Every holiday season, Christmas lights and mistletoe wreaths magically appear, strung up over doorways and enlivening usually bland hallways all across campus. Despite its Christian roots, Christmas has become something of a national holiday, a festive winter celebration that most Americans, including non-Christians, take part in.
While I admire the holiday cheer that Christmas brings to the cold winter nights, I am still reminded that as a Jew, I have my own traditions and holidays that I should honor and celebrate as well. Although few students identify as believing in Judaism as a religion (about six percent of respondents to the The Phillipian’s 2014 State of the Academy Survey), even fewer embrace their heritage and celebrate it by taking part in the Jewish events available on campus. This is something that can and should change.
One of the most powerful obstacles to Jews themselves is the fear of being labeled an “outsider” or as “other.” In one “Out of the Blue” story entitled “I Sort of Always Cared,” one Jewish student shared a story about how they were never discriminated against, yet still felt like an outsider: “we simply do not always belong,” they wrote.
Often, to deal with this feeling of otherness, minority groups assimilate. Jewish immigrants to America, in particular, arriving through Ellis Island in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, forsook their heritage in favor of a more “American” identity.
I would counter, however, that while assimilation may be the “easy way out” of this uncomfortable situation, it is not the most rewarding or permanent one. For Jews in particular, however, being an active member of a Jewish community actually provides one with a supportive environment of friends and like-minded individuals who can relate to the struggles that come with being a Jew in a predominantly Christian culture.
What many people, often Jews themselves even, do not realize is that Judaism is so much more than a religion. It is a cultural and ethnic identity; elements of Jewish culture, such as its languages (Hebrew and Yiddish), its music, its writings and its foods, have historical and cultural significance well beyond the bounds of religion.
Andover boasts a welcoming Jewish community in the form of the Jewish Student Union (JSU), which is far more like a cultural club, such as Asian Society or Alianza Latina, than a religious organization. Many Jewish and non-Jewish students avoid JSU due to the misconception that it is only for students of the Jewish faith. In fact, as a cultural club that hosts speakers, celebrations and dinners in addition to its weekly Shabbat Service, JSU warmly invites all students to participate in its events, regardless of religion or cultural heritage.
Orthodox Jews, atheist Jews and non-Jews should take advantage of these opportunities to learn about and enjoy Jewish culture. I would especially advertise the fact that most of our events involve babka, a traditional Jewish cake filled with chocolate. We all know the old axiom that Andover students are the busiest in the world, but what we should realize is that being an “active” member of the Jewish community here means much more than attending Shabbat services every single Friday.
While Andover may not be perfect, it is clear that we are working towards a community that is more accepting of and that even celebrates difference. I urge all students to take advantage of this shift. At Andover, we can embrace each other’s cultural heritage, as well as our own, and it is time for us to stop hiding.
_Leah Adelman is a two-year Lower from Hilton Head Island, SC._