Happy New Year 5779, everyone! That’s the year we just entered on September 9 in the Hebrew Calendar. Many Jewish students took off class to go to religious services at their local synagogue during Rosh Hashanah, the three-night, two-day holiday that rings in the new year.
Last year, the Hillels of Westchester, our county’s branch of the international Jewish campus organization, decided to set up an annual information table during Wednesday Common Hour to teach non-Jewish students about why their classmates took the last two days off with handouts, enthusiastic staffers and the centerpiece of any Rosh Hashanah event: apples, honey and challah bread. And while it was not the larger event initially assumed, it was nonetheless neat, educational and fun enough to attract a few dozen students, staff and faculty even on a busy day.
At least six students signed up to find out about more Hillel cultural events in our area. Also, a Jewish anthropology professor stopped by and spent a fascinating hour chatting with people about Jewish history and the subtle flavor differences between clover, elderberry and citrus flower honey among other sources.
Interestingly, according to him, it was most likely that the honey initially mentioned in the Hebrew Bible was probably not bee honey, but date honey, a sticky syrup extracted from the fruit of the date palm, a staple crop of the ancient Middle East.
According to Rachele Hall (a great friend to journalists who will give short interviews on little to no notice if necessary) this was a joint effort with the support of the Office of Student Involvement, partly to address some concerns that had been expressed to the office as best they could on their own.
Many colleges and universities (and even some high schools), especially those with larger Jewish populations have just designated the first day of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (the next holiday in the Jewish Calendar) as days off for the entire campus to avoid making Jewish students have to choose between observance and keeping a good attendance record.
For whatever reason, WCC’s policy, as usual, is to leave the decision to individual teachers to work out with their students, and some parties complained to the Office of Campus Diversity about this policy.
As there has not been an active Jewish Cultural club on campus for the last five years due to lack of student interest and the Office of Campus Diversity cannot make schedule decisions, Hall reached out to the Hillels of Westchester to do an outreach event to at least acknowledge Rosh Hashanah.
Hillels of Westchester’s Program and Engagement. Director’s Mallory Kovit, who ran the event table, made sure to note that Hillel had already requested to do the event already and that she does not think of this as a form of “appeasement”.
Hillels of Westchester’s upcoming events include free Sabbath dinners Friday night at PACE College and SUNY Purchase, and Sukkot Events on September 24 and 26 during Common Hour. The first one will be a party for decorating the Sukkah, the ritual hut that is the center of the harvest holiday and the subsequent event will be a chance to perform the Sukkot rituals of the Lulav and the Etrog.