I grew up in the rural South, where there was not a whole lot of diversity. Though I knew about the Jewish faith, I did not really know any practicing Jewish people growing up. It wasn’t until adulthood that I became friends with a practicing Jewish person. She took me to her synagogue, made me latkes, and talked to me about her experience of faith. When I got to seminary, the study of Hebrew broke open that world even further, and suddenly I found myself exposed to my Jewish heritage as a Christian. But nothing really prepared me for my experience here in Plainview, NY, which has a moderately large Jewish population. I may have learned Hebrew and studied about Jewish people, but I had yet to live among a modestly large Jewish population. When I first went to the interfaith clergy group, I found that the fellow Christians and I were in the minority among eight other rabbis and cantors. I quickly realized how little I knew, and kept having to ask questions. The rabbis and cantors have been ever patient and helpful.
Our parish is located right next door to one of the larger synagogues in Plainview. On the high holy days, the synagogue uses our parking lot, and the lot is flooded with cars. In the past couple of years, I have enjoyed watching the people of faith flock to the temple, as they honor their holy days. As a person who loves Holy Week, I love to see another faith tradition alive with honoring their holy days.
But this year, since my oldest child is now in public school, I realized that the schools are closed for Rosh Hashanah. If I am being honest, my first thought was not about honor and respect. My first thought was the dread of having to secure childcare while I kept working. But as the faithful came in and out of our parking lot that day, and as my kindergartener asked all sorts of questions, I began to see things from a different perspective. I structure much of my life around the church calendar – Christmas, Lent, Easter. My vacation plans and workload are all connected to these holy days. I realize only now how strange my honoring of those days might be to non-Christians, who also have to work out childcare and the disruption of what is just another day in December or the spring.
This week, I am grateful to my Jewish brothers and sisters for reminding me of how self-centered I can be, and for pushing me out of my comfort zone. My guess is that my faith-keeping is not just unusual to them, but may be unusual to all un-churched persons. Even my southern United Methodist mother finds all our Episcopal rituals and observances a little over the top. I note this because I think we can all become caught up in our own “normal” and forget the ways that our normal can seem strange or be downright alienating. My hope is that this observation makes us all a little more self-aware, a bit more intentional about how we share our Christmas and Easter joy when the time comes, and a lot more attuned to the ways that we can make our own faith traditions accessible, inspiring, and intriguing to our neighbors outside our walls.