On & Off Campus: Jewish High Holy Days

Written by SA-Worker18 student
October 26, 2015

This past month, both on and off campus ? students and faculty intersected with the Jewish High Holidays of Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Students participating in this quarter?s Pluralism & Interfaith Engagement course with Dr. Erica Martin had a special opportunity to spend time constructing a Sukkah, learning about its significance for Sukkot and spending time in prayer and reflection. Details in the below reflection from Dr. Erica Martin.

Thank you Dr. Martin for sharing from the heart here?including your photos of your celebrations in your home!

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Reflection, by Dr. Erica Martin

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I have a calendar problem. As the leaves begin to turn and the last fruits of the summer garden are piled on the kitchen counters in dangerously tipping towers, the Jewish yearly cycle calls me to quiet introspection. These moments demand that I take stock of the year that has passed, that I take time to pray, to fast, to gather with family, to slowly bake golden brown loaves of round braided challah studded with raisins.?

At the exact time that the change of season and Jewish calendar are calling me to slow down, the Academic calendar demands that I rush, rush, rush. Other parents can relate to the dizzying chaotic energy of back-to-school preparation: there are sleep schedules to adjust, outgrown clothes to donate and shiny new sneakers to purchase, improbable lists of school supplies to find (forty-eight Ticonderoga pencils, exactly five glue sticks, twelve composition notebooks, huge pink erasers?and so on). As a professor, this urgency is doubled: long-procrastinated syllabi are due, classes need planning, and the date book swells with faculty meetings and Commencement events. There are course websites to build, student names to memorize, deadlines looming, and an email box shouting that it is brimming with unanswered correspondence and can no longer send or receive messages.

Each new Autumn I experience mental whiplash born of being pulled in opposite directions. Reflection on what has passed competes with preparation for what is to come; hushed reflection competes with boisterous greetings, the all-important first day of classes at the University is scheduled on the holiest and most solemn day of the Jewish year ? Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.?

The Days of Awe stretch from Rosh HaShanah (the Jewish New Year celebration) to Yom Kippur. This most holy of times is bookended. It is preceded by a period of Slichot, a time of repentance and asking forgiveness for our errors and failings in the past year. They Days of Awe are followed by the eight day festival of Sukkot, zman simchateinu ? the time of our rejoicing ? when we ?dwell? in booths outside; we spend these days eating, drinking, welcoming guests, and even sleeping in the fragile, temporary shelters meant to remind us of the time when the Israelites wandered in the wilderness without a home.

It is only during Sukkot, this final chapter in the High Holy Days experience, that my internal struggle between the Jewish and Academic calendars is resolved. Several years ago the School of Theology & Ministry partnered with Seattle University?s department of Campus Ministry to purchase a beautiful blue sukkah, a ?booth? in which the campus community can ?dwell.? ?Each year we construct the sukkah and I lead information sessions and prayers with graduate students and undergrads, faculty and staff, Jewish, Atheist, Muslim, Christian, all are welcome. We gather to learn the history of the holiday, to touch, smell and shake the ritual objects (one sounds rather like a rain stick and reminds us that the rains are coming), to eat sweet treats and delight in one another?s presence. For me, Sukkot marks a much-needed realignment of my private experience and my campus community. In the Sukkah, we share our joy at being together again to begin a new year; we rejoice in each other?s company and the prospect of the exciting year to come. I am abundantly grateful for this community which is open to sharing the Holiday with me, eager to learn and willing to try new rituals. Shanah tovah v?metukah to you all, may your new year be sweet and full of delight!