AU student launches petition calling for Yom Kippur to become a non-instructional day

Petition collected over 500 signatures

AU student launches petition calling for Yom Kippur to become a non-instructional day

The Kay Spiritual Life Center, the home of faith communities at AU, in 2019. 

A petition created by an American University freshman calling for AU to make Yom Kippur a non-instructional day to accommodate Jewish students has garnered over 500 signatures.

In the Jewish religion, Yom Kippur is a somber day, finishing out 10 days of penitence that begin on the Jewish new year, or Rosh Hashanah. 

“It would allow students to practice their faith on their own time,” said Alyssa Basch, a student in the School of International Service who created the petition. “They’d be allowed to fully invest themselves in their religion, rather than having to go to school where part of them is working while the other is thinking about fasting and focusing on their inner spirituality.”

Basch said she spoke to a handful of Jewish students before considering starting a petition. All of them expressed how they were struggling to balance their coursework and religious practices for that day. 

These discussions led her to realize that many students shared the same issue, and through the help of some Jewish peers, she drafted and posted the petition on Change.org. The petition quickly surpassed its original goal of 500 signatures, prompting Basch to raise the goal to 1,000. As of Nov. 19, the petition had 544 signatures.

However, she said that responses from faculty have been slim. She is still in the process of setting up a Zoom call between herself, a group of Jewish advocate students and higher ups within the University staff to discuss the petition. Meanwhile, she said the response from students has been positive. 

“The responses I’ve got from students have been awesome so far,” Basch said. “I’ve had a lot of great discussions with people; people who have been in complete support as well as people appreciating the chance to be able to truly practice their faith.” 

Sara Wiser, a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences, said she fully supports the petition. Wiser, who identifies as Conservative Reform Jewish, said she personally refrains from electronics, fasts and spends the whole day in self-reflection and self-care. This year, however, she had a hard time with her usual practices because of her coursework. 

“It was stressful because when you’re trying to dedicate yourself to a day of not working and missing class because of it, you’re just constantly thinking in the back of your mind ‘I have homework, I have homework, I have homework,’” she said. “You have to almost make a choice of what’s more important to you; observing the day or getting your work in so you can get a good grade.”

Lilliana Silver, a Jewish student in the School of Public Affairs, experienced a similar dilemma. She said that while she felt her teachers would’ve understood if she asked off, the underlying thoughts of the work she had to make up would’ve been too distracting to truly observe the day. 

“I think it would be really hard to just say ‘we’re going to give off; no one will have classes,” she said. “The University could run into the issue of ‘why don’t we have off for this holiday, or this holiday, etc.’ However, if you’re talking about equity and equality, I think it should be a non-instructional day so that Jewish students don’t have to feel pressured in making the decision of either going to class or observing their religion.” 

Both students recalled how their K-12 schooling offered days off on Yom Kippur to varying degrees, finding that they experienced less stress when institutions allowed it to be a complete non-instructional day. 

Basch agreed, stating that the University should offer the day off as “non-instructional” in order to allow all Jewish students to observe the day in their respective manners. If the University chooses not to change its policy, she said she plans to work with Jewish students to address the University in asking for less work and for no large, graded events on that day.  

“I think that, given the high Jewish population at AU, it would be amazing for them to accomplish something like this,” Basch said. “It would show Jewish students that they can not only practice their faith, but that the University accepts and respects that.” 

AU did not respond for comment.

mseaman@theeagleonline.com 

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