US universities hold alternative graduations for Jewish students

Chabad on Campus and Hillel work with university authorities to give observant Jewish students alternative graduations around country.

Mordechai Sones ,

Jacob Niebloom receives his two bachelor's degrees from Dean Wendi Heinzelman
Jacob Niebloom receives his two bachelor's degrees from Dean Wendi Heinzelman
צילום: UR Chabad - Rohr Center
Shmaya Honickman, a student at Rockland Community College in New York, was dejected when he realized that his graduation ceremony clashed with the Shavuot festival, preventing his family from attending.

“There would be no one for me to celebrate it with. It would have been me alone up there and it feels like something that’s meant to be with friends and family because I didn’t do it alone – they were the ones that carried me,” Honickman told the Rockland Journal News.

That's where campus Rabbi Dov Oliver, stepped in. Working with the college leadership, they organized an alternative graduation ceremony last week for the observant Jewish students, with the college President and Provost taking part.

Rockland Jewish students were not alone. Yesterday, at California State University, Northridge, 40 Jewish students were presented with their doctoral, master's and bachelor's degrees at another alternative graduation ceremony.

11,500 students took part in the huge graduation ceremony at the University on Monday. But for religiously-observant Jewish students, the Shavuot festival meant that they faced missing out.

Jewish students at University of Binghamton participate in alternative
צילום: Chabad at Binghamton
Rabbi Chaim Shaul Brook, co-director of Chabad at CSUN, and Dr. Jody Meyers, coordinator of the Judaic Studies program, approached the university to arrange their first ever alternative graduation ceremony. Chabad, Hillel and the university came together to make it happen.

Several US schools held their graduations last Monday, which was the second day of the Shavuot festival. Observant Jewish students and their families would have had to pay for several nights' accommodation for Shabbat and the two-day festival, which not every family can afford. They would also be unable to take photographs.

Chabad on Campus and Hillel worked with university and college authorities to give observant Jewish students alternative graduations around the country.

At the University of Maryland, more than 50 students graduated in an alternative ceremony held before Shavuot. The commencement address was delivered by Alyza D. Lewin, a partner at Lewin and Lewin and COO and Director of Policy at the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law.

Binghamton University held an alternative ceremony last Friday, with around 50 students taking part. At the ceremony, University President Harvey Stenger spoke about the importance of faith. Addressing the Jewish students, he said "through your faith you stand apart from most of your fellow students. Recent surveys of religious detachment tell us that millennials in particular are less likely to identify with a religious faith... I think we lose something as society becomes more secular... I still believe religion is a positive force in an individual's life. One that can shape and develop one's character and values. "

Rabbi Aaron Slonim, executive director of Chabad at Binghamton, explained: “As I fielded calls from anxious parents who cited financial constraints and other difficulties, I felt strongly that I had to try to help make this joyous event less stressful for these families."

Rabbi Slonim asked whether Binghamton University would make special arrangements for their observant Jewish students. "I approached President Stenger and was overjoyed and deeply grateful when he responded positively and put the pieces in place to make this happen."

An alternative graduation ceremony was also held at Hofstra University. The University of Rochester held a special ceremony for just one Jewish student, Jacob Niebloom, who independently arranged it with the university administration when he saw it clashed with Shavuot.


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