I remember visiting the doctor’s office during the holiday season. As I walked through the office, I noticed that it was decorated with twinkling Christmas lights, a fabulous tree and crafted figurines of the Nativity scene. As I glanced around the room, I spotted a menorah on the desk of the secretary. I pointed out the menorah to my mom, excited that my Jewish religion was actually being acknowledged in some way. When I was younger, I was satisfied that Hanukkah was even recognized at all. But as I grew up, I realized that being acknowledged in passing is not enough.
Growing up in a predominantly Christian society, I realized that practicing Judaism was something I wanted to emphasize in my life. I felt as though it was even more important for me to observe Jewish holidays and customs since Judaism is not the chief religion of my country.
I never realized how little opportunity the Jewish student community has in observing its important high holidays, though, until I came to UCSB. Yom Kippur, a holiday of atonement and the holiest day of the year for the Jewish people, falls during the first week of school. Nonetheless, I find it necessary to observe this holiday with my family. Skipping the first few days of school, although a personal decision, has always been a choice that I have made with disdain. This decision, although necessary for my personal beliefs, robs me of the equal chance to exceed in certain classes because by Week Two, I’ll have already missed key announcements, lectures and readings. Thus, I have been forced to choose between my religion and my studies on quite a few occasions. This is why I am extremely grateful to the UC system for deciding to push back the first week of school. Speaking to other Jewish students at UCSB, I can confidently say that as a community, most of us are appreciative for the change in schedule. We wish it had come sooner, but we are enormously thankful that it came at all.
I thought that my peers would admire this change, and that they would be excited to get a somewhat extended summer, even if it meant a shorter Winter Break. So I was absolutely shocked to read and hear some of the negative criticism that my peers expressed regarding the schedule change. I expected the negative sentiments towards the shortened winter break, but I did not expect the anti-Semitism that came along with some of these concerns.
Facebook was a place where many of these disrespectful sentiments were publicly advertised. Students and non-students alike expressed outraged that the Jewish community was receiving “special treatment” and claimed that Jews were already an overly privileged group, dominating “half of Wall Street, not to mention the media, government, [and] the Nobel Prizes.”
I am privileged. But, I speak for myself when I say that I am privileged. I am privileged to have a generous, supportive family. I am privileged to be studying at a world-class university. I am privileged to be a part of a religion that speaks to my soul. And I acknowledge these privileges.
But I also acknowledge that Jewish people as a whole are not privileged. Jews have been historically oppressed and frankly, in this country, historically ignored. I’m not talking in terms of business or media, but rather culturally and religiously. There is an undeniable lack of consideration of the Jewish community when it comes to organizing the scholastic schedule. Winter Break is always centered on Christmas, while Hanukkah is ultimately expendable if it falls outside of the Christmas/New Year area. Also, Passover almost always falls during the school year. Now, finally, the two most important Jewish holidays — Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — are being recognized. This recognition ultimately shows respect to the Jewish community, which is graciously and gratefully welcomed.
The general reactions to the schedule change have made the lack of respect for Jews clear on campus. One student expressed disdain for the new schedule by writing a letter to Janet Napolitano and sharing it with the Facebook community. In the letter, Judaism is not explicitly mocked; instead, the author employs a highly passive-aggressive demeanor towards it throughout the entire piece. The author suggests that because one religion’s holiday is being considered when planning the schedule, so should the holidays of other religions. I agree with this one hundred percent. The author goes on to list religious holidays that he believes the UC system should, therefore, accommodate as well. At first, the suggestions are relevant and valid — he names Ramadan and Easter — but as the list goes on, the author names holidays such as “Robert E. Lee’s Birthday … a state holiday in Alabama and two other states”. By comparing the holiest day of the Jewish year with a holiday that the author clearly intends to be seen as comical, the post devalues and ridicules the Jewish community as a whole.
To read that students feel the Jewish community has been “catered to” upsets and angers me. Being acknowledged by the UC system for the first significant time in several years, the Jewish community is not being “catered to” in any way. “Catered to” suggests a privilege that ignores the masses, when the schedule changes provide quite the opposite. The Jewish minority feels that this consideration of our holidays has been long overdue. Some arguments to this schedule change are relevant and backed with reasonable and valuable support, but I am personally offended when students and non-students alike choose to “blame” the schedule change on Jews when, in reality, it’s about time that the Jewish community was recognized.
Arezu Hashemi is a second-year history major.