Repenting, starving and stuck in class

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By Jason Schwartz

It doesn’t get much worse than sitting in a classroom all-day long on a beautiful fall day here on campus. That is, of course, unless you are fasting all day on top of the daily struggle of being a student.

For thousands of students on campus, this past Wednesday represented the holiest day of the year, a Jewish holiday called Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement, a day where we seek reparation for our wrongdoings from the past year. In order to properly repent, we are asked to “afflict” our souls by abstaining from food and drink for 25 hours — because one whole day isn’t enough.

This is a day meant for prayer and thought for the majority of Jews, however most Jewish students on this campus were not afforded that luxury on Wednesday. This is because classes went on as normal, midterms went on without a hiccup and the day seemed like any other here on campus, save for a few of your Jewish friends complaining how hungry they were.

Not canceling classes, and continuing to schedule big midterms or labs for this date is a great oversight by this university because it puts Jewish students at a disadvantage to succeed.

Take for example, the University of California school system. Seven of their universities are altering their move-in days to avoid conflicting with the Jewish high holidays. If seven schools can adjust their entire class schedules to conform to Jews, the University should at least give the students one day off. This is even more surprising given that the University of California school system only contains three percent Jewish students. Compare this to the ten percent of the student population that is Jewish at the University and there is even more evidence to be mystified by the University’s decision.

One student affected by the University’s decision is Louis Diamond, junior in Engineering. Diamond had an important lab for fluid dynamics on Wednesday. As a result, he was unable to attend Kol Nidre services. Kol Nidre is the night prior to Yom Kippur and is unanimously considered the holiest night on the Jewish calendar. Diamond was busy studying for this important lab and could not find time in his schedule to go to services. When asked if he would have attended services had he not had a lab the following day, Diamond responded emphatically, “Yes, absolutely.”

This is just one of countless examples on campus where students were forced to choose between their studies and their faith. Diamond chose not to fast on this Yom Kippur so as to be more prepared for his lab; imagine having to take a midterm on an empty stomach. I’m not sure how many of you have fasted, but is not an enjoyable experience. By the time lunchtime hits, you feel groggy, tired and generally absent-minded. These are no conditions to take a midterm in.

Fasting is a mitzvah, a good deed, on Yom Kippur as it is an affliction of the soul for our sins of the past year. And as such, even the least observant Jews will fast for this holiday.

What this all boils down to is the University should be showing more respect and recognition for Jews on this campus. Within the past year, the giant Menorah that stands outside of Chabad has been vandalized twice. This is a clear sign of disrespect toward Jews, if nothing else. Perhaps if University officials respected Jews on this campus by giving them Yom Kippur off, its students would learn to do the same.

This is especially prevalent given that this Yom Kippur is the 50th anniversary of Sandy Koufax famously skipping Game 1 of the World Series to take part in his Yom Kippur customs. For those that are unfamiliar with the situation, Sandy Koufax was the best pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1965 when he carried them to the World Series. He was scheduled to start Game 1 against the Minnesota Twins but told his manager hours before the game started that he would be unable to pitch for his team as it was Yom Kippur and he did not want to break from tradition, even for the World Series.

On the heels of Sandy Koufax’s decision, American Jews were filled with pride and the country as a whole grew to learn the importance of this holiday.

University officials would be hard pressed to find any students that have plans to pitch in the World Series this year, but that is no excuse for the University keeping classes scheduled for Wednesday while professors planned midterms and labs without a second thought.

In 1965 Sandy Koufax taught all of America an important lesson about the significance of Yom Kippur. Maybe in 2016, the University of Illinois will heed his lessons.

Jason is a senior in LAS.
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