Oregon State University classes start Monday - and that day also marks Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish holidays, and a time reserved for prayer and reflection. The devout typically don't work or go to school.
"Obviously, it goes without saying that it's been a topic of a lot of conversation within the Jewish community," said Rabbi Benjamin Barnett of Beit Am, the mid-Willamette Valley's main Jewish religious, cultural and social organization.
"I really think every day is holy, but the Jewish community comes together on Yom Kippur more than any other day of the year," he said.
Beit Am includes about 130 Jewish families from Newport to Sweet Home. Most of them live in Corvallis. The next-closest formal Jewish religious institution is in Salem. Barnett said that the local Jewish community includes plenty of people who don't attend services regularly, or at all, but still identify culturally as Jewish and want to observe the holidays in some way.
OSU and the Oregon University System have changed their policies for future years, however, so that fall term doesn't start on a religious holiday, said Terryl Ross, OSU's director of the Office of Community and Diversity.
"We obviously missed the boat on this," Ross said.
The University of Oregon is the only Oregon public university that won't begin classes on Yom Kippur this year.
While Barnett and other Jewish community leaders said they appreciated the university system's change for 2010-11, OSU students and even employees will face a dilemma next week. Many Jewish students want to observe Yom Kippur no matter what, but that leaves them a day behind in trying to find out how classes will work, said Jacob Elstein, a graduate student in math education, and director of outreach for Hillel, the Jewish student union at OSU.
"That first day is when so much of that basic course structure is outlined," Elstein said. "I was on the edge myself because of my first term of graduate school. ... It creates this really difficult situation."
He won't attend classes Monday, and has e-mailed his professors to let them know.
Because Yom Kippur falls on the first day of classes, however, students can miss class without making prior arrangements with instructors, Ross said. A message will be sent out to every OSU student. "We don't want students to feel bad for missing class for, obviously, a very important holiday," he said.
Ross added that the Yom Kippur controversy has illustrated the challenges of living in a multicultural society, and that dialogue about the issue has been healthy. He said there are people of so many faiths attending OSU that nearly every day is a holiday of some form.
"People would be surprised to know how many (religious) holidays there are," he said.
Whatever their religion, students have a right to observe their holidays as long as they schedule them off ahead of time, Ross said. Professional staff may have to take a vacation day for their holiday, and teaching workers would need to make sure their classes are covered.
Yom Kippur falls on the 10th day of the Hebrew calendar, and marks the end of a period of reflection at the start of the new year. Adults observing Yom Kippur won't eat or drink anything from sundown on Sunday until it gets dark on Monday.
The holiday includes a nighttime religious service, intense prayer, asking for forgiveness from other people and God and preparing to move forward.
"Our aspiration is to look within and locate that most generous, compassionate, loving part of ourselves that is already there but that gets covered up by the dust of the year," Barnett said.
"Even though it's serious, it's joyous. It's an incredible opportunity to begin again, to sort of recapture hope and whatever we are aspiring for in our lives. It's a day of really clarifying and re-devoting ourselves."