Tufts students observe Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur as classes begin

The Granoff Family Hillel Center is pictured on March 26. Nicole Garay / The Tufts Daily

Jewish members of the Tufts community observed Rosh Hashanah during the first week of classes with programming by campus organizations. The holiday took place over a period of two days, with the final day coinciding with the first day of classes for undergraduate students.

Tufts’ decision to start classes on the second day of Rosh Hashanah forced some students to decide whether to attend class or attend religious services.

Tufts Hillel Student President Allison Cohen explained how some members of the Jewish community at Tufts felt about the timing.

“I remember when we first … found out about the dates, we were like, ‘Oh gosh, it’s going to be so stressful,'” Cohen, a senior, said. “Students were really, really appreciative that Tufts gave the first day off on Tuesday … but I know that people were disappointed in having classes [on Wednesday].” 

While some students opted to attend class despite the holiday, others decided to miss the first day. Sophomore Violet Kopp explained that her peers were split on the difficult decision. 

“My first class of the year was Hebrew … and over 50% of the students weren’t there,” Kopp said. “It’s obviously not an ideal situation for Jewish students as a whole.”

Despite the conflict between the holiday and the beginning of classes, Tufts was generally accommodating of students who wished to prioritize their religious observance. According to Rabbi Naftali Brawer, Tufts’ Jewish chaplain and the executive director of Hillel, the university was supportive of students who chose to miss the first day of classes in order to attend religious services.

“Jewish students who wanted to participate in the service [are] able to skip classes and make up for [them at] other times, [and] those accommodations have been very clearly communicated,” Brawer said.

Cohen said that in addition to the university’s accommodations, Brawer offered to help students craft emails or reach out to professors about missing class.

However, some students who were excused on the first day of classes to observe Rosh Hashanah worried about their workloads and the possibility of missing important information during lectures. 

“The tricky thing … is, professors can be totally kind and reasonable and willing to let students miss class for [religious commitments], but that still doesn’t negate the fact that they have to make up their first day of class, which is arguably one of the most important ones,” Kopp said.

On both days of Rosh Hashanah, students were invited to attend services hosted by Tufts Hillel and Chabad, as well as join other students for meals. The services offered by Tufts Hillel came in two varieties: a Reform service led by a rabbinical student, and a traditional service led by Rabbi Brawer himself.

The latter service, though traditional, offered a variety of outlets for Tufts’ Jewish community to come together and celebrate the holiday. According to Hillel’s website, these activities included guided meditation, art, poetry, literature and singing

“We include the traditional Jewish prayers, but we also take a lot of time to reflect, and we use lots of different tools to enhance that reflection,” Brawer said. “My message for Rosh Hashanah is that it is a time to express wonder for being alive, you know, as simple as that.” 

Hillel’s programming for September did not end with Rosh Hashanah, which is only the first in a series of Jewish holidays that take place throughout the fall semester. The next major holiday in this series was Yom Kippur, which began the evening of Wednesday, Sept. 15

Brawer looked forward to introducing new members of the Jewish community at Tufts to Hillel’s programming during Yom Kippur and beyond.

“Yom Kippur is a day that [students] would intentionally spend some of it, if not all of it, in synagogue,” Brawer said. “So it’s an amazing opportunity for us to meet so many students for the first time.” 

Brawer explained that with several Jewish festivals including Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot taking place in the fall, it will be an energizing, busy season for Jewish students at Tufts.

“The whole period is one of a flurry of activity: lots of organizing, a lot of singing, praying, eating, spending time together,” Brawer said. “It’s beautiful, it’s exciting, it’s exhausting, it’s all of the above.”