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Students observe High Holy days and Ramadan

Religious and spiritual students are observing Ramadan and the High Holy days despite the dietary challenges of living on campus.

At sundown on Oct. 3, Jewish students began observing the High Holy days, a 10-day period starting with the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashana, on Oct. 4 and 5, and ending with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, at sundown on Oct. 13. Rosh Hashana is celebrated with feasts and gathering of family and friends, while Yom Kippur is a day of fasting, reflection and prayers.

While Jewish students observe the High Holy days, Muslim students started Ramadan, a month of fasting and prayer, on Oct. 5. The fast of Ramadan includes no eating or drinking during daylight hours, and smoking and sexual relations are forbidden as well. The fast is broken with meals at sundown and before the sun rises. When the month of Ramadan ends, Id-al-Fitr (the Feast of Fast Breaking), is celebrated with gifts, feasts, family and friends for three days.

Students describe their experiences of these holidays as a solemn time for reflection.

“Ramadan is a time for cleansing, for me to be more aware of my body and to try to abstain from daily pleasures. As I fast and I feel my body become weaker throughout the month, I remember my family in Afghanistan, whose pharmacy got taken away by the Taliban and who struggle day to day with food and money,” said sophomore Krystle Ahmadyar.

Freshwoman Shoshana Bass views Yom Kippur as an opportunity for a new start.

“It’s like cleansing the soul. You go around to all people and ask them for forgiveness. You start fresh and you give yourself a new clean slate,” Bass said.

The Jewish Student Union shuttled students to services at synagogues in Berkeley, said Dean of Students Joanna Iwata. The JSU, which was created last semester by junior Sara Jacobsen, meets every week, has five regular members and 20 on their listserve.

This year the Muslim Student Association is planning on collaborating with about 27 international students from Saudi Arabia for prayer and meals during Ramadan at sun up and sundown. The MSA started in fall 2003 and also includes about five students and 20 on their listserve. According to Iwata, she is currently working with different departments on campus to find space for these services as well as Mediterranean food providers who will cater for the meals after the daily fasts.

Some students find it difficult to honor their traditions while keeping up with classes.

Bass said she feels torn between skipping classes and observing these holidays.

Muslim students struggle as well, and have found it hard fasting at Mills, especially if there isn’t appropriate food available to nourish their bodies.

“Last year in the MSA there [were] only three of us that fasted. We weren’t supported well, especially with the food service. The only option Founders gave us was to pick up a sacklunch and eat it for breakfast,” said Ahmadyar. “It was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a yogurt. We ended up not doing the sack lunch and scrounged up food that we had, like a cup of noodles everyday.”

Because of her involvement with the swim team, Muslim student Nashwa Emam lost 20 pounds last year during Ramadan.

“Last year I lost a lot of weight, and I freaked myself out. I don’t want to be skinny,” said Emam.

Members of the MSA say they feel a lack of support from Mills because the month of Ramadan has not been mentioned in the student handbook for two years.

“MSA or no MSA, registration or not, Ramadan comes every year and we should be supported,” said MSA member Fiza Asar, a senior. “Ramadan affects your time table, and this is a big event, but they were not mentioned in the student handbook. That shows clearly the lack of interest and the lack of awareness on campus.”

“All Muslims around the world are fasting. It’s all Muslims and God, it’s not one Muslim and God. It’s not a personal thing, it’s a community thing,” said Asar. “We’re going to use this month to get more social support for Muslims on campus. More awareness in the sense that people know what you’re talking about, and to be able to claim our space.”

“Just for diversity’s sake they should have done it,” she said.

Before this year, ASMC was the only financial support system for religious groups on campus. However, Iwata said she is currently meeting with different faith-based groups and their advisors, such as the JSU, the MSA and the Christian-based Workers of Faith in order to meet “special needs.”