Balancing Judaism & Studies in a Public College


Judaism is an age-old religion that has many different sects, each with similar, yet different interpretations of laws, customs, and traditions. Sometimes, individuals like myself, struggle to connect with different denominations and end up connecting to Judaism in other ways. For example, one of the most important tenets to me is to be kind to others. This is something I learned from Judaism; Treat your neighbor like you would treat yourself, but it is also something that I find to be important in every aspect of life.

There are a lot of Jewish holidays that all require you to rest and not do any work. Many communities apply the same Shabbat restrictions to these holidays – not using electricity, not going to work, not writing or cooking. As a college student in the twenty-first century, this can be very difficult. It may seem easy to just take the day off of school and miss some classes – I mean, you can always make it up later, right? What about when you end up having to miss six or seven days of class, or more? In a year that all of the holidays fall on weekdays, that can easily happen.

At the college level, students are given a lot more responsibility to complete and/or make up assignments on their own. Most college professors will understand if you decide to miss a class or two because of a religious holiday, but they expect you to make up everything that you miss. This is not always easy, especially when lectures can often times be up to three hours long, with all the notes being written on the board and no PowerPoint to download later.

Let me share a personal story with you that demonstrates this very dilemma. A friend of mine, who goes to UCLA, asked one of her classmates to send her notes for a class that was on Yom Kippur (arguably the most important Jewish holiday).

My friend received pictures of the notes from her classmate, however they were missing sections and some were only half-pages cut off. The professor of that class grades on a curve. Students receive grades based on their ranking in the class – only a finite number of A’s, B’s, and C’s are given. This ups the competition in the class and puts students in a very sticky situation for the Jewish holidays –stay home and celebrate your religious customs with family, or go to school in order to ensure you receive a better grade?

Fortunately, public colleges in California are not allowed to penalize students for observing religious holidays or traditions. That clearly doesn’t mean that it is always easy for Jewish students though. This internal conflict is, what unfortunately, causes me to miss out on a lot of Jewish holidays and traditions.

One solution to this would be to attend a Jewish college. Not so realistic when the closest one is in New York City or Boston and I have my sights set on a UC school like UCLA, UCB, USC, UCSB, or UCSD (amongst the most popular schools in California) just to name a few.

The struggle is real and even though there is no simple solution, I would like to share mine: I have decided to make school my priority during these years of my life, in the hopes that one day, I will be able to focus on other things – including, of course, my connection to my heritage and my Judaism.