Monday, September 26, 2022

Sharing the Universe


Shana Tova! I saw these words echoing across Facebook last night as sunset marked the beginning of Rosh Hashanah.

I think that widespread engagement in social media has increased awareness of non-Christian holidays and culture. It certainly has for me. The sheltered world of my childhood taught me little about Jewish religion  or culture. I knew of certain Jewish foods from local delis. We drove past synagogues which looked so different from what I thought of as houses of worship.

That’s it. 

I don’t think I learned anything about the existence of the Islamic religion during any of my years of education. Culture and religion in places like India or China may have been a paragraph in a textbook or something to learn in a book report. They were far away and unconnected to me.

If you weren’t white Anglo Saxon Protestant (or close enough) you were “exotic”.

We were taught all the time about how America was the “great melting pot”. But what we weren’t taught was that all around us were people who lived alongside the dominant culture who had rich cultures unlike our own and deep faith traditions that were lively and strong. Certainly we were taught that America was a place where we don’t persecute people for being different.

But there was no encouragement to learn or engage. It was more like benevolent ignoring. And in the carefully-constructed old suburb of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, multiculturalism was limited.

Several years ago, when I worked at Bet Yeladim Preschool, I had my first experience in being a minority in a dominant culture of observant Jews. It was wonderful. It felt a little weird to me, sometimes. But it gave so much depth to what had only been a thin and brittle understanding of Judaism and Jewish culture. Living it, if only as a welcomed observer, was far different than a paragraph in a social studies textbook.

I’m sharing the following image which was posted on Twitter by Dr. Cara Grant of the Montgomery County School System. If you are not Jewish, you may know about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur but, what about the rest? I surely didn’t until I worked at Bet Yeladim.

What to know about upcoming Jewish holidays and how they affect your colleagues and partners.

There’s a big difference between tolerating those who are different from you and actually seeing and knowing who they are and how they experience life. Caring enough to see outside your own bubble makes the friends, neighbors, and coworkers you are reaching out to feel seen and valued. 

And there’s another thing. It makes their world safer. In the case of increasing incidents of anti-semitism, people who have been content to remain in ignorance are more likely to be swayed by incendiary language and ideas. Their feeling of respect for neighbor/love of fellow creature has no roots. It is all too easily burned away.

We need roots to stand up to hatred and bigotry. Putting down roots begins with empathy, and allowing yourself to realize that your own “normal” is not the center of the universe. That the universe was meant to be shared.

Let us all find ways to celebrate and share a sweet new year with those around us.

Village Green/Town² Comments

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