Managing Editor’s note: all Contributing Scholars begin writing by answering the following question as their first post: Why are you committed to building relationships with those from different religious or ethical traditions? Their answer to this question is below.
“Well, this is awkward,” I thought as small drops splashed onto my cassock. I suppose it shouldn’t have struck me as that awkward. After all, I was processing through a church singing all about Jesus Christ. It was December of 2009, it was time for Advent, and I was being spritzed with Holy Water.
Perhaps I should back up and explain that tucked beneath my cassock was a Star of David necklace. I’m Jewish, you see. And, although this wasn’t true in 2009, I’m now a rabbinical student. A rabbinical student who can recite most of the words of the Latin Mass from memory, who knows more Christmas Carols than most of her Christian friends, and who used to sing for an early music ensemble based in an Episcopalian Church.
I’ve been a singer my whole life. I’ve engaged with sacred choral works from many faiths, and I can’t count the number of languages I’ve had the opportunity to chew on. I’ve sung words that I don’t hold as my truth, from “In the name of the father, the son, and the holy ghost” to “Credo in Unum Dominum Jesu Christo” (“I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ”). I don’t believe the words, but I believe in the connections that I make with my fellow singers as I sing them. I believe in the power of music to move people from diverse backgrounds; I know that power from my experience of being transfixed by the Muslim call to prayer, and I know it from my experience of moving non-Jewish friends and family with traditional Jewish chant. I don’t believe in being spritzed with Holy Water, but sometimes–most of the time, I would argue– compromise is required for collaboration, and I believe in collaboration too.
Of course, I can’t credit music for all of my interethnic and interfaith interests. I was raised in Richmond, Virginia, a place where being Jewish was something of an anomaly. I was the kid who had to explain Hanukkah to my class in the first grade. Having a Quaker mother meant that I was also the kid who had to explain to my Hebrew School class why I had a stocking hanging from the mantle beneath the menorah. The many questions I faced about my own differences from an early age primed me to be understanding of and curious about differences I encountered in others.
By choosing rabbinical school, I chose to dedicate much of my life to the needs and dreams of the Jewish community. But I don’t know that I could have chosen rabbinical school at all if not for my love for interfaith engagement. I believe that we are stronger as a Jewish community when we are closely tied to other religious, and nonreligious, communities. Together, we have so much to learn.