The University of California, or UC, is the largest public education system in the United States, serving over a hundred thousand students. It also has a large Jewish population, with three of the system’s campuses, UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Santa Cruz among the top 60 campuses by Jewish population. So when the Board of Regents, the appointed body which governs the UC system, considered their calendar for the 2014-2015 school year, it made sense that they would examine the needs of the substantial Jewish student and faculty population. In the year in question, Rosh Hashanah would fall during “move in days” (which incorporate both moving in to the dorms and various orientation activities) for those UC campuses on the quarter system. (All UC campuses except for UC Berkeley and UC Merced operate on the quarter system) UC policy forbids having move-in days coincide with a major religious holiday, and so the Board of Regents dutifully moved forward the move-in date by a week. To compensate for the lost days, they eliminated a week from winter break. This decision was made years in advance, and has been public for some time. It was only recently, it would seem, that anyone actually noticed the change. A UC Davis student named Alfredo Amaya created a petition calling for the winter break to be restored to three weeks. It quickly garnered thousands of signatures (28,000 at the time of writing). Many of the signees listed rather disturbing reasons for their support of this position, saying things like “Have you ever heard of separation of church and state?” and “No equivalent accommodations have been made for holidays of other religious groups.” (A spokesman for the UC system said there was no plan to change the schedule for next year, and that all alternatives had already been considered) This opposition is patently ridiculous. First of all, the UC system changed its calendar previously at Berkeley and Merced to prevent Ramadan from coinciding with the move-in dates. Furthermore, I seem to recall that the UC system has never had class on Christmas, yet regularly holds class on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Most Jewish students, myself included, are more than happy to make up missed days. The issue here is that mov- in days cannot be made up. The UC system forbids moving in early, and it becomes difficult to attend classes when you haven’t yet moved in to your housing for the year, nor gone to various orientation events. The inconvenience towards Jewish students would be so great that the UC system’s ability to educate its students would be disrupted. Thus, the calendar change. Ensuring that all students are able to equally access their education is not a violation of separation of church and state. It is simply educators doing their jobs. The opposition to the change in the schedule carries uncomfortable undertones. As I read comments on the petition like, “Why the bias towards whatever Jewish holiday we’re now trying to implement?”, I got the impression that many of the students opposing this change believed that a cabal of influential Jews had unfairly directed UC policy. USA Today went so far as to call the reaction to the petition “an anti-semitic backlash”. It does seem particularly odd that people should consider this change an unfair usurpation on the part of Jewish students, when every other year, we quietly accept that we will have to miss days of instruction and make up work. In a country where the Christian holiday of Christmas is a federal holiday, I find myself hard pressed to find any sort of undue Jewish influence on scheduling public events. Conspiracy theories exaggerating the extent of Jewish control, combined with strange double standards and incorrect claims and assumptions, are nothing new. It is tragic that they should pop up in a supposedly accepting and tolerant university system, but in the end, it is also unsurprising. As a student at UC Berkeley, which uses the semester system, I will be unaffected by these calendar changes. However, as a Jewish student in the UC system, I am deeply affected by the attitudes shown online and in person towards this policy change. Online, I have seen students, including fellow Berkeley students who the change will not impact, criticize the calendar adjustment, with unsettling language. I can only hope that any disgruntlement with Jews in the UC system stays merely online. The great rabbinic sages who formulated our modern Hebrew calendar following the destruction of the Second Temple worked painstakingly hard to ensure that the Jews of the future would know when to observe their sacred days. Rosh Hashanah 5775 has been a calculable date for millennia and UC system knows that even the secular and unaffiliated Jewish students enrolled at the various quarter system campuses would observe the High Holy Days. They had a choice between severely disadvantaging a segment of the population by forcing them to miss orientation and moving in, or making a small one time change to help ensure equal access to education. Fortunately, they made the right decision.
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