Faith and friendship.

“I think you’ll really enjoy this book,” my friend Ashley said as she handed me a well-loved copy of A Mary Spirit. I glanced at the cover and then back at her. “Are you trying to convert me?” I half-joked, and she gasped in surprise. “Of course not!” she said. “There are just so many things in that book that resonate with me that I think will resonate with you too, even if we’re different religions.” She pointed out a couple of lines that hit home to both of us–words of encouragement and empowerment, telling us that as women we are capable of so many emotions and talents. I smiled and have never given the book back (sorry, Nash).

I feel like this story is poignant because it shows two things: that two best friends of different faiths can still grow together in their spirituality, even if they’re different, and also that I am forever the most paranoid of people’s anti-Semitism, even if it’s coming from someone I love. Growing up as most people’s only Jewish friend has been both a blessing and a burden during the entirety of my young life. When I was a kid, I used to love when my mom would come in around holiday time and teach my classmates about Hanukkah and our faith–growing up in a Bible-thumping town means people are endlessly curious about how you’re different. When kids when come up to her and tell her that they wanted to be Jewish (of course not fully understanding what that all entails), I would beam with pride–my family and I were unique, and what we believed connected to a lot of the people I loved.

I don’t really want to focus this post on the shitty things that come with being the only Jewish girl in your graduating high school class. I don’t want to bring up the times people have thought they were making a carefree joke about Judaism or helping me find Jesus, but actually were being super hurtful and unkind. I don’t want to focus on those things because it pulls me further away from what I want–forgiveness and patience for others that have not offered me that same courtesy. I have spent so much of my life feeling angry or disappointed in others for their treatment of me based on this one detail of my life, and I can’t heal if I don’t move past those times.

Instead, I want to remember the times that my friends stood up for me in middle school. I want to remember the strength my parents had to raise two Jewish daughters in a town where people ask what church you belong to before they ask anything else. I want to remember the beauty and grace I have found in my faith, and that the struggles along the way have only secured those beliefs. I want to remember my friends’ genuine, kind curiosity about what it is like to be Jewish. I want to remember these things so that the awful things seem more distant and less important.

We live in a time where everyone has the ability to share their opinion in a single click. In the same sentence, people can condemn your religion and also tell you where the best place to get a sandwich is. This digital era is bringing about a whole new awareness: we are able to see the inhumane, awful injustices that so many races, religions, genders, and more are subjected to. This is important because it should be making us more tolerant and more open to discuss what we can do to make things better. What can happen so that fewer people go to bed angry? What can we do so that people feel heard?

What can we do so people don’t feel so alone?

I wish I had the answers. I’m not an expert on oppression, I just know that as a liberal, Jewish feminist woman raised in the conservative South I have faced a lot of awful discrimination, and when I see others step up and say “My voice deserves to be heard”, I echo those sentiments and feel their passion. As a healer, I want to find answers and I want to soothe the pain, but so much anger and sadness in oppression is deeply rooted and intertwined in so many things…there’s no easy answer.

The most important thing I can do is listen. I can be an ally and I can stand up for what I think is right. I can celebrate successes of others–even if they are not my own–and advocate for those who need a voice. I can stand behind causes I believe in and–most importantly–I can sit down and shut up if someone else needs to do the talking.

We are entering a new wave of thought. We are being presented with more ideas, cultures, lifestyles, and dreams than ever before. I think we can all sit back and do one simple thing, and that is to respect one another.

Ashley, my friend that I mentioned earlier, is a newsroom powerhouse, avid baseball fan, tremendous writer, nature lover, and devout Christian. We have many interests that are similar, we have many interests that are different. But the fact that we are of different faiths? Not a problem for either of us. I thank her for that, and the example she is setting for others.

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I mention Ashley because she is someone I have spent a considerable amount of time talking about religion, praying, and celebrating our love for faith together. Although we have grown in different relgious beliefs, I am a stronger believer because of her. I have lots of other friends from various backgrounds, religions, and everything in-between, of course. We let our love and friendship define us, not our differences.

I encourage you all to practice that. Maybe if we all tried, we can get closer to healing together.

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