Observing Yom Kippur

Shawn Hatjes

 The University was closed Monday in observance of Yom Kippur, the most important Jewish holiday.

Yom Kippur marks the end of the “days of awe,” also called the High Holy Days — the first 10 days of the Jewish calendar, when Jews pray for atonement and purify themselves for the coming year.

Paul Bessemer, the director of Oregon Hillel, explained that according to Jewish tradition, at the beginning of the High Holy Days, God writes one’s fate for the coming year but does not seal it until the end of Yom Kippur. By praying, fasting and reflecting, Jews hope to change their fate for the better.

Observant Jews maintain a full fast — no food or liquids — from sundown the day before to sundown on Yom Kippur.

Along with fasting and praying, it is traditional to avoid any kind of work. Bessemer said that attending classes is not expressly prohibited, but it’s implied. Had school remained open, Bessemer said “plenty of Jews would be missing.”

“I have never gone to class on Yom Kippur,” said Shayna Yellon, a University junior and director of the Jewish Student Union. “Fasting and being in class is really challenging.”
Bessemer said many people have sent University president Richard Lariviere letters of thanks, although it wasn’t his decision.

The academic calendar for the University is set five years in advance. The University does not usually close for Yom Kippur, but Herb Chereck, who served as University registrar at the time, said the administration did not want Jewish students to miss the first day of class.

The University of Oregon was the only public university in the state to close for Yom Kippur. However, the Oregon University System has changed its policy so fall term will not start on a religious holiday in the future.

“The school closes for holidays like Christmas and Easter,” Yellon said. “I feel it’s only fair.”

Yom Kippur services were held in Gerlinger Hall Sunday evening and Monday morning, followed by a breaking of the fast Monday evening at Hillel.

Bessemer said the closure was “quite a blessing” for Jewish students.


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