The fireplace crackling, Christmas tree twinkling, and the smell of fresh (buttery) latkes in the kitchen: some of my fondest childhood memories, to say the least. As we round out 2016, the season of magic is here, again. My days are filled with these reminiscent sights and smells of Christmas…and Hanukkah.
Although I grew up in a Christian household, I was given the privilege of learning about the Jewish faith and even practicing the cultural faces of Judaism. Every year we practiced Christmas and Hanukkah, decorating the Christmas tree and lighting the Menorah (eating ALL the potato pancakes, too). Exploring non-practicing religion was never taboo, it was never simply tolerated – it was embraced and it was encouraged.
Coming to Nazareth shed even more light on the diversity that surrounds us in Rochester alone. In an intro to religion class with Dr. Muhammad Shafiq, a class assignment required each student to attend a service at a place of worship of a religion not their own. I headed to Temple B’rith Kodesh, where I further immersed myself in Judaism.
In early November of this year, I attended an intercollegiate Shabbat Dinner hosted by Nazareth Hillel and the University of Rochester. Members of and outside the Jewish community from Nazareth, RIT, U of R and SUNY Geneseo gathered to celebrate Sabbath, the heart of Judaism.
The evening was filled with prayer, creating new friendships, and, of course, yummy Challah bread. The highlight of the night, however, was the time dedicated to discussion. Students shared their opinions about how the face of Judaism is shifting and how Judaism is represented on their campuses, among a collection of unique stories. Not once did I feel unwelcome. My, among other non-Jewish students’, presence was acknowledged and appreciated.
Nazareth College’s across-the-board dedication to religious inclusion is something to take pride in. With the events of last week (see Buzzfeed article), it is important to be reminded that our religious differences are, in fact, not a division.
So, this holiday season, I am calling you to have a conversation with someone of different faith. Ask them questions, listen to their stories, forge a friendship. Continue to be a student that makes Nazareth College a safe and welcoming place for connection, collaboration, and cultivation.
Visit the website for Nazareth College’s Hickey Center for Interfaith Studies & Dialogue to learn how you can encourage the understanding and appreciation of religious differences.