It’s a beautiful day at the George Washington University. Fretful freshman walk to their 8 a.m.’s with tepid upperclassmen pointing them towards the right classroom, half scowling at the new students’ naiveté. All of them have coffee on their breath and notebooks weighing on their shoulders. They are itching to get through their first day.
The first day of classes holds a particularly awkward place in my heart. Like clockwork, I have to swallow my pride and tell every professor that I will be missing “x” amount of classes for Jewish holidays. Its not that I’m ashamed of being religious, I take pride in my convictions and I like challenge of living up to expectations even after missing a lot of class time. No matter how proud I may be, it is always deflating explaining to a professor who just went on a rant about how important class attendance may be that despite this, and despite your choice to attend a secular choice, you are going to miss a certain amount of classes.
Thank Hashem I have not had any real horror stories yet. Professors always allow me to miss a class or four (if it is a particularly tough semester) and I am usually able to bounce right back into class. I can tell I have pissed off a fellow student or two being out of touch and a professor/ TA or two have gritted their teeth at me.
I feel bad; sometimes I think they see me as being better than them. Their is a hint of anger that I am going above the rules and getting carte blanche missing classes and being excused. This is especially true on Succoth and the second days of Passover. I can see in the eyes of a new professor serious skepticism. We all know Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but here is this kid who, unlike the other 25% of the class that is Jewish, is claiming that he now needs another four days off for some random holiday with huts. What a jerk. He clearly just wants a vacation.
I like to think we orthodox Jews don’t take advantage of this though. I know I run myself ragged trying to catch up and make sure I am on point for my classes. I don’t think professors and students fully grasp the inconvenience of staying true to the convictions of being orthodox. I know I have the choice to be religious, I don’t expect to treated better because of a life choice that puts me in a minority. In many ways I do feel more accomplished being able to perform better than most even with the hurdles of orthodoxy, so the choice doesn’t weigh so heavily.
What are your thoughts towards the challenges of holiday absences? For Orthodox students, has it always been easy for you to practice this way? For not so religious individuals, do you feel its right we are able to miss class as we do, even at secular universities? This is the weekly thread so please let me know your opinion!