Open on Christmas

By: Ailin Elyasi  |  January 22, 2018

Outside, the rare hush of the night stands as an uncharacteristic contrast to the usual rush of reading week. Lights cover the entire city and are draped over trees and buildings. And perhaps most notably,  the Empire State building is lit in red and green. Still, it makes no difference to most of those at Beren. In fact, the only people who probably notice the rare hush are the guards behind the security desk, the cashiers and servers in the caf, the financial aid advisors in 215. To them, December 25th is one of the two biggest days of the year. To us, it is just another day to push through on the way to finals. They sit at their desks, tending to Stern and Syms students, instead of at their tables, tending to and enjoying the company of their families.

Yeshiva University has always been an institution built on ideals. YU’s very motto, Torah U’mada attests to the ambitious ideal of simultaneously attaining religious and secular prominence, and of maintaining religion even when working in the workforce, both  with minimum compromise. In doing so, all YU institutions are closed on Jewish holidays, and YU’s very essence promotes strong Jewish identity in coexistence with prominence in the secular workplace. Perhaps it may be harsh, but major hypocrisy exists between YU’s very motto, and the requirement for employees who celebrate Christmas to work on Christmas. If YU truly believes in maintaining religion in all places, then it should allow freedom of religion to all people, including Christians, by allowing them to celebrate their most important day of the year.

In a parallel but more extreme case, a Jewish high school senior in Great Neck North Public School complained about his neighbor putting up a highly embellished Christmas tree right in front of the house window. He exclaimed, “Great Neck is a Jewish town; I don’t like that he makes his Christianity so apparent.”

This is not to say that YU tries to suppress other religions as this high school senior did, but failing to accommodate other religious people is just a few steps from that. By failing to provide equal treatment to all religions, YU is saying that not all religions have equal weight, which can only lead to discrimination and hatred.

Some may argue that Christmas for Christians parallels Chanukah for Jews, which means that Christians can work on Christmas just like Jews can work on Chanukah. To that I answer that Christians have two main holidays in the entire year–Christmas and Easter—as opposed to the countless holidays that Jews observe. Even though Christians technically have the ability to work on Christmas, it is an unfair request to ask of them on their holiday.

Compared to other institutions, YU has very average policies regarding religious off-days for religions other than Judaism. Employees have the right to ask other employees to cover their shift for them, and receive one and a half times their compensation for work done on that day if they work full time. Besides off days for legal holidays like Labor Day and Thanksgiving, employees have a right to take an additional “floating holiday” from a list of additional holidays during which offices are still open. This list includes Purim, one day of Chanukah, or Christmas. Thus a non-Jewish employee could in theory take Christmas off as his or her “floating holiday”, however because offices are open on these days, not everyone in a single department can take off on the same day.  This becomes an issue in majority non-Jewish departments like security or the cafeteria. At least some workers will be required to work on christmas because not everyone can take the same “floating holiday” off, and it is difficult to find someone to take that extra shift. This is is standard procedure and YU is not doing anything wrong by following it.

But contrast YU’s policies to the policies of Montefiore Medical center, which has Christmas day off, even though it is open on New Year’s, President’s Day, and other national holidays. Montefiore is a Jewish institution, with accommodations for both Jewish  and Christian holidays. In running an institution based on values, YU needs to follow its values even when it is not convenient.

In practical reality, would it be possible for YU to close on December 25th? It depends on the department. To be completely fair, YU does provide the option for financial aid workers, which has a majority of non-Jewish workers, to take Christmas off through the “floating holiday” policy. The departments that have more of an issue with Christmas include departments that are more difficult to close like security. YU needs security to remain open, and a consequence of being a Jewish university might be that Christians might have to compromise their religious days for us Stern girl’s to continue school.

The caf has a similar problem, although there is possibly a solution in this department. The caf, which hires student employees for work-study on any normal day. For December 25th, the caf could perhaps hire two such students instead of ruining someone’s holiday.

However much as I want to suggest for YU to just train Jews to work essential jobs like security  for Christmas, I can understand that logistically it can be challenging to train a Jew for a job on just one day a year. I just hope that when it is more than possible, like in the caf where students work anyway, YU can go a bit out of its way to try to give as many Christians as possible the day off.

Although YU has done nothing technically wrong, following a standard set by most businesses open on December 25th, it has the responsibility to do more in terms of combining religious and secular policy because of its responsibility of setting values for coexistence of religion and the workplace. YU does a decent job, and perhaps it does as well as it could while keeping the school open. Either way, I hope that it is still in the search of better policies and that Stern students can be more cognizant of the sacrifice that non Jews make by helping the school run on each day.

Editorial Note: It has been brought to the attention of the editorial board that YU does indeed have extra student workers in the Cafeteria on Christmas so that more regular food service workers can take the day off.