Shana Tova


Religion among the intelligentsia.



Picture this: You’re sitting in class discussing a novel that you were assigned to read. The conversation is going great, everyone is making great points, and the ideas are flowing. Then someone brings up the moral implications of the novel. Suddenly, the conversation isn’t going as well. Left and right, your peers are stating their opinions, starting off with “well, I’m not religious, but…” or “Well, I am religious, and…”

There’s nothing wrong with what is being said, in fact, people are still making good points. The problem is the tension in the room.

In my short time here at Harvard, I have noticed that a lot of the time I feel a need to defend myself whenever the topic of religion is brought up. There’s never open hostility towards religion, but there’s something about being at Harvard that makes one feel as though they shouldn’t bring it up in academic conversations.

That’s not to say that Harvard doesn’t try to make religious students feel included outside of the classroom. On the Student Organization List provided by Harvard’s Office of Student Life there are about twenty organizations listed under the Religious and Spiritual Life filter. In February this past year the Harvard Diversity Peer Educators hosted a “Faith and Religion: Identity, Relationships and Rep. at Harvard” event. This week Rosh Hashanah starts on Wednesday the 20th at sunset and ends on Friday the 22nd at nightfall. The Harvard Hillel will host their High Holidays events during this time.

What’s odd is that Rosh Hashanah and other non-Christian religious holidays don’t necessarily get attention from the school when it comes to class time, or a lack of it. This year Winter Break officially begins on December 20th, the last day of Hanukkah, and after Bodhi Day (December 8th), making it difficult for those students who celebrate the holiday to spend time with their families.

This happens around other religious holidays as well. Islamic holidays such as Eid-ul-Adha (Friday September 1st) occur during the school year, and there are no break periods for students observing them.

This brings up an important question. Could Harvard be doing more to make students feel that religion and religious perspectives are welcome at prestigious academic institutions?

Look forward to hearing from religious student leaders at Harvard and their many perspectives!

Alaya Ayala ( wishes all those celebrating the Jewish New Year, Shana Tova!