Seven months after Hillel Madison first raised the alarm that there would be a Rosh Hashanah scheduling conflict, the Jewish student services organization is now making plans to connect with students who will find themselves living through the problem in September.
The first day of fall classes at Madison and several other schools in the University of Wisconsin system are scheduled for the second day of Rosh Hashanah.
The date conflict has generated a great deal of communication among school officials and Jewish community representatives. Chancellor Rebecca M. Blank has apologized.
Blank is to speak at Madison Hillel’s erev Rosh Hashanah services Monday, Sept. 6. Students will have largely moved into their dorms at that time, waiting for classes to start on Wednesday.
Madison Hillel typically hosts Rosh Hashanah services, but this year it will also offer holiday-themed activities to serve students under unusual circumstances, according to Greg Steinberger, CEO and president of Madison Hillel. On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, as students are walking to their first day’s classes, the organization will hold a 10 a.m. “Apples and Honey Pop Up Event” at the campus’s Bascom Hill. Madison Hillel has also scheduled a Rosh Hashanah lunch and morning religious services for students, both for that day.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison sent emails to parents, students and staff on Tuesday, July 20, 2021, expressing regret for the school’s scheduling conflict with Rosh Hashanah.
“This is an overlap which we should have identified when schedules were being set,” wrote Chancellor Rebecca M. Blank. “Our process didn’t work in this instance and for that I’m deeply sorry.”
“I recognize that the scheduling conflict and our failure to anticipate it when the calendar was adopted by the Faculty Senate in 2019 has distressed many Jewish students, their families, faculty, and staff, particularly at a time of increased anti-Semitic violence and harassment across the U.S.,” Blank wrote. “This is a moment when it’s critical to show, through our words and actions, that we are committed to the safety and well-being of Jewish members of our community.”
The date conflict arose when the University of Wisconsin-Madison and several other schools in the state system scheduled the first day of fall 2021 classes for the second day of Rosh Hashanah. Several school officials have acknowledged the conflict as an unfortunate error. It could have been avoided if the individual schools had planned better several years ago, according to UW System Board of Regents President Tommy Thompson.
The Wisconsin Jewish Conference, Wisconsin Council of Rabbis, Milwaukee Jewish Federation and Jewish Federation of Madison all asked for the university system to reconsider. But Thompson has responded that “any changes at this late date would have cascading effects on myriad areas from financial aid awards to course schedule.”
The Milwaukee Jewish Federation has made resources available for parents, faculty and staff related to the university system’s date conflict, at MilwaukeeJewish.org/UWStartDate.