Editorial: Give us a break


Some Jewish holidays, like Purim and Hanukkah, are times for celebrating and dressing up in fun costumes, with little religious commitment necessary. While others, like those referred to as the “High Holidays,” tend to be more serious in both sentiment and practice. These holidays include Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. 

Taking place in September, Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year. During the ten-day period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Jewish people are encouraged to to reflect on their actions over the past year and repent for any sins.  

In an effort to focus solely on introspection, Jewish people abstain from eating and drinking on Yom Kippur. The fast occurs from sundown the night before to nightfall the evening of, and is often concluded with a celebratory bagel “break fast.”

As any observing Jewish person would attest, going 24 hours without food or water is harder than it looks. Food is fuel, so lacking this energy source can leave one achy, fatigued and irritable. 

To further the commitment to self-analysis, Jewish people are also supposed to avoid using electricity and working during this period. Many observers spend the day sitting in deep thought, contemplating what the new year will bring and asking God for forgiveness. 

But at many universities, Lehigh included, this day of rest is hardly an option for Jewish students.

With classes still scheduled on both of these religious holidays, Jewish students must choose between their faith and falling behind. 

It is also nearly impossible to focus and perform to one’s best academic ability on an empty stomach in any circumstance, religious or not.

Beyond the physical obstacles of fasting, this lack of flexibility may impact students emotionally, as well. 

At college, many students feel both physically and emotionally disconnected from their familial traditions back home. Since religion is often associated with community, being away at school inherently makes these holidays difficult for those observing. 

There is often a sense of guilt associated with this time of year, as students must decide how carefully they want to observe the holiday on their own. 

Is someone a “bad Jew” for feeling obligated to do homework instead of going to Chabad? Is it “sacrilegious” to break the fast early in order to perform well on an exam?  

There are no definitive answers to these questions, but there shouldn’t need to be. Students should be able to practice religion as seriously as they want with no academic disadvantages whatsoever. 

According to the Hillel International College Guide, about 20% of Lehigh’s undergraduate population identifies as Jewish. Though this is only about a fifth of the school’s population, it’s a sizable group.   

Many professors are accommodating of religious obligations and are willing to push back deadlines and excuse absences for those observing. Even so, “many” is not all. Too many students continue to feel as though a day of observance will set them back. 

Religion is not cut and dry, and varies immensely between individuals. Everyone practices differently and some may not practice at all. 

By giving all students certain religious holidays off, there will inevitably be a group of non-observers who simply “get a day off.” Even so, all students should be given the option to observe to any degree without suffering academically. 

While this editorial is primarily focused on Judaism, the sentiment is representative of far more than just religion. Not having these important holidays off is indicative of a much more pressing cultural flaw in itself: the general overworking of college students. 

As students at a private university, we don’t get as many holidays off as students at public schools. We have classes on Labor Day and President’s Day, to name a few.  

Our pacing break is simply a single extra day off, one that many students spend studying for midterm exams taking place immediately after. 

According to a 2021 poll sent out to Lehigh students by The Brown and White, over half of respondents said they “mostly relaxed” over pacing break, while 44% said they spent the break mostly doing work. 

There is an underlying pressure on students to continue moving forward academically and to push through a seemingly endless cycle of work. Students hardly get holidays off, and they often spend the few free days they do have trying to get ahead on the next assignment.  

Much of college life is supposedly designed to prepare us for the real world and to make us accustomed to life in the workplace. Yet for many careers in corporate America, one’s work schedule seems far more flexible than that of a college student. 

Most companies offer staff members national holidays off, and many also allow employees the option to take vacation as they please. 

Of course, these policies vary between companies. But, if there is such leniency in the “real world,” why aren’t the same options offered for college students?

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