Jewish Sac State students celebrate High Holidays at home during pandemic

Though no Jewish campus club, students observe holidays virtually


Chris Wong

Political science major Lexi Nicodemus, right, attended Yom Kippur services virtually this year while wearing her kippah and tallit. Background photos courtesy of Hillel at Davis and Sacramento. Foreground photo courtesy of Lexi Nicodemus. Graphic by Chris Wong.

Isabelle Juarez

During the Jewish High Holidays this year, Lexi Nicodemus, a political science major, donned her kippah and tallit to attend virtual religious services from home, unable to participate in-person due to the coronavirus.

In previous years, Nicodemus spent her holidays helping young children at her synagogue and attending religious services along with other members of the Jewish community.

The High Holidays consist of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, with many practicing Jewish people using the 10 days between as a period of reflection. Sacramento State students in the Jewish community are participating in new ways this year.

Rosh Hashana started on Sept. 17 this year and began the Jewish New Year, which is celebrated with prayer and sweet foods. Yom Kippur started Sept. 27 and is known as the Day of Atonement, when Jewish people repent for sins and fast a full day.

With the coronavirus limiting in-person interaction, the Jewish community has been forced to adapt its holiday observances. Services are traditionally held during both holidays, but this year many of the synagogue meetings were held virtually. 

“Typically I would be in-person either at services or helping out with the younger kids while adults are in services,” Nicodemus said. “This year I am going to watch services from my home then attend a breakout session.”

At Nicodemus’ synagogue, she said the feeling of community is still there. The synagogue provided care packages consisting of challah, honey sticks, taffy, a candle and other goods to provide a more fulfilling holiday.

Lexi Nicodemus’ synagogue provided care baskets for the virtual High Holidays consisting of challah, taffy, honey sticks, a candle and other good to celebrate. Photo courtesy of Lexi Nicodemus.

The synagogue also hosted themed meetings in order to facilitate conversation in the community. Some options included: a humor session focusing on jokes and stories about the High Holidays, an informational session about repenting for sins and a session about the types of songs and prayer sung during the High Holidays.

For Jacob Edwards, a Sac State political science and economics double major, the lack of in-person meetings is allowing him to observe the holidays more than before. He said he typically does not attend religious services during the High Holidays.

“This year I actually observed the holiday more extensively than in years past by baking a traditional round challah for the first time,” Edwards said.

However, Edwards said he fears a similar virtual fate will befall his family’s Hanukkah gathering, in which members of his extended family plan to meet and celebrate the Jewish identity.

“We have already had to sacrifice this year’s lively Passover Seder to the pandemic, and we will likely have to do the same for our annual Hanukkah gathering,” Edwards said.

Passover is another Jewish holiday that occurred in April this year. The holiday is typically celebrated by gathering with family and retelling religious stories.

Sac State does not have a Jewish student organization

Nicodemus said she found it difficult to turn to Sac State in a time of isolation. Edwards said he thinks that because Judaism has a smaller following than other religions, finding other Jewish people at Sac State is difficult.

“The Jewish community is not very well represented at Sac State,” Edwards said. “As far as I can tell, there is no Jewish community organization on campus.”

Nicki Croly, director for student organizations & leadership, said Sac State does not currently have a Jewish club, but acknowledged community members want to bring Hillel, an international organization for Jewish campus life, to Sac State.

“We would support any students interested in starting clubs and they can reach out at any point if the interest is there to do so,” Croly said via email.

Seth Browner, the engagement associate at Hillel at Davis and Sacramento, said he believes the lack of a strong Jewish presence at Sac State could be due to students’ unawareness of an existing off-campus organization and the longer distance. 

“We’re in Davis, and it can be inconvenient for Sac State students to drive here on Friday evenings for Shabbat or during the week for events in the evenings,” Browner said.

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Hillel at Davis and Sacramento is an organization for Jewish campus life and is the location that serves Sac State students. Hillel is trying to get more Sac State students active in its organization this semester, Browner said.

“Since we’re virtual this year, we’re hoping we can take advantage of that to reach out to more Sac State students,” Browner said.

The organization is holding online events, including Shabbat services and Hebrew lessons, and even offers meals on Yom Kippur to break the fast. The goal is to try to engage with more Sac State students virtually, Browner said.

“It’s hard to start a club that is faith-based for a smaller religion,” Nicodemus said. “I don’t really have a way to find other Jews, I just kind of hope I stumble upon them.”