With the air getting colder and the holidays on the horizon, students are gearing up for the long stretch of midterms, papers and presentations that all lead to the dreaded finals week.
The feeling of turning in your last final is something that just can’t be put into words. Knowing that you will have basically an entire month off of school and away from classes to spend with your family celebrating the winter holidays are what gets most students through finals week.
Well, what about the students that didn’t get time off, or even a day to go home to celebrate a holiday with their families based on their religious affiliation? In the month of October alone, there are five different Jewish holidays. Two of these five are considered the highest holy days of the year, except classes are still scheduled and students are expected to go.
I was not raised Jewish and neither were any of my family members, but a lot of my friends and fellow students are. Based on the Jewish Virtual Library, there are over 300,000 Jewish people in the state of Pennsylvania alone. The other surrounding states including New Jersey and Delaware also have significant Jewish populations and contribute many students to West Chester.
According to a Gallup poll, Christianity is the largest religion in the United States, but when you take a closer look at the religions outside of Christianity, you will find that Judaism comes in as second largest out of 14 states mostly located in the Northeast region, a region where West Chester draws in a lot of its students from.
Risa Gottleib, a junior at West Chester University, had expressed the difficulties of celebrating her religious traditions but making sure not to miss classes, while also addressing her religion to other students. Gottleib feels that Judaism is accepted on campus but not necessarily embraced.
Hillel, founded in 1923, has grown to be the world’s largest Jewish campus organization. Hillel encourages students of all backgrounds to form deep, personal connections to Jewish life. Not only would Hillel be beneficial to have on campus for people who do practice Judaism, but also for other students that are curious and want to learn more about the Jewish practice.
During Gottleib’s freshman year at West Chester, she had a hard time getting an excused absence for the two highest Holy days, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Getting only 50/50 response back from professors, the following years she stopped asking.
“If I wanted to go home and be with my family for a holiday, I would have to use one of my skips for the class if the professor wouldn’t acknowledge it as an excused absence,” said Gottleib.
Not only does Gottleib have to sometimes miss holiday events with her families for school, but she also has to deal with the stereotypes that most people associate with being Jewish.
“When I tell people that I am Jewish, most times I will hear the response, ‘Well, you don’t look or sound Jewish,’ but if I didn’t know someone was Catholic, I would never say ‘Oh, but you don’t look Catholic,’” Gottleib said.
People often associate different religions with physical appearance but that is in regards to location of ancestors, not the religion itself.
Gottleib has expressed that it makes her feel like she isn’t normal when people are so shocked to hear that she doesn’t celebrate Christmas, and even say they feel sorry for her because she doesn’t experience the traditional Christmas activities like they do. However, that is not her religion. She still has family holidays that are just as important; they just occur at different times of the year.
“I have even been asked if I celebrate Thanksgiving, but I don’t see it as people being offensive, just that they are not aware or educated on Judaism,” Gottleib remarked.
In today’s society, we have come a long way in acceptance of others. It is important to understand other people’s traditions and religions even if you don’t practice them yourself.
Just think, you wouldn’t want someone to question what you believe in based on stereotypes, so it is crucial that we educate ourselves on the world around us and voyage outside our comfort zone to experience how other people live their lives based on their beliefs.
Taylor Tosheff is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at TT801606@wcupa.edu.