Monday, June 9, 2014

A Christian in a Jewish Country

Living in Israel has most forcefully made me aware of one thing - the privilege I carry as a Christian in the United States.

My whole life I would go to church on Sunday, my day off from school and work. I had Christmas off and for much of my life Spring Break would align with Easter. It always occurred to me that there were people that didn't celebrate these things, but I never saw any harm in my having the backing of the government via National Holidays and Weekends. If stores were closed on Sunday, I might have been put out at times, but I respected the business's right to practice their religious beliefs - their Christian belief to respect the Sabbath (Sunday) by not working. 

But now I get it.

In Israel, the weekend is on Friday and Saturday, to accommodate Shabbot, the Jewish sabbath beginning at nightfall on Friday and ending nightfall on Saturday. Almost nothing is open on Saturdays - the buses don't even run. This past week was Shavout - Pentecost and for a day and a half it was like Friday night and Saturday again - only in the middle of the week. Children had the week off from school to accommodate the holiday. 

When I first learned this difference in days of the weekend, I was frankly offended. How am I supposed to go to church if I don't have Sunday off? While I have never practiced the Sabbath by abstaining from work, I still feel that it's holy. Even when there are half-marathons or 5Ks on Sunday mornings I always have a twinge of anger - it feels disrespectful that I would have to forgo going to church to attend - something I find deeply important to me. And here Sunday's just another work day. 

But how humbly to turn the tables and think of the Jewish populations in the United States who don't have the same sort of government and societal backing to allow them to honor their holy days. 

We had a speaker who came to talk with our class about their conversion from Protestant Christianity to Orthodox Judaism in New Zealand. Their conversion was a slow process, beginning by practices such as observing Shabbot. Well, this became very difficult - if any of her five children had a sports game on Saturday, they couldn't attend. The availability of kosher products in a country where the closest Synagogue was 2.5 hours away was difficult at best. 

Another Jewish woman, this one in the United States, told me a story about how she had been assigned an important meeting with prospective clients on Yom Kippur - her employer was willing to accommodate her, but not by rescheduling the meeting but by saying that another employee would run the meeting. This would result in my friend potentially losing out on all those accounts. So here's her choices: participate in one of the holiest holidays in her religion and lose major accounts for the future, or not participate and be financially stable. 

That's not much of a choice. 

And it took pulling me out of that position of Christian privilege I held in the United States to truly see it. What other forms of privilege am I completely oblivious to? 

No comments:

Post a Comment