Jewish students juggle academics during the High Holidays

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Fall on Michigan State’s campus brings the enthusiasm of a new semester, Spartan football tailgates and, for about 3,500 Jewish undergrads, the celebration of the High Holy Days that overlap academics and social events.

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins the “10 days of repentance,” ending with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Both holidays typically fall in the months of September or October. For 2017, Rosh Hashanah began at sundown on Sept. 20 until Sept. 22, and Yom Kippur on Sept. 30.

The MSU Hillel Jewish Student Center provides MSU students who do not have the opportunity to be with their families during the holidays the resources and support to celebrate from their home in East Lansing. Nearly 10 percent of undergraduates at MSU identify as Jewish.

Located at 360 Charles St., MSU Hillel puts on services and provides a celebratory meal during Rosh Hashanah. For Yom Kippur, there is a meal before and after a 25-hour period of fasting, a custom during the holiday, which takes place on the Saturday during Yom Kippur.

On this particular Saturday, the Michigan State Spartans football team had a home game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at 4 p.m.

Mimi Marcus, the Senior Engagement Associate at MSU Hillel, was shocked there were no incidents involving students’ alcohol consumption leading up to the game.

“Surprisingly this street was really quiet that day, which was weird because normally it’s not,” Marcus said. “Our biggest concern was people fasting, and then going to the game and drinking a lot.”

Marcus works with first-year students on easing their transition from high school to college and introducing them to Hillel and their Jewish life on campus.

Other events put on by MSU Hillel such as Israel Fest, its annual Hannukah party, and Sparty’s Bar Mitzvah, attract close to 2500 students every year.

“I find that a lot of our Jewish students hang out together because they’re in the same fraternities or sororities or in the same clubs on campus,” Marcus said. “But also our programs here are open to anybody. I know a lot of our students bring their friends that come from all different backgrounds that come here to study or eat dinner.”

MSU has an official religious observance policy that requires faculty to excuse a student during the observance of a religious holiday. On top of this, Hillel provides a letter explaining the importance of the holidays if there are any discrepancies.

Jason Barnett studies in the second-floor library at the MSU Hillel Jewish Student Center.

Master of Science in Accounting Student Jason Barnett has been a frequent visitor to Hillel since his days as an undergraduate student, and has been faced with the dilemma of celebrating at his home in West Bloomfield, Michigan or up at school.

“There’s been times where I’ve had to choose between going home for a Jewish holiday or attending class,” Barnett said. “I’ve never been put in the position where I was going to lose points. My professors have always been very accommodating but at a certain point it’s not worth the hassle of going home and having to make up work.”

For Yom Kippur this year, Barnett decided to spend the weekend with his family, and missed one of his Friday classes and sold his ticket to the football game.

“I saw people’s Snapchats, and it looked like they were having fun so I definitely missed out on tailgating and everything, but it was ultimately left up to me on whether to go home or not, and I feel like I made the right call.”

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