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Students sporting suits, ties, and dresses gathered in the lofty Wasserstein Hall at Harvard Law School on Yom Kippur Monday night to break their fast with bagels and lox.
Jewish students at the University are celebrating two of the central holidays in the Jewish calendar — Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — this September. Rosh Hashanah celebrates the start of a new year and the beginning of the Ten Days of Awe. This period then concludes with Yom Kippur, which can be translated from Hebrew as the “Day of Atonement.”
Despite their proximity to each other, the two holidays are different. Rosh Hashanah is a day of celebration with songs and big meals, whereas Yom Kippur offers a time of retrospection to learn from the previous year and start anew during a day-long fast.
“Traditionally these are family events,” said Trevor G. DePodesta ’26, who wasn’t able to return home for the festivities.
Observing students who spend the Holy Days on campus can congregate with friends and classmates to celebrate at the two Jewish centers on campus, Harvard Hillel and Chabad.
Zebulon Erdos ’25, who is the co-chair of the social committee for Hillel, said students who attend school away from family must decide for themselves to continue attending holiday services.
“I think that’s a very special thing of being around a group of your friends who very consciously want to take part in the celebration,” he said.
Both Hillel and Chabad offer pre-fast and break-fast meals as well as religious services such as Kol Nidrei, Mincha, and Shacharit throughout the day.
Michael Oved ’25 spent Rosh Hashanah in New York with family but still celebrated Yom Kippur on campus at Harvard Chabad, which he leads as vice president. Oved, who grew up Sephardic and whose family is from Iraq, Syria, and Morocco, enjoys the exposure Chabad provides to different ways of practicing Judaism.
“Coming to Harvard, my experience with Judaism was a little different than it had been back home. But at least I think it’s all for the better,” Oved said. “I think it’s wonderful to be exposed to other people’s ways and manners by which they practice religion, and by which they practice Judaism.”
Jordan H. Mittler ’27, who also celebrated the holiday with his family, took a day off for Yom Kippur.
“Considering I’m a freshman, and most of my classes are big lectures that are recorded, I was able to just watch the recordings Monday night into Tuesday and felt that I wasn’t really behind at all,” Mittler said.
For Yom Kippur, Mittler divided his time between Chabad and Hillel, where he noticed a larger crowd of attendees than in most weekly services. He said both organizations provided “a safe space to practice my Jewish religion, which, up until now, I’ve been practicing in the Jewish communities since I was born.”
For Erdos, even though the High Holidays are over, he is looking forward to more festivities throughout the coming year.
“It takes so many people’s effort to make the celebrations come to life, and I’m just grateful that we have this wonderful community working together to keep our tradition going,” he said.
—Staff writer Francesco Efrem Bonetti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Megan S. Degenhardt can be reached at email@example.com.
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