Jewish Holidays at Syracuse University (Diaspora)


At a certain point the holiday crush got too much at Syracuse University. Because why should classes be cancelled for Yom Kippur and then Eid al Fitr, and not for Diwali or Chinese New Year? You get the point. So the idea was to have students register with the University in order to take off the time to observe those festivals to them. Which means what? It puts a lot of pressure on university students to confront a professor who may have other ideas about classroom disruption. And at the same time, the system infantalizes students. Instead of simply taking off the time they need to take, students must petition the sovereign, in this case the University. The system is supposed to be automatic, but human factors obviously complicate the way it plays out in real time.

I don’t want to make too big a point over such a small thing. But diasporas are not horizontal systems marked by equality. For all the charms of diasporaism, this little episode speaks to the importance of place, and what happens when cultural actors don’t enjoy majority or semi-majority status, when they fall outside a norm that is simply too big to accommodate everyone equally.  Students can push back if they want, as in this letter in the Syracuse Daily Orange. But it’s an uphill battle. The numbers will never add up against the overwhelming force of inertia, systems-integration, and institutional authority.

The art of compromise is a fine one, but, no, you’re not ever really free in this kind of a situation if you are going to hang onto this or that bit of particularity. And at what point is what not worth the trouble? There’s always pressure, this way and that, unless you find your own niche in the system. It’s the price of being small in systems in which status is always unevenly distributed.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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