Yom Kippur and Religion’s Place at Milton
By BRENDAN HEGARTY ’20
Last week during Monday assembly, the coheads of the Jewish Student Union (JSU), Chloe Brenner ’20 and Avery Lack ’19, took the podium to explain some of the Jewish high holidays. They explained what many of our Jewish peers were up to on the holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
As Wednesday came and went for many students, the religious traditions of Yom Kippur were out of sight and out of mind as day students and boarders alike enjoyed their day off. Nonetheless, many were celebrating.
When asked how Jewish holidays are celebrated in the boarding community, Lack replied that “they aren’t.” She elaborated “some of the dorms have Jewish faculty members and they sometimes celebrate a little bit with you,” but, ultimately, it can be difficult for Jewish boarders to celebrate holidays as they would at home. “For Yom Kippur,” Lack specified, “most of the boarders that are Jewish that [she knows] just fast.” She noted that “it’s really difficult to find a way to get to services,” and that “when you’re given a free day, especially as an upperclassman, you can’t use it to celebrate a holiday, you have to use it for schoolwork.”
Elaborating about other holidays as well, Lack explained that during Hanukkah, boarders “aren’t allowed to light candles in the dorms.” Although some boarders are able to go to faculty apartments to light candles, Lack ultimately called the process “kind of impossible.”
In terms of general religious practices at Milton, Lack continued that “there are a lot of day students who can take boarders to church and stuff on Sundays,” but she “[doesn’t] think religion is prioritized here at Milton.” And, although she understands the difficulty in focusing on religion, she noted that during “[her] Sophomore year, [Milton] didn’t give Yom Kippur off for schoolwork, which is ridiculous, because the main way to celebrate is by not eating, and you can’t really go to class if you haven’t eaten for twelve hours.”
Regardless of their religion, boarders still find some ways to to celebrate holidays during the school year. Siramori Yattassaye ’19, one of the co-heads of Muslim Students Association (MSA), explained the experience for boarding students of practicing their faith on Muslim holidays. Yattassaye said that “Ms. Solomon helps out with organizing food, praying, and prayer time during the day,” and more generally, “she helps organize with Sage Dining, and helps students maneuver throughout the day”
The boarding experience during Ramadan, the month-long holiday in which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, can be tough, and Yattassaye noted that because Milton “[has] such a busy schedule during the day” it can be hard to balance “fasting while going to classes.” She added that “people are kind of mindful, but sometimes you have to remind them when you don't have the energy to be like your normal self.” In spite of these challenges, Yattassaye stated that “Ms. Solomon works with different people like Sage Dining and the house heads to help Muslim students during Ramadan.”
She feels that at Milton, “a lot of people don’t really know about Muslim holidays,” and that “[Muslim students] barely have days off” compared to their Jewish and Christian peers. Although she believes the Milton “schedule is not fitted for Ramadan,” Yattassaye doesn’t think that the school is not mindful about the holidays, “because when [Muslim students] do bring it up, [the school] definitely respects the holidays.”
Overall, Yattassaye hoped for more accommodations for Muslim students practicing their religion, especially during Ramadan, and it seems like accommodations would be welcome for all religious students, day and boarding alike. Although scheduling around so many students can be tough, many feel that Milton as a whole could do better to understand the needs of community members, and announcements like the one last Monday morning serve as opportunities for the whole school to better understand each other’s traditions, faith, and needs.