I only learned of Lehigh’s impressive Jewish population, nearly a fifth of the student body, upon my arrival at orientation my freshman year. I was incredibly excited to be immersed in a school culture that boasts numerous clubs and weekly activities related to my faith.
While I live in a fairly Jewish neighborhood back in California, the idea of a Jewish campus excited me. It made me feel more at home.
A month into my freshman year, I began to notice some issues concerning Lehigh’s Jewish students. My first midterm landed around the time of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. While countless clubs and organizations around campus offered services and dinners during the holiday, I was afraid I would miss valuable time studying if I attended. Multiple professors told me I could miss class for the holiday and they understood.
While this was a kind gesture, I found myself struggling to make up the work I had missed in just one day absent from classes. I felt, and still feel, as though it wasn’t fair to make a Jewish student choose between an important holiday and studying.
On major holidays, I rarely make it to either Hillel or Chabad, two of Lehigh’s Jewish life organizations. This year, midterms fell on and around Rosh Hashanah yet again, forcing me to skip another round of services and celebrations. Again, professors motivated me to go, encouraging Jewish students to celebrate the holiday.
One of the classes I would’ve missed was a review session, going over topics most likely to be on a test. The other was a group project presentation. Skipping would have put me in an unfavorable position alongside my peers, so I decided to go to class during one of the most important holidays for Jews.
Lehigh does a wonderful job of including Jews on campus. I will not argue that. However, it seems contradictory to encourage students to miss class if they will be scrambling to make work afterward, effectively putting them behind their classmates.
To be forced to choose between your culture or religion and a mandatory class seems unethical.
The university provides students with a diversity of religious clubs and organizations. Chabad and Hillel are clear examples, and people attend these clubs in huge numbers. The weekly attendance to Shabbat dinners at Chabad is upwards of 80 people. But there seems to be little balance between attending these organizational events and emphasizing the significance of academics.
College is about more than classes and grades. Lehigh highlights the importance of success in school, but it should also strive to push for more membership in clubs and immersion in a culture that brings people together over interests other than schoolwork and majors.
Lehigh’s Jewish population makes up a large portion of our community and, for this reason, Jewish holidays deserve to be celebrated. While it would be nice for Lehigh to give students days off for holidays such as Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, I understand it is a lot to ask. But I do believe some small changes can be implemented.
Midterms should not be scheduled on the days before and of religious holidays. Students whose holy days fall outside the secular calendar should be able to spend this holiday celebrating with their peers instead of cramming for an exam that could easily be rescheduled.
This school boasts an impressive number of Jewish students, and it’s time we celebrate that.