Thursday, June 28, 2012

Acts of Faith, Part 4 of 4

Opportunities are gifts from God. Public high school was my opportunity to become friends with kids of yet another religion. I hadn't Jewish friends until this point in my life but God was about to change that for me. Among new friends made in those early years, four boys were of Jewish heritage. Two of them were practicing Reformed Jews, another was tangentially Jewish (Jewish mother and Christian father), and the last was a secular Jew who called himself an atheist. All helped play a part in my developmental understanding of the world and America's pluralistic society.

I met Ruben* freshman year. First period was history class and we sat diagonally to each other. As the year progressed and the lessons transitioned to the history of world religions, Ruben somehow became the teacher's unofficial spokesperson for Judaism. Whenever she had a question about Jewish belief or custom, she would defer to him for a nuanced answer. He gained this "teacher's pet" position by volunteering details at the appropriate times; she eventually recognized him as a trustworthy source of Jewish knowledge. Although other students would roll their eyes and appear suffering through his words (including myself), Ruben never seemed deterred. He obviously wanted his religion to be accurately represented. I commend him for his passion and courage to speak up.

On the first day of sophomore year, to the surprise of everyone, Ruben came to school wearing a kippah (or yamaka or yarmulke). A kippah is a skullcap, made of cloth, worn on the head as a tactile reminder that God is "above" and always present. What was he doing? Why wear something so obviously uncool? Was he trying to separate himself? Was he trying to act holier-than-thou? Friend or foe, the snickering and the gossip flowed furiously. Many kids mocked Ruben behind his back (including myself); a few had the nerve to purposely drop some unkind expressions within earshot of him. To my knowledge, that was the extent of the flack and then it quickly died off. I did not appreciate his choice then, but, today I do. Ruben really was the first peer in my life to challenge a secular environment by introducing a perpetual religious symbol into its midst.