Across campus, people ate apples, honey to signify beginning of new year, recalled memories with family
Jewish members of the Lewis & Clark community celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the new year and one of the High Holy Days, from the evening of Sept. 25 until Sept. 27.
To commemorate the holiday, Chaplain & Director of Spiritual Life Hilary Martin Himan sent a message to students through the Sept. 26 edition of the Bark. According to Himan, 20% of the student body identifies as Jewish.
“L’Shana Tova!, or, Happy New Year!,” Himan wrote. “Last night at sundown our Jewish community began the High Holy Days with Rosh Hashanah.”
According to Himan, on Sept. 27 PDX Hillel’s new Social Justice Fellow and LC’s Jewish Student Life Coordinator Maddie Herrup led a conversation discussing what meaningful Teshuvah looks like as a means for social change.
Alaryx Tenzer ’23 was one of the students who celebrated this year and views Rosh Hashanah as a thoughtful and introspective time. The holiday is the beginning of the 10 days of penitence that ends with Yom Kippur.
“Being the new year, there is a definite sense of renewal, and it’s celebratory,” Tenzer said via email. “This year, I streamed services from my synagogue on the East coast, and hosted a brief family zoom with my father’s side of the family, where we did some blessings and caught up with each other. It can be lonely being the only one on the West coast, so it was nice to connect on a holiday that’s meant to be joyous!”
For Tenzer, one of the most important parts of Rosh Hashanah is watching his grandfather read the Haftarah every year.
“Last year, they recorded him from his home, but this year he had just gotten a booster shot so was able to go in person again,” Tenzer said. “He just turned 90 on 9/24! Since he lived part of his childhood in a Siberian concentration camp, there’s so much history of people wanting to stop his Jewish practice; and I’m so proud of him for sticking with it.”
Family is also important for Lily Schaffer ’23 this time of year. Schaffer streamed a service from her home synagogue, but still felt homesick.
“Every year around Rosh Hashanah, I get extremely homesick,” Schaffer said. “I’m just sad because I know that my family is all together eating a huge meal, being together for the new year and I’m up here alone. If I want that big meal, I have to cook it myself and I have to clean it all.”
Emma Greenberg ’23 relates to the importance placed on family during the holiday.
“Growing up it was one of rare days where my family was all together without having to do anything else or be anywhere (besides temple),” Greenberg said via email. “I didn’t do much to celebrate this year except for when my boyfriend (who isn’t Jewish) surprised me with apples and honey and the sweetest card when I got home. It really meant a lot to me.”
Eating apples with honey is meant to signify a sweet, hopeful new year. While this is the most common tradition, other practices are often incorporated. Eliana Essman ’25, who spent the holiday this year eating challah bread and matzo ball soup, recalled her favorite tradition.
“My favorite Rosh Hashanah tradition growing up was doing Tashlich, a symbolic ceremony where you throw bread into a body of water, at the beach with my family,” Essman said via email.
Unlike many Christian holidays, class is still held on the Jewish High Holy Days. However, LC has a policy where students can observe these holidays with no penalty.
“Going to work and school today felt fine to me,” Greenberg said. “I think LC’s no penalty policy for religious holidays is actually one of their better ones. I know I could have gotten time off from class and work but it totally slipped my mind to do so.”
Tenzer agreed that LC’s policy is a good policy, especially compared to other schools, though they wished this information was communicated earlier. This year Tenzer is taking one day off during Rosh Hashanah, as well as for Yom Kippur which begins at sunset on Oct. 4. He would like to take more days off, but is worried about being overwhelmed by work.
“However, despite permission to miss class, there is still the expectation to complete the related work,” Tenzer said. “Since a Jew is told not to work on the high holidays, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed with the need to catch up.”
Schaffer also feels the tension in making this decision.
“We have to choose between what I would like to do to feel connected to my religion and not feel as homesick or go to class and still be upset that I’m homesick,” Schaffer said.
According to Schaffer, even with the no-penalty policy, it is not equitable to have class on Jewish holidays because it inconveniences Jewish students.
“It would be really cool if Jewish holidays can also be seen as the same weight that like Christian holidays hold,” Schaffer said. “I mean, I feel like it’s also the same for Muslim students where big holidays for them aren’t recognized on the academic calendar.”
The cast of LC’s “Rent” production also celebrated Rosh Hashanah, a mainstage tradition that began with last year’s “Passion Play.” According to Mack Wille ’25, many of the “Passion Play” cast are Jewish and paired with the antisemitism in the second act, wanted to take a moment to celebrate Judaism. Though the connection to “Rent” is less apparent, it was an important tradition to continue. This year Emma Green ’24 and Ruby Guzman ’25 led prayer and ate honey with their peers.
Wille’s role, Mark Cohen, is a young Jewish man.
“The character that I play is a Jewish Man, but that’s not like a huge part of the show,” Wille said. “We just kind of talked about some of the references that are in the show that are related to that, like there’s a reference to the High Holy Days.”
For Wille, who grew up going to a Catholic church, these experiences have been a point of learning.
“This seems like a lot more love-centered, beautiful religion than I’m used to,” Wille said. “There’s been a lot of learning on my own.”