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Professor says he's canceling first day of class after UW schools keep start date on Rosh Hashanah

UW Oshkosh one of six schools to start school year on the Jewish holiday
Professor says he's cancelling class after UW schools keep start date on Rosh Hashanah
Posted at 6:35 PM, Jul 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-06 22:17:24-04

WISCONSIN (NBC 26) — A conflict between faith and the classroom.

Six of the 13 University of Wisconsin (UW) system campuses, including UW-Oshkosh, have scheduled the first day of classes for Rosh Hashanah, an important holiday for the Jewish community.

UW-Madison professor Josh Garoon says he spends every Rosh Hashanah at the synagogue with his family.

He considers it to be the holiest of Jewish holidays.

“It’s really trying to set aside that day and the next day as days when we’re not working. We’re in the synagogue from morning to early afternoon and then we come home and have a big festival meal,” Garoon said.

This year the holiday falls early and coincides with the first day of school at the six UW campuses.

“I’m planning on canceling that class and that’s in part because of me and my personal decision of what the holiday means to me,” Garoon said.

He said it’s not as simple as calling in a replacement for help as first days set the tone for the rest of the term.

“I can’t ask someone else to do that first day of class. It just doesn’t make sense. There is no substitute for that. I can’t farm that out to someone else or put it on another day and then dive into the material”

Here in Northeast Wisconsin, while UW Oshkosh declined to comment, UW System officials have said it is too late to switch dates due to financial aid, reporting requirements and technology systems.

“Don’t just send me an email saying 'this is so unfortunate' and we really feel for our students and we understand what a burden this is and how this isn’t ideal at all. Now we’re going to ask you to make accommodations for them so everybody is as happy as possible. I’m just like no that is not going to do it,” Garoon said.

From an equity standpoint, he believes this was not the right approach.

He said it only creates more stress and havoc during a holy time meant to be reflective.

While Rosh Hashanah is considered to be the Jewish New Year, he said it's not the same as an American New Year.

Rabbi Andrea Steinberger is a Jewish Learning Fellowship (JLF) Educator at Hillel at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

She explained about how her husband started contacting administration regarding this issue back in December of 2020.

“I’m agreeing with the students yeah this doesn’t make me feel included, this doesn’t make me feel as if things are inequitable, this makes me feel as more could have been done especially since this conversation started last December,” Garoon said.

Steinberger said while it is a Jewish issue today, she hopes more will be done for inclusion for all.

Click here to be redirected where you can view the letters the six UW schools sent out to the UW System President, as well as letters from other organizations in support of the Jewish community affected.