Student Petitions Against School on Jewish Holidays


Polina Buchak

NYU student Leah Nouriyelian has created a petition to convince NYU’s University Senate to vote against the current academic calendar in order to observe Jewish High Holy Days.

Herman Lee, Contributing Writer

Efforts to make NYU more inclusive are continuing with a petition for the university to cancel classes on Jewish holidays.

NYU Student Services Committee member Leah Nouriyelian created the petition March 20 to convince NYU’s University Senate to vote against the current academic calendar — she wants one that observes the Jewish High Holy Days Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Nouriyelian also wrote a letter to NYU President Andrew Hamilton and the University Student Senate, illustrating the select experiences and views of students affected by the current policy of having class on the Jewish High Holidays.

Nouriyelian said that change would demonstrate NYU’s commitment to inclusivity and that students understand how different communities have different needs.

“If one values inclusivity, this is certainly a step toward that and should be adopted,” Nouriyelian said. “Still, the support of the NYU Muslim Student Alliance of this endeavor — without the inclusion of Muslim holidays — demonstrates that different communities have different needs. The prohibition to work or attend school on these Jewish holidays in particular in contrast to other religions/holidays warrants a specific need to cancel class.”

Nouriyelian said that other New York schools cancel classes to accommodate Jewish holidays, setting a precedent that NYU should follow. She believes that this divergence from the policies of New York City public schools and CUNY shows that NYU is making a cognizant choice that disadvantages many students.

Despite gaining over 1,500 signatures in less than 10 days, the University Senate voted last Friday to pass the current academic calendar — which does not take these Jewish holidays into account — for the next three years. More than a quarter of NYU’s student population is Jewish, and under current school policy, students who miss class for religious reasons will be excused. The policy also encourages professors to avoid scheduling examinations and assignment deadlines on religious holidays.

However, the 1,500 NYU community members that signed the petition feel that this current policy is not satisfactory. CAS freshman Jordana Meyer does not believe the current NYU policy is accommodating enough for students who observe the High Holidays.

“One thing I don’t think that they are taking into account is that on these Jewish holidays, we are actually forbidden from working,” Meyer said. “My family does not drive on Yom Kippur, let alone take an exam — we are not able to come to the class that day. It is not just a day of celebration. It is a day of service. It is not like I’ll be sitting in bed the entire day — I will be at services for fasting.”

While Meyer said she sees the rationale behind having professors decide class cancellations on a case-by-case basis, she believes there should be a university-wide rule regarding absence policies for Jewish holidays.

“Once I had to tell a professor this semester that I could not do a midterm on Yom Kippur — I just couldn’t do it,” Meyer said. “I just had to tell a professor another day that his midterm was on Passover, so he had to make an entirely new exam for the Jewish students. Even if they don’t cancel school, they have to pay more attention to be more receptive, because it is really a struggle for the Jewish students to miss that much school and teaching.”

CAS senior Juan Manuel Calero Canaval, a University Senate member and supporter of the petition, said that the University Senate decided not to reform the academic calendar because it would raise questions about how other religious holidays should be considered.

“The petition was brought up during the University Senate by [Nouriyelian] herself, but members of the community held that it was a slippery slope,” Canaval said. “The petition is an important demonstration of student support, but the second part is considering the very complex ways this change would affect all members of the university in an academic context.”

CAS junior Amanda Regaldo, a member of the SSC, said that the vote last Friday meant that it was unlikely the calendar would change anytime soon, but she believes there are still options to help Jewish students.

“It is clear that accommodations can be improved,” Regaldo said. “We would love to see all classes recorded so students may watch them online — that is just one idea. We are in the process of collecting more recommendations on how to improve accommodations.”

Email Herman Lee at [email protected]