Thursday, September 25, 2014

Other People's Religious Holidays

Yesterday, one of my Jewish colleagues brought a traditional Rosh Hashanah dessert for another Jewish colleague.  The dessert was easily shared:  bits of things (cherries, crisp things,) coated in a dark honey glaze, some with sesame seeds.

We talked about holiday foods.  One colleague is what is often called a cultural Jew:  she likes the foods, she observes the holidays to a certain extent, but she rarely goes to services.  She's not part of a temple.

The other colleague is much more hard-core.  When I asked if it was appropriate for a Lutheran to wish them a happy new year, she gave me a withering look and said, "I've been in intense study for a month to prepare for the holy days.  If you think it's just about the new year, you are sadly mistaken."

I wanted to protest that I'm fairly ecumenical as far as Christians go.  I wanted to defend myself.  Or alternately, I wanted a low-key conversation (not a diatribe, not a lecture) where we compared traditions.

But I know that religious conversations can make surrounding colleagues uneasy, so I backed away.  I said, "I know.  I have a rabbi friend who has been writing a poem a day during the time that leads up to the high holy days.  She's been posting them on her blog, and it's been a fascinating discipline to watch."  Thanks, Rachel!

It made me think about our various religions, of how many Jews I know and how many different ways they are celebrating these days of awe.  I suspect that it will be easier to get parking places at work today, as many folks will be taking today off.  Our public schools give the day as an official holiday, so even some non-Jews will be taking the day off  to take care of children.

It also made me think about how we talk to each other about our religious traditions, especially in places like the office, where we're all thrown together.  It's one thing to have a conversation about religion in a quilting group or over lunch.  But it feels much more risky in an office.

Maybe I'm the only one who feels this way.  I was brought up not to talk about religion, sex, or politics, not even at the dinner table.  I was brought up that it was rude to talk about those topics at school (unless in a class where we study and discuss the subject from a safe academic distance) or at work.  To look at my workplace, though, I'd say those rules have changed.  Maybe that's not the case in the nation's heartland, but it seems true here.

I'd like a deeper connection with my colleagues by talking about our different religious beliefs, but I also know that religion has been used as a weapon.  And even if not used as a weapon, it's too easy for people to feel trounced by religious conversations.

Today, I will not be at work either.  My sister and nephew come today!  His school district in Maryland also gives this day as a day off.

Happy Rosh Hashanah to us all, whether we be cultural Jews, Orthodox Jews, ecumenically minded folks, or that large group of people who have no religious practice.  May the coming year be sweet!


Anonymous said...

You said "I wanted to protest that I'm fairly ecumenical as far as Christians go." Which means you hold no convictions about faith.

You said "My sister and nephew come today! His school district in Maryland also gives this day as a day off." Shouldn't you express your hard-core beliefs about separation between Church and State?

Please remove 'Lutheran' from your blog -- it's very misleading and a lie.

rbarenblat said...

Oh, goodness, I'm so sorry for the withering look. (Also for the obnoxious comment above this one, from Anonymous. Some people just have too much time on their hands.) I'm so glad you've enjoyed the poems, and glad they've given you some insights into the season. L'shanah tovah to you as well! I hope your year is lovely.

Anonymous said...

Christians DO NOT celebrate Jewish holidays.

Kristin said...

Thank you so much, Rachel!