Wednesday of this week marked the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur (in English, Day of Atonement). Considered by most to be the most solemn and important of the Jewish holidays, Yom Kippur is the final day in a 10-day period of repentance that begins with Rosh Hashanah. During this week and especially on Yom Kippur, Jews seek forgiveness for any wrongs they have committed against God.

Traditions include partaking in a large meal before beginning a 25-hour fast at sundown and attending synagogue. Yom Kippur provides Jewish students with an opportunity each year for spiritual contemplation and renewal for the following year, despite the incessant demands university life makes on every Georgetown student.

Though Georgetown is a Catholic university, most people on campus recognize the significance of Yom Kippur and are supportive of Jewish students celebrating it. For the most part, professors are more than happy to excuse students from class on Yom Kippur so they can dedicate the day to atonement, fasting, going to synagogue and, most importantly, to the spiritual growth that Georgetown has always held as central to the lives of its students.

As the sole authoritative figureheads that students generally encounter on a college campus, a faculty’s attitude towards its student body and its religious pursuits is the first reflection students have of their university’s attitude toward them in general. That Georgetown’s faculty is, for the most part, understanding of the significance Yom Kippur has for Jewish students, for example, speaks well to Georgetown’s understanding of religious diversity.

Yet, glaring examples of Georgetown’s falling short of its own standards still remain and, what is worse, are exemplified not by students away from home for the first time, ignorant to the beliefs of their neighbors, nor by some administration so insistent upon espousing Catholic dogma that it alienates students of another faith. Rather it is epitomized, this year at least, by professors, who forget their role as the vanguard of education, behind whom the student body marches on in the quest for knowledge.

I have a Jewish friend to whom Yom Kippur is the holiest day of every year. Explaining the holiday to me (a Catholic), she was near a loss of words to convey to an outsider its importance to her. I was grateful to hear, therefore, that all of her professors had excused her from their classes and made arrangements for her work; that is, all save for one. Not only had he refused to exempt her from his night class, during which time the traditional meal for Yom Kippur is held, but he also flatly refused to reschedule her group’s presentation from the class period that conflicted with Yom Kippur to the following week’s class, despite the fact that both were designated presentation days.

y friend did everything right in this case: As soon as the presentation days were announced, she realized the conflict and e-mailed her professor immediately. Though he cited the inconvenience to the other group who would have to switch to the earlier time, had he changed the groups immediately, all would have had ample time to prepare. My friend then emailed her dean, who told her that there exists “no protocol” for this case, but that perhaps a letter from the university rabbi would persuade the professor to change his mind. My friend then e-mailed the rabbi and went to his office several times after he failed to respond to her e-mail. By the time she heard back from him, it was the Tuesday before the presentation, and he told her that “there was nothing he could do for her at this point.”

y friend was beside herself. Her day for spiritual reflection was now relegated to preparing for and worrying about an in-class presentation, and if she still had any aspirations for dinner and synagogue, she was going to have to race from class to the end of one or the start of the other. Not showing up for class was not an option, especially because the concept of a “group project” (wherein all members are graded according to the presence and participation of the others) quickly becomes a sociological exercise in social pressure and virtual extortion against the defaulting member, regardless of her motive.

y friend stood in opposition her professor, her dean, the university’s rabbi and her peers on account of her religious beliefs. To defy them was to risk her GPA and that of her group members, to painfully call out her school and, with it, the Jewish authority who turned his back on her and perhaps most unpleasant of all, to provoke conceptions of her as some poster child for the Jewish cause at Georgetown.

When I left my friend, she was near tears on the phone with her mother. And what consolation was she to offer her daughter? “Oh, bigotry has always been the plight of the Jewish people, dear; you shouldn’t expect anything different from your university, even if it does mandate a `Pluralism in Action’ seminar for all new freshmen and supports awareness-raising groups who hang factoids about discrimination all over campus. After all, beneath any ideal of a `community’ still lies a bureaucracy in which your beliefs are cause for nothing but inconvenience and cool indifference.”

I, for one, expected more.

Lizzie Griesedieck is a sophomore in the College.

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