Students excused for holiday

By Mika Mandelbaum
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, October 13, 2005

Jewish students are officially excused from classes today to observe Yom Kippur, and although some have complained about the difficulties in making these arrangements, it is often because of miscommunication, an official said.

UA policy prohibits discrimination "against any student, employee or other individual because of such individual's religious belief or practice ... and faculty members are expected to reasonably accommodate individual religious practices."

But it has been a hassle to get excused for today's prayer services, said Michelle Weinberg, a journalism junior.

"I was really offended that I had a midterm scheduled on Yom Kippur," Weinberg said, adding that her professor asked if she could come in on the holiday anyway.

"I explained to him that it's a very holy day and that I would be in services," she said. "He seemed very annoyed that he had to make the extra effort so I could take it."

Associate Dean Alexis Hernandez said he has dealt with one student this semester who complained she was having problems getting excused, but it turned out to be a miscommunication between the student and the teacher, which is often the case.

"Every semester there are a couple of situations and it normally gets resolved in a rather fair fashion," he said. "Generally, I have found faculty members to be receptive."

If students have a problem getting excused from class for religious reasons they should first contact the department head, then the dean of the college and then the provost, Hernandez said.

But whether or not the professor acts in an accommodating way is difficult to address, Hernandez said.

Part of the problem, he said, might be the wording of the UA policy, which states, "faculty members are expected to reasonably accommodate individual religious practices."

What's considered reasonable is open to interpretation and might vary from person to person, Hernandez said.

The university does not send out reminder notices to faculty about upcoming excused holidays, but they should be aware of them because the Registrar's Office publishes a calendar of religious holidays on its Web site and also indicates the specific holidays when work is forbidden, Hernandez said.

The Judaic studies department gets phone calls every once in a while from other faculty who want to find out more about the Jewish holidays students are requesting off, said Martha Castleberry, business manager of the department.

"It's nice that some faculty members will take the time to call and ask," she said.

About 400 students are expected to attend the Yom Kippur services at Hillel Center, said Michelle Blumenberg, executive director of the Hillel Foundation.

Yom Kippur, which began yesterday at sundown, is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. On Yom Kippur, Jewish people come together for a day of prayer to ask for forgiveness from God for their sins over the past year.

In addition to asking God for forgiveness, individuals also need to ask for forgiveness from other people they may have wronged this year.

"Yom Kippur is when we reflect upon the past year and reflect upon our relationships between ourselves and others and ourselves and God," Blumenberg said.

In addition to almost a full day of prayer, Yom Kippur is characterized by a 25-hour fast, which started last night at sundown and ends today at sundown.

"I think in many religions, when you fast, you come to a higher spiritual plane," Blumenberg said.

The UA Hillel Foundation will host several prayer services today that cater to both Conservative and Reform Jews.

Students and faculty will lead and participate in the Hillel services.

David Platt, a pre-business sophomore, will help lead Hillel's Conservative services.

"I figured since I already knew how to do it, I felt like I could improve the services here and help make the student services more enjoyable," Platt said.

Platt said leading services helps him to not think about his hunger during the fast and that the hardest part is the time in between morning and afternoon services where he has nothing to do.

"Once you hit 4:30, you only have a couple hours left and you can stick it out," he said. "It's just like sitting through a Thursday class when you're starving."

Erica Folkoff, a communication senior, said she is going home for the holiday because she does not think the Hillel services satisfy her religious needs.

"I don't think the services are good at all, and I don't think Hillel provides enough for those who are Conservative, rather than Reform," she said.

The Hillel Foundation and Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity are also co-sponsoring the fifth annual "break the fast" dinner tonight at the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity house, 1510 N. Vine Ave.