(May 16, 2018 / JNS) For the first time to date, Binghamton University will host an alternative graduation ceremony to accommodate observant Jewish students and their family members who would otherwise be unable to attend graduation.
In the past, commencement activities held on Saturday and Sunday did not present difficulties to Jewish observant graduates and their families. But this year, commencement weekend falls during Shavuot, the two-day holiday that marks the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people. Shavuot begins this year at sundown on Saturday, May 19, and ends on the evening of Monday, May 21.
Observant families would have had to arrive before the start of Shabbat on Friday and remain in the area until late Monday night or Tuesday since vehicular travel, among other activities, is prohibited by Jewish law on a holiday.
Due to this confluence of events, the university will hold an alternative Tekes Siyum Commencement Ceremony beginning at 9:30 a.m. on Friday, May 18, in the Anderson Center Chamber Hall on campus. An alternate graduation Tekes Siyum dinner will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday, May 17.
“As I fielded calls from anxious parents, who cited financial constraints and other difficulties, I felt that I had to try to help make this joyous event less stressful for these families,” said Rabbi Aaron Slonim, executive director and senior rabbi at the Rohr Chabad Center for Jewish Student Life at Binghamton. “I had heard from colleagues that arrangements for alternate graduations had been made at other schools.”
The rabbi noted that Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger responded positively to the idea and helped “put the pieces in place to make this happen.”
This way, explained the rabbi, families can come to Binghamton on Thursday, enjoy a celebratory dinner that night at Chabad, attend the Tekes Siyum on Friday morning, and be home in time for Shabbat and the holiday that follows on its heels.
Currently, 45 students are signed up to participate in the alternative ceremony. Stenger and Provost Donald Nieman will preside over the ceremony, with Risa Scharf serving as the student speaker.