September doesn’t just signify the back-to-school season, but it’s also the start of the Jewish High Holidays (or High Holy Days). There are two High Holidays that bookend the 10 Days of Repentance in September or October: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah is considered the Jewish New Year, and takes place over two days, starting on the first day of Tishrei, the first month of the Jewish year. This year, Rosh Hashanah will begin Friday evening, Sept. 15, and finish at sundown on Sunday, Sept. 17. Yom Kippur is celebrated on the 10th day of Tishrei, and is the holiday for Jewish people to repent their sins against God, traditionally through prayer and fasting. This year, it will occur from the evening of Sunday, Sept. 24, until Monday, Sept. 25.
People observing the High Holidays are expected not to work or travel during that time, and that includes going to classes for college students. However, these High Holidays overlap with some school days, like Fridays and Mondays. It’s important to talk to your professors if you are observing these holidays, in case you’ll be missing classes, assignments, or exams. That’s why it’s good to have a plan in mind so you can approach your professors as early as possible.
- Know your rights and your school’s policies and resources.
Some universities provide religious exemption forms that you can look up on your school’s website. Lee Goldfarb, 20, a senior at Queen’s University, says that her school accommodates her religious exemptions during the High Holidays, explaining, “My professors understand that it’s a religious holiday and they allow me to take the necessary time off.”
If you need help understanding what exemptions you should be allowed, the Anti-Defamation League has a great resource for Jewish students that explains your rights for school and workplace accommodations under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.
For more personal concerns or questions about navigating talking to your professors, Jewish student organizations on campus are also great resources, as well as your college’s student wellness center if you feel comfortable reaching out.
- Send your professors an email.
Once you know your campus’ policies, it’s also a good idea to send a personal email to your professors as soon as possible and explain that you will be absent due to religious holidays. Also check your syllabus for policies specific to your classes, especially if attendance makes up part of your grade. An email template could look something like this:
Dear [professor’s name],
I would like to inform you that I will not be attending class during [dates] due to my religious observance of the Jewish High Holidays. I am wondering if [the lecture will be recorded/I can make up the test another time/any questions you have about this class]. Thank you for understanding and have a great rest of your [day/evening].
- Speak to your professors in person.
If, for any reason, your professor doesn’t understand why you will be unable to attend class, you can ask to meet with them after class one day and explain to them the importance of these holidays and why you will be unable to attend class. Sometimes an email is sufficient, but other times it’s best to have a one-on-one conversation with your professor in person to explain the circumstances.
If the situation still is not resolved, it might be time to loop in your university chaplain’s office or academic dean to the conversation, so they can advocate for you and help you reach a solution.
Once your professor knows of your situation, make sure you also set a plan to get notes from friends who will attend class, and set make-up dates for any assignments or exams that you’ll miss, so you don’t fall behind while you’re out. That way, you can focus on the High Holidays with a clear mind rather than stressing about your class workload.