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Holiday homework? No way!

Published: October 7, 2011
Section: Opinions


Last week, we had a four-day weekend due to the Jewish High Holy Day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I’ve always loved how Brandeis has no classes on the holidays; it makes it easier for me to go to services because, unlike in high school, there’s no need to make the decision between going to services and going to class. Unlike in high school—at least this year—it appears that professors are taking the long weekends as an excuse to assign extra readings and homework.

Across my four classes, I was assigned to approximately 90 pages from different books and the entirety of another book, and given a paper topic on which to write a first draft. I considered myself lucky that I am not observant to the point of being unable to do work on the holidays. While I’d strongly like to avoid doing work and instead celebrate the holidays, I spent hours each day doing work because leaving all the work for Saturday night (when Shabbat ends) and Sunday just wasn’t feasible.

While I don’t often miss much about high school, the holidays were never a problem. I went to a normal enough public school district yet was never made to do extra work on account of the holidays. My school was approximately 30 percent Jewish and the teachers were careful to avoid putting anything important on the days where a notable percentage of the school was absent. Readings were assigned, but at the same level as on any other day. They were also assigned well-enough in advance that it was never too difficult to get them done ahead of time.

Only once in all of high school did I feel the need to do schoolwork during the holidays. On the second day of Rosh Hashanah senior year, my AP Chemistry class had a lab experiment. Since it was the first class of the day and ended a full 40 minutes before my family would even get to services, I went to the one class, ran home to change my clothes and then went right to services like any other year.

Additionally, professors should not need to assign extra work over the days off because these days have already been worked into the schedule of the semester. Compared to my friends at other schools, we typically start the semester a full week, sometimes two, before these schools and we end around the same time in December. It’s clear from this that we certainly get approximately the same amount of class days. Some schools, like Syracuse, even get the full week of Thanksgiving off. Considering that we start earlier and end later in the fall semester, there’s no reason why we should not be able to enjoy and observe the holidays without an extra burden of homework.

During my first year at Brandeis, Rosh Hashanah started on a Friday night and consequently there were no days off. Other than the annoyance that I had to either do homework on my birthday or over the holiday, it wasn’t an excessive amount of work. Last year, we had a collective four days of classes before Rosh Hashanah began, and so, aside from readings for classes that had barely begun, there was not much work to do. This year, it seems that the holiday being at the end of September is more of a curse than a blessed break from work. Instead of enjoying the festivities and reprieve from work, I sat in a quiet room, toiling away in order to avoid falling significantly behind in most of my classes.

Rosh Hashanah is a part of welcoming the New Year. Traditionally people eat apples dipped in honey or other foods to symbolize the hope for a sweet new year. I find it hard to foresee a sweet year when it begins with a particularly bitter level of homework.