The Jewish high holidays as a college student

The Jewish high holidays as a college student


During the fall semester, every year there are some very important days. Those are the Jewish High Holidays that occur between late September and October. They start with the new year, Rosh Hashanah, which is followed by Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah.

Rosh Hashanah is the first day of the Jewish year; it is a day that we think about who we were during the past year and who we want to be in the next. We also eat apples with honey, to represent the very sweet new year that we wish to have. Ten days later comes Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, a 25-hour fast during which we pray and ask G-d for forgiveness for all our sins that we have committed in the past year.

Five days after Yom Kippur, we celebrate Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, for seven days. This one is by far the hardest to explain to people that have not experienced it. We celebrate the union of the society by gathering the Four Species, which represents all kinds of people and that one cannot live without the other. We are also required to eat everything inside specific huts, and there are rigorous laws of how to build this hut. The roof, for instance, is made of plants and must reveal part of the sky. This naturally makes people from the same area eat together, celebrating their union even more.

Immediately after Sukkot, we celebrate Simchat Torah, in which we party with our Sacred Scrolls, the Torah, and accept it for the incoming year. An interesting detail about these last holidays is that we have to be happy—it is a commandment, but definitely not a very hard one to fulfill.

All of these holidays have many restrictions, which are similar to Shabbat restrictions, for Orthodox Jews like me. These include no use of electronic devices, cars, buses, or planes, and all kinds of work and writing are prohibited. They are somewhat easy to maintain during the weekends, when you are used to them, but things get more complicated when the holidays fall during the week.

Coming from a religious high school, all of these holidays were eagerly awaited, since they meant school would be closed and we got to enjoy them with our families and amazing food. But since college started, I and some other friends have had to deal with missed classes and exams, as well as missing our families for those of us that could not travel home.

This year we are lucky that many of those days are Fridays, when most of us have no classes at Babson. Still, for the ones who can go home, they need to get there before the holiday starts because of the travel restrictions.

With all of the missed classes and exams, I’m glad to be in such an understanding and respectful college that lets me and other Orthodox Jews be excused for such important days in our tradition. It hurts to say that not all of my friends have the same luck. Back in Brazil, most of my old classmates have to deal with class absences and all the consequences that come with them. If an exam happens to be on these days, they must just hope that their professors will let them take it at another time. Here at Babson, I know that I can continue to practice my traditions freely for years to come.