last year, we got constantly bombarded about diversity, diversity, diversity, diversity which clearly didn’t include a portion of our population,” said Jay Kawarsky, professor of composition and theory. 

The holiday is observed from Sept. 6 through the evening of Sept. 8.

Kawarsky continued, “ My biggest problem with this… is that new students feel that they can’t miss the class and opening class, so they don’t participate in the High Holidays. They don’t go home or don’t go to the synagogue a little bit down the road. That’s my biggest problem.”

Per university policy, it is encouraged for all faculty to allow students observing major religious holidays to make up any work, tests or examinations that occur on the day or days in question. 

“This position is endorsed with the understanding that students are responsible for all classwork missed,” according to a school-wide email sent by Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs DonnaJean Fredeen. 

The day in which the semester starts is decided between the University Academic Policy Committee (UAPC), which consists of the provost, deans and elected faculty members of every college.

Fredeen explained that the UAPC created a policy to start fall classes the Wednesday after Labor Day on Feb. 1, 2005. Any changes to the fall start date have to be approved by the UAPC.

The April 27, 2021 UAPC meeting minute notes state, “Discussion of the Wednesday after Labor Day being the last day of Rosh Hashana, of the problem of adding a Wednesday back in before Thanksgiving or elsewhere, the final exam schedule, starting on a Thursday rather than a Wednesday. A motion to make Thursday the first day of the fall semester 2021 was not approved, two approve, 13 oppose, two abstentions. The motion did not pass.”

Joe Singer, president of the Jewish Student Organization Hillel Club said, “I feel that with any religious holiday, Rider should respect those who want to observe it and be able to be excused from activities such as classes and other events.”

Past Hillel president Hannah Isaacs ’17 said, “I understand that sometimes the school year starts during the Jewish Holiday of Rosh Hashanah. As a Jewish student, it can be challenging to choose between attending classes or observing a Jewish Holiday. I would hope that Rider university would allow students observing the Jewish High Holidays adequate accommodations and communicate those accommodations to the full teaching staff.”

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