As Hanukkah lands during finals week, students balance academics and religion

Hanukkah

Some students attend class instead of celebrating religious holidays. Photo illustration by Jackie Cohen

Matt Aroesty took his Germany and the Holocaust final on Tuesday. Normally, this wouldn’t mean anything special, but Tuesday was the first night of Hanukkah, and Aroesty had to take a test about the Holocaust instead of celebrate the holiday with his friends and family.

“(It’s) ironic to test something like that when I wanted to be celebrating the first night of Hanukkah,” said the senior business administration major. “It sucks because it doesn’t affect my school because I have to get my work done, so I focus less on Hanukkah and more on school.”

This year, the first four days of Hanukkah landed during finals week. Aroesty isn’t the only student whose religious practices have interfered with school or extracurricular activities.

Sophomore data analytics major Tyler Brook went to a Jewish high school, so Chapman is the first school he has attended that doesn’t give time off for Jewish holidays.

Many Jewish students were unable to go home for Hanukkah because it landed during finals. Matthew Drucker, a freshman business administration major, lit the candles with Hillel in the Attallah Piazza. Photo by Jackie Cohen

“It has impacted my experience with my religion a little bit,” he said. “I understand it. It’s always such a small percentage of the student body that’s Jewish that would actually need the time off. From the school’s point of view, I get it. It’s just annoying.”

Six percent of the undergraduate population at Chapman is Jewish, according to Chapman’s admissions office.

Jiva Jimmons and her mom, a teacher, couldn’t participate in the full-day celebration of Diwali because of the American school system. Jimmons found herself in dirty college clothes going over to her grandma’s house after her classes instead of fully participating in the holiday, she said.

“I had school and my mom didn’t want to take me out, so it was kind of the opposite of missing school because of religion,” said the sophomore integrated educational studies major, who is Hindu and Catholic. “My mom decided instead to diminish the actual holiday and make me go to school instead.”

Because Jimmons’s mom is a teacher at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School in Santa Ana, she also struggles to celebrate certain holidays.

“She’s stuck in the same boat, and we both have the same schedules that we never get off, or we have to do the holiday on the weekend, not on the actual day and do a pretend holiday,” Jimmons said.

The problem reaches beyond just the academic calendar, said sophomore creative producing major Mollie Biskar, who has scheduling conflicts all year with school, extracurriculars and Jewish holidays.

“This year, Yom Kippur was on a weekend, which I thought was much better, but then both of my on-campus organizations that I am a part of had activities that weekend. It’s not just school, not just academics – other organizations on campus need to think about not just the Christian holidays, as well,” she said.

Biskar said that, although Hanukkah is fun, it’s not something she actually needs to do, but if finals fell on Yom Kippur, that would be a bigger problem.

Sophomore business administration major Sydney LeGrett, who is Roman Catholic, took off Easter weekend from school because she still had to attend class during Holy Thursday and Good Friday.

“I’m lucky with my religion being so nationwide, so I don’t always have issues with holidays, but not everyone is (as lucky), which is not fair,”  LeGrett said.

It can feel exclusive when activities and class are scheduled during holidays, Biskar said, but the solution is easy.

“Just look at a calendar,” Biskar said. “You can’t work around everything, and I don’t expect a week off for Passover, but just (try) to be as conscious of it as possible.”

For some, missing important religious or spiritual holidays can take a toll on their religious experience.

“It would be nice, instead of just (celebrating Diwali) after school at 5 p.m., participating in the full ceremony and going out,” Jimmons said. “I never had a true Indian celebration, just some mini-shindigs.”

As members of Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi, Aroesty, Brook and sophomore creative producing major Dylan Liberman celebrated Hanukkah with their “brothers,” despite still having finals.

My best Hanukkah ever was last night, just because my parents don’t care for seasonal gifts, and we had a dope celebration (for Hanukkah),” Liberman said.

As an education major, Jimmons has studied the formation of schools in the U.S. She believes that the American dream is not completely represented in the current system.

“When first forming public schools, they did try and push our religions out, and I really want that to come back and (for us to be) included again,” Jimmons said. “ Everyone came for the American dream and it’s not just for the Christian beliefs. It is a way that we can show that America is not just one culture, but it’s a bunch mixed together, because that’s what America really is.”

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