In my self-anointed role as rebel, I excelled. My non-conformist status fit me like a leather glove. As a teenager this was taken to an extreme, and lasted into my young adulthood. Never did I think about what I truly wanted or believed, instead I merely reacted and did the opposite of what everyone else did, even if it hurt me. If someone had opposing political or moral views, they could not possibly talk to me and I could not possibly think of including them in my life in any capacity. In my later thirties this began to change, and now I believe that it is important to be as tolerant to differing views as you can, that there is much to be learned.
This past Rosh Hashanah I invited a friend to dinner. Now this may not sound like anything unusual, but to invite this particular person was a stretch for her. Despite having Jewish parents, she was raised in a very small town in middle Georgia, and therefore had not been raised as a Jew. The desire to assimilate eclipsed their Judaism. Her family celebrated Christmas, and once in awhile attended a Passover Seder at an out of town relative’s. So celebrating this particular holiday was new for her, and she knew nothing about what it meant, didn’t even know that it is the Jewish New Year. Initially she was quite hesitant to accept the invitation, and wasn’t even sure she wanted to come. During one of our phone conversations about the evening, she asked if there would be any religion involved. I was taken aback by her profound ignorance and had to fight my desire to lecture her. Even though I knew about her background it was still shocking to me that she was lacking such basic knowledge, but even more disarming was the apprehension I heard in her voice. It seemed she feared her own identity, perhaps was ashamed about being a Jew. This concept wasn’t new to me, but befriending someone who felt this way was. The part of me that was trying very hard not to be judgmental just told her to come, that I really wanted her to celebrate with us, that it was mostly just a big dinner with a lot of food. She told me she would have to think about it. Sunday afternoon, the day before the holiday, she called me and confessed that she was scared she’d do something wrong. I really don’t know anything about being Jewish, she continued, “don’t know any of the prayers.” I said it didn’t matter, she didn’t have to say the prayers, she should just show up. At seven pm she did, and had a wonderful time with everyone. The following day she thanked me for a lovely, lively evening. I realized that if I had been intolerant, or pushed her too much, she wouldn’t have come. And that would’ve made the evening not nearly as entertaining, besides potentially alienating my friend.