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Jewish holidays not excused under Belmont attendance policy

The Jewish High Holy Days began with the start of Rosh Hashanah Sunday, but some Jewish students won’t be able to celebrate with their families, because Belmont does not provide them with excused absences.

The university doesn’t give excused absences for any holidays outside of the Christian tradition, said Provost Dr. Thomas Burns.

The High Holy Days start with the celebration of Rosh Hashanah — the Jewish New Year — and end with Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement. They are generally regarded as the holiest holidays in Judaism.

Though Belmont welcomes students of all faiths, the university celebrates Christian holidays, Burns said.

Sophomore design communications major Willow Johnson usually celebrates Rosh Hashanah at her grandma’s house with 30 to 40 family members.

“Had I been given an excused day, I might have gone home for it, because it’s so many of my family members that I don’t always get to see,” said Johnson.

While students are not given excused absences by the provost, some students reach out to their professors individually. When Liz Tenny, a junior art education major, explained why she needed to miss class, her art professors happily obliged.

“All those teachers have been super understanding,” said Tenny.

While Tenny is happy to ask her professors for absences, she still believes the provost should offer excused absences for religious holidays.

“This is a religious community and they should understand. You wouldn’t want to have class on Easter or Christmas,” Tenny said. “These are the two most important holidays for us, so from the Jewish perspective, it’s like having class on Easter or Christmas.”

While Belmont does not currently have any plans to offer Jewish students excused absences, Burns suggested students reach out to university ministries for help finding temples in the area.

Many Jewish students are finding other ways to connect with their faith in Nashville, through Belmont’s Jewish cultural club and Vanderbilt’s Hillel Dinner, which celebrates Rosh Hashanah and brings together Jewish students from Vanderbilt, Belmont, and Middle Tennessee State University.

“Belmont’s culture is changing, and we’re finding each other through the club. We can talk about things that a Christian person or someone that’s not Jewish won’t fully get,” said Kyle Rosen, a junior music business major. “We can be ourselves.”

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