By: Samuel Gelman (Houston)  | 

Save The Dates

Many of us are familiar with Yeshiva University’s most famous slogans. These days YU is synonymous with lines such as ‘nowhere but here,” “I am YU,” and “sacrifice nothing, achieve anything.” And while all of Yeshiva University’s slogans place emphasis on different aspects related to the university, they all tend to have one main focus: the uniqueness of Yeshiva University.

Of course, every university is unique in its own way. Columbia University has its famous Core Curriculum, Yale has its distinctive residential college dormitory system, and The University of Chicago uses a quarter system for its academic calendar. When it comes to Yeshiva University, the obvious and most notable difference between it and other universities is the fact that it is an Orthodox Jewish university. There are Torah studies classes scattered throughout the day for both men and women, all the food on campus is Kosher, and no classes take place on Jewish holidays.

The fact that there are no classes on holidays like Sukkot and Rosh Hashanah is a major plus for many students and can, in many cases, end up making YU more appealing than schools like Maryland and NYU, universities with vibrant Jewish communities. The Yeshiva University admissions team is fully aware of this and makes sure to emphasize it in its presentations. I sat through various admissions presentations before I arrived here and -- whether it was my high school, Model United Nations, or my Yeshiva in Israel -- YU made sure that this fact was drilled into my head.

I arrived at YU last year and, as expected, the university was closed from Rosh Hashanah until after Sukkot. This was amazing for an out-of-towner like me. I was able to fly home for Rosh Hashanah and spend time with my family and friends without having to worry about class. However, when I looked at the schedule for the current academic year I noticed something worrisome. Unlike the 2016-2017 academic year, the schedule for the 2017-2018 academic year did not give off on the days in between Rosh Hashanah (RH) and Yom Kippur (YK). Instead we have three full days of class.

I was puzzled by the school’s decision. Didn't they usually give off those days? Why would they change it now? To my surprise, I discovered that last year’s schedule was the exception to the rule. It turns out that, according to the Office of the Registrar, YU usually does not give off the days in between RH and YK. Looking at the last 10 years or so, YU only gave off those days in the years of 2012, 2015, and 2016, and that was only because RH fell out on a Monday, making it impractical for YU to have class only on the following Thursday and Monday (that following Tuesday would already be erev YK).

Despite the fact that this is how the calendar is usually set up I can’t help but feel as if YU is cheating me, the out-of-town community, and the system. While yes, giving class in between RH and YK is not a technical violation of YU values, it is a violation of the spirit of those values. It forces out-of-towner, students living outside the NY/NJ area who comprise over 40% of the undergraduate population according to the Office of Institutional Research & Assessment and the Office of Admissions, to choose from a variety of bad options, none of which is appealing.

The first option is to stay in the New York area which, while it won’t entail missing any class, forces us to abdicate spending those special days with our family. An alternative is to go home for RH, come back for class, and then fly home again for the rest of the holidays. However, not everyone can afford to pay for four flights (two home, two back to NYC) as prices can vary anywhere between $100-$350 per flight (these are the average Southwest Airline prices for flights from New York to Houston, Cleveland, and Los Angeles), sometimes more. This could force families to pay over $1000 for four flights over the course of three weeks. Another option is to fly home for RH and suffer the consequences of missing multiple days of class. As I said before, no good options.

I am not blaming anyone in particular for this issue. The creation of the academic calendar does not fall under the office of one YU institution. Furthermore, I understand the difficulty of creating a calendar that satisfies the academic, Jewish, and student needs of YU. Each class must meet for a certain amount of time to be considered valid by the government, the other Jewish holidays must be taken into account, and the winter and spring breaks must be long enough to allow students to recover from the semester.

With all of this considered, however, I still believe that something must be done to help the out-of-town students. Forcing us to choose between missing RH with our families, spending extra money, or missing class is not an issue that the university should simply ignore. Therefore, I propose two possible solutions. The first is to work with the calendar and find those three extra days. Perhaps start the year a day or two earlier and cut a day out of reading week. This is obviously the most ideal for out-of-towners as it would enable us to spend RH with our families, pay for only two flights, and not miss classes. However, this may prove to be too controversial or difficult as students may become upset that the year is starting earlier or that they are losing some reading week time.

This leads me to my second solution which keeps the calendar exactly as it is with class in between RH and YK. The only difference would be that YU would instruct all professors to give automatic excused absences for anyone who misses class in between RH and YK, while also recording the classes for the absent students and giving no tests or quizzes during this time. This would enable YU to keep its calendar intact while also allowing students who live out of state to fly home for RH with a greater peace of mind.

This past week was all about new beginnings for YU. Out-of-town students can sometimes get lost in the shuffle of a generally NY/NJ-centric YU. A new and updated calendar that takes the concerns of the out-of-town community into consideration would be great first step for this new era and make us feel like we are part of the community. Yeshiva University tells me that “I am YU.” Prove it.