The end of December can be an awkward time to be a Jew in America. I say that December can be an awkward time because there are a myriad of attitudes in our community towards the December holidays. There are those who smile and ignore the greetings of “Merry Christmas.” There are those who respond with “Happy Holidays.” There are those who respond with a kind reproach that they celebrate Hanukkah and not Christmas. And there are those who respond with “Merry Christmas,” because they see the greeting as just another innocuous pleasantry like “Good morning, good afternoon, or good night.” I won’t prescribe any particular path to take as I have definitely been each of these four people. However, I will suggest that at no other time in the year can we feel more Jewish.
In the before-times, when we could gather indoors and sit closer than 6 feet apart, Temple Emanu-El gathered together with congregants from St. Luke’s and Northbrook UMC to learn more about one another and draw our communities closer. We learned about their identity as Christians and they learned about ours as Jews, and the biggest takeaway from the time together was a greater focus and strength on our respective Jewish and Christian identities. I believe this comes from a practice of learning about others who do, speak, or believe differently than us. Said differently, I find what I love about being Jewish when I learn what it means for others to be Christian.
Conversations about belief or identity can be awkward or uncomfortable even, but they are necessary for our personal growth and the strengthening of the mosaic that is our community. For 11 months out of the year, our cultural/religious differences with our Christian neighbors are present, but not necessarily front and center in our lives. I can’t prescribe a way to feel at this time, but I will challenge each and every one of us to strike up conversations with our neighbors—uncomfortable though they may be—to learn more about us by way of learning more about them.
Decide if you’re ready to have that conversation this year. Though it may be challenging, uncomfortable, or awkward, I am certain it will lead to greater amity in our mosaic of a community. To hear more about these uncomfortable conversations, tune in tomorrow for my sermon at Shabbat services.
May our waning days of 2020 pass with more love between neighbors, greater pride in ourselves, and expanding hope for the future that lies ahead.