This piece originally appeared in the University of California San Diego Guardian in response to a new University of California policy of avoiding conflicts between Jewish holidays and move-in week by cutting a week out of winter break. This decision was made without any student input. It is being reprinted with permission of the author.
While I concur with my editorial board colleagues that there are alternatives to shortening this year’s winter break by a full week, I felt the need to recuse myself from this week’s editorial to give a more personal take on the change. As an observant Jewish student, whom this change most intends to accommodate, I can’t help but feel lost in the reasoning behind the switch.
The UC administrators who instituted the change are kidding themselves if they think this change will provide blanket accommodation to Jewish students with holiday conflicts at the beginning of the academic year. While no classes or move-in dates will conflict with either of the first two Jewish holidays Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur, many observant Jewish students will still miss class for significant portions of Week 1 and Week 2 in the fall for the lesser-known Sukkot holiday.
This change sets a dangerous precedent — namely, that the UC system will need to accommodate the needs of all faiths moving forward. With the immense diversity of backgrounds and beliefs at UCSD and across the state, it would seem that we would need to close the university at least once a week between September and August to accommodate every person’s personal practice.
The policy is well intentioned, but it creates more problems for Jewish students than it solves. I worry that Jewish students here and around the system will be seen as the “cause” of everyone’s loss of break, which is particularly unfair seeing that no Jewish group on our campus was approached about the switch. Online comments on the UCSD Guardian’s coverage of the change, like “Can’t favor one minority,” or “it’s probably because the [UC] Board of Regents is full of Jewish people” are prime examples of the accusations I fear will mount as anger at the change. Sentiments that perpetuate old stereotypes of Jewish power and influences are sure to follow the change with no other obvious scapegoat.
Balancing our observance with attending a secular university (which, until now, operated independent of the Jewish calendar) is a choice that all religious students make. We don’t expect to be “accommodated” more than any other group, and when conflicts arise, observant students know which channels to go through to get accommodations. Never has a professor told me or any of my observant friends that Jewish practices will get in the way of rescheduling a Saturday (read: Sabbath) exam, nor have I ever had trouble making up work for the days I take off for Passover.
The Los Angeles Unified School District routinely closes down for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which I don’t believe solves the entire problem of the UC system, but it is a much better option than ruining everyone else’s winter break. There are any number of solutions that could help observant Jewish students on UC campuses that don’t negatively impact the much larger number of UC students who are not religious Jews.
Guardian website commenter “albert” summed it up perfectly: “I’m Jewish and I don’t even agree with this.”
Me neither, Albert. Me neither.
Zev Hurwitz is a student at the University of California San Diego.