Tuesday, April 23, 2024

MSU Jewish community members navigate overlaps between Passover and final exams

February 23, 2024
A Michigan State University sign on Beal Street on Aug. 23, 2019.
A Michigan State University sign on Beal Street on Aug. 23, 2019. —
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

The major Jewish holiday Passover will overlap with final exams this year, raising concerns among members of MSU's Jewish community. 

Exam week begins on Monday, April 22, and will end on Friday, April 26.  This year, Passover begins on Monday, April 22, and will end on Tuesday, April 30. 

Amy Simon, a professor in the Serling Institute of Jewish Studies and Modern Israel, said the first two and last two days of Passover are non-work days for many Jewish people, that are spent with family. 

"If you're an observant Jewish person, by Jewish law, you're not allowed to work," she said.

Simon said she personally will be able to celebrate Seder — a celebratory dinner and ritual service held on the first two nights of Passover — with her family, because her courses only require students to turn in final projects by the end of exam week. 

But, she said she's concerned for Jewish students and faculty who have exams scheduled for the first two days of Passover.

Simon said when Jewish Studies Program members first learned of the overlap, Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel Director Yael Aronoff tried to "lobby" the administration to move the dates of final exams so they didn't overlap with the non-work days of Passover, an effort that was unsuccessful. 

Since then, she said, the Jewish studies faculty have worked with the provost’s office to make sure students and faculty feel supported in requesting accommodations.

"It's hard (for students) to go to professors and say, 'Hey, I can't take this exam,'" Simon said. "A lot of students won't feel empowered to do that."

To deal with this, she said, the provost's office has communicated with faculty members about the overlap and the potential for students requesting accommodations.

The office has also reached out to students, encouraging them to notify their professors as soon as possible and directing them to a religious accommodation request form.

In a statement sent to The State News, MSU spokesperson Mark Bullion said, "MSU is committed to ensuring students and faculty are able to observe religious days that are part of their faith through granted accommodation without academic penalty, as outlined in the university's Religious Observance Policy."

Simon said the provost's office met with Jewish studies professors, including her, to draft an email communicating this information to be sent out to students. 

According to the email, the provost's office will help secure accommodations on students' behalf if they fill out the religious accommodation request form. 

"We will also be mindful that no student should be expected to take more than two comprehensive final exams in a single day," reads the email. 

But, this doesn't mean students who observe Passover will be unaffected by the overlap, Simon said. 

"Let's say students need to travel over the weekend, and, then, they come back here on Wednesday, and, then, they have two exams that day," Simon said. "There's still going to be repercussions on those days."

Public relations junior and Jewish Student Union Vice President of External Affairs Matthew Zivian echoed this sentiment. 

"A lot of professors, I'm sure, can be understanding in terms of moving exams when need (to) be," Zivian said. "But, if I'm studying for exams, or I just have one that can’t be moved, I can't go and have Seder with my family."

Zivian said the overlap may pose challenges for students who request to take their exams prior to exam week and the start of Passover. 

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"That's less time to study," he said.

Zivian said he's been thankful for the efforts made by Jewish community leaders to advocate for students and "make the administration aware of the impact this would have on students."

He said the administration has made efforts to be more accommodating, including expanding on-campus access to Passover-friendly Kosher dietary options during finals week for observant Jewish students.

However, he said, that doesn’t change the fact that (he) can’t go and spend the holiday with (his) family.

Zivian isn't yet sure if he'll have to spend Passover away from his family, but it depends on what kind of accommodations he gets from professors. 

Zivian said if he stays on campus during the start of Passover, he will celebrate Seder with other community members at the Hillel, which is a house off campus where Jewish community members hold social gatherings. It also houses the offices of many Jewish Student Union representatives. 

"That's actually a really important takeaway," he said. "Just how together the Jewish community is coming with all this happening."

This adds to the hardships faced by Jewish students this year, Zivian said. 

"This isn't the first obstacle we've had to overcome as Jews at MSU," he said. 

Zivian said national rises in antisemitism have impacted MSU as well. 

"Jewish students have reported feeling unsafe, both emotionally and physically," he said.

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