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The University of Georgia location of Hillel on S Milledge Avenue in Athens, Georgia. The Jewish community has been involved in the history of Athens since the 1800s, and is still active today with organizations like Hillel. (Photo/Caroline Barnes, http://carolinembarnes.wixsite.com/photography)

As many University of Georgia students are gearing up for midterms, others are preparing to celebrate the holiest of Jewish high holidays, Yom Kippur. For  Jewish students on campus, UGA Hillel is hosting events to bring the Jewish community together to atone and worship. 

Yom Kippur, otherwise known as the Day of Atonement, has been observed for centuries by Jews through a 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer. Often, most of the day is spent in synagogue services. 

“Yom Kippur ... is really a day to reflect on the year and who you want to be as a person,” said Mara Zeichner, director of engagement and wellness at UGA Hillel.  “The fasting gives the opportunity to improve themselves and focus on the prayer and improving in the next year.”

Students who wish to observe the holiday must consult their professors in order to get an excused absence, as the day isn’t marked on UGA’s calendar.  

Historically, the day has fallen during midterm season which further reinforces the attendance of many Jewish students in classes. Sara Kreitner, a junior studying biology and psychology from John’s Creek, Georgia, is balancing religious practices and securing her GPA. 

“I’m going to be studying and trying to forget that I can’t eat. I’ll be praying that I don’t get too hangry,”  Kreitner said. 

Luckily for Jewish students, UGA’s Hillel organization, is offering several events that work around busy exam schedules. Before the fast begins, a hearty pre-fast dinner of spaghetti and meatballs will take place on Oct. 8 from 5:30-7 p.m.

Following the fast, students can attend the Yom Kippur “Break the Fast” dinner, from 8:15-9:15 p.m. the following evening. 

“We’ll have everything from bagels to cookies and cake, that way everyone can break the fast in their most desired fashion,” Zeichner said.

In order to encourage Jewish students to celebrate Yom Kippur, Hillel UGA is offering signed excuse notes to bring to professors, Zeichner said.

While the decision to allow an excused absence is at the discretion of the professor, having a legitimate note could make it more sound. 

“We know that professors are given letters to say that this is happening, we encourage you to excuse your students but we know it is not necessary,” Zeichner said. “We try to make it as accessible as possible for students to fulfill their beliefs however they need to.”  

UGA Hillel expects a particularly wide turnout because the day falls on a Tuesday. Students who usually return home for services will likely stay in Athens and find services near campus.

Hillel will offer transportation to services at a local reform synagogue and a conservative minion in addition to the evening services at the Hillel building on South Milledge Avenue.  

In addition to the Yom Kippur services happening this week, UGA Hillel is also preparing for the upcoming season of high holidays. With Sukkot coming up, Hillel is building a Sukkah the day after Yom Kippur to host events such as Sundays in the Sukkah, Shakshuka in the Sukkah and Pizza in the Hut. 

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