I’ve never been particularly religious. Sure, I was bat-mitzvah-ed, I go to temple on the high holidays, I attend Passover seders (although try to boycott those that exceed twenty minutes), I utter the occasional Yiddish phrase, and I went to religious school on Wednesday afternoons at the most reform temple in Manhattan (so reform, it seems, that our Cantor was just arrested for sexually abusing his nephew. Yuck.).
Yet lately, my religion has become much more important, both personally and politically.
Personally, I’ve reacquainted myself with Judaism for two reasons. One, my boyfriend is Catholic (better not show this article to my grandmother!). In my fruitless efforts to convert him to Judaism, he has challenged me to explain and to understand myself why having a Jewish husband seems so critical when Judaism is not a visible part of my daily life.
Second, in coping with this year’s tragic events, from September 11th to the death of my grandfather just last week, I have tried to elicit a modicum of comfort from religion. I focused intently when the Rabbi at my grandfather’s funeral said that although the body dies, the soul lives on forever. And I tried really hard to believe him.
I really want to believe that my best friend Stacey’s spirit is alive and well, gossiping and flirting with the other souls, giving them her sound advice, making them fall in love with her the way so many of us did with her on Earth. But it sure is hard to imagine. Especially when sometimes her absence feels stronger than my presence.
Politically, I’ve also been confronted with my Judaism when hearing about the atrocities occurring in the Middle East. Suicide bombings during the Passover meal? In hotel restaurants? In grocery stores? What’s going on? This is hitting a little too close to home.
And that’s not all. A new wave of anti-Semitism seems to be silently cropping up in France and Germany, with synagogues being vandalized, and Jews being attacked on the street, or so the New York Times reports. Should I be worried? Should I be afraid to admit my religion in public? Why is no one talking about this?
At our Section “B-Diverse” lunch on the topic of faith today, various members of the section presented their religions, from Baptist, Baha’i and Mormon to Greek Orthodox and Catholic. I was fascinated. Riveted. Everyone believed so strongly in their own set of beliefs about the world, yet until lunch, I had had no idea how fundamentally differently we saw things.
I didn’t know that one friend of mine believed the world would come to an end accompanied by the resurrection of the dead. I didn’t know that another sectionmate didn’t celebrate her birthday, but instead her “saint’s day.” I didn’t realize that some of my classmates didn’t believe in drinking coffee. And I didn’t know that one sectionmate dedicated ten hours a week to his church. And here I thought I was really starting to know these people!
I loved being exposed to all the new religions, not only to understand my classmates a little more, but also to put my own in a broader context. I wondered why religion often seems like the 100-pound gorilla in the room. Perhaps if we all start sharing our views and learning about others, we at HBS could at least make a dent in being tolerant, open-minded and accepting when we go out and face the real world. Even if that’s the only thing we get out of HBS, we would all contribute to the well-being of society, for sure.