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High Holiday Observance How-To

About This How-To

Each year before the High Holidays, an email is sent to the faculty members at SUNY Geneseo to inform them of the policy on religious observances, and to let them know the dates that the High Holidays will be celebrated for the current year.

It is each student's responsibility to inform each of their professors to let them know that they will be participating in this religious observance.

The students of Geneseo Hillel put together the following resources to help make communicating with your professors as straightforward as possible.

If you have any questions, comments or concerns about any information here, please email to reach a student member of the Hillel Executive Board, or to reach Laura Matthews, Director of Jewish Student Life. 

The legal side of taking off

You have the legal right to observe Jewish holidays in the way you see fit. Whether that means going to synagogue or taking a spiritual day to yourself, all ways of observation are valid. Regardless, this means you may have to take off from classes that day(s). 

The administration is on your side and here is what was sent to the entire staff:

Dear Colleagues, 

At this time of year, faculty may wish to review the "Policies Governing Student Attendance in Classes on Religious Holidays" available at the links below.  Geneseo’s practice is that classes remain in session. And, in accordance with state law, students shall not be penalized for their religious observance. Faculty are encouraged to avoid placing exams and other required course elements on religious holidays. Students are encouraged to discuss their religious participation directly with their faculty.  --see link to each year’s holidays just above the state law

Please note that Rosh Hashanah with be the first such holiday of the 2019-20 academic year; it will begin at sundown on Sunday 9/29 and end at sundown Tuesday 10/1.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Melanie Blood, PhD
Interim Associate Provost for Assessment and Curriculum
Pronouns: she/her/hers

Professor of English and Music
Coordinator of Women’s and Gender Studies
(585) 245-5531

Actually doing it

Requesting to take off for holidays can happen in a few different formats. How you approach the situation will depend on your familiarity with the faculty member, and your experience in speaking to faculty. There is no wrong way to take off:

  • Verbal agreement: Attend your professor’s office hours, set up an appointment to meet with them, or speak to them after class. 
    • A helpful prompt may be:
      Hey professor X, I just wanted to let you know that I will be observing Holiday X on X and X. I promise to make up the work, and get the notes from my classmates. I see we have a test on day X and I will need to take it a different day. 
    • Follow up with the professor in email just to confirm:
      Dear Professor X:
      This email is to confirm that I will be absent from [course number] on [date] for (holiday). We agreed that I will submit/make-up X assignment/exam by [date]. 
      Could you please respond to acknowledge that this is our agreement?
      Thank you for this accommodation,
      (student name)
  • Email agreement: This is the easiest way to take off, and the most hands off approach when you are not too comfortable with a professor, or do not have time to speak to them in person.
    Hello Professor X,
    On (date of holiday) I will be observing the Jewish holiday of X. I will be unable to attend class as a result. I will be sure to keep up with the work. Professor X, I will need to take your Test I/Unit Test 1 a different day, so please let me know when you would like me to take your tests.
    Thank you for accommodating to my religious needs!,
    (your name)


As much as we hope our faculty are here for the students’ interests and will be understanding, this may not always be the case. You are not alone in this scenario and do not deserve to get treated as such. If you feel discomfort in a professor's response to your request, please complete this High Holidays Experience Report Form.
Situations can include:
Faculty members questioning you about what you are doing that day/ belief system
Professors insisting that you drop the test grade instead of making it up
Being generally difficult
Anything that makes you feel uneasy about the situation