How Living in a Multifaith Household Shaped My Worldview
Published on September 02, 2011
What I love about this country, and our society is our freedom, our liberty, and especially our openness to diversity. It is that openness that allows for the fusion and creation of new ideas and innovations. The kinds of dramatic mash-ups only possible in a nation where people can overlook one's label, be it religious, sex, orientation, race, or ethnic, cultural background. I was born in a house of two religions, my father, a Jewish holocaust survivor. He was a very young boy during the war, in the epicenter of the crisis, Warsaw, Poland, hidden in a Christian family's home from Nazis. My Aunt experienced the ghettos firsthand, and being a little older has a more vivid memory of the events, the bombings, and an amazing story of hiding, disguising and ultimately surviving despite all odds.
On my mother's side, I am the descendant of a Lutheran Christianity mother, a few generations of being American, with Swedish ancestry, born in Duluth, Minnesota on Christmas. This was the faith I was mostly raised, and baptized in, as I grew up in Minnesota. However, my Jewish roots were not completely abandoned, my Dad being still of Jewish tradition gave my twin sister and myself exposure to Passover, and Chanukah, dradles, and matzo ball soup. We would pray in our family in both Christian and Jewish prayers, and as a young child I never questioned any of it as being unusual. To as far my sister and myself knew, this was just standard. You celebrate holidays of these two faiths. It was not seen as a unique situation that our parents were celebrating different religions, and so religious judgement never entered into our minds.
So from very early on, I came to accept and understand the idea of multiculturalism, and that stuck with me throughout my school years. I tended to befriend foreign exchange students, and forged close friendships with people of different backgrounds, Norwegian, Chinese, Iranian, Indian, German and Dutch, Swedish, and Russian. When I look back, at especially my high school years, almost all of my close friends were of different nationalities, either visiting this country, or first generation citizens, or on their way to citizenship. This was never an overt effort, but I think my engrained appreciation of different cultures inadvertently brought me into a little UN of a hangout group.
What ultimately led me to New York was a fascination with the electric energy, the dynamic range of diverse cultures, customs and people, living harmoniously (at least as harmoniously as jaded New Yorkers can live), without fearing each others unique backgrounds. A city where all lines and assumptions of people blurred. Where no longer, does a black man stand out in a crowd, or a transvestite really throw you for a loop. You see so much living in a city like this, gays and lesbians casually holding hands walking down the street, folks ranting and raving about the apocalypse, and celebrities just minding their own business. At first, being a Minnesotan without much exposure to such variety I was somewhat amazed, but I guess over the years it kind of melted away, and it takes a lot to phase you. I've been fortunate to be 27 and to have lived in New York for around six years, and have the opportunity to travel some, alone, to China, and Japan, along a good friend of mine from high school to Norway, and to France and England. My Father being not only, a holocaust survivor from Poland, but also having been raised in Paris and New York, a fluent speaker of French - In visiting France I had the opportunity see the country for all that it is, without the language barriers so many tourists get inconvenienced with. I will say the language barrier was inconvenient in London I have no idea what the heck those people are saying half the time, something about sweeping chimneys, I don't know. Who knows. But in seriousness, traveling across China alone, from Shanghai to Beijing to Qingdao, and Jinan allowed for another dimension of an expansion of my world view. You see how another culture views you, and having gone, perhaps without planning much of anything, even how to speak the language, experiencing the firsthand the kind of alienation people must feel when they first reach the shores of The States. Always a weird game of pantomime, and nodding, or saying things in your native language despite knowing the person on the other end has no clue what's being said.
The one thing I have realized though, and which has stuck with me is that in all of these different groups of religious views, ethnic backgrounds, and nationalities, we are ultimately so similar. Our differences may seem significant, and in many respects are, but the core elements of what makes us human are the same. If we can only focus on those elements more. If we can only let go of our divisions, and understand our similarities we can begin to tear down the walls of separateness, me vs. you, and start to see this life as a united effort. From the vast vantage point of space when you imagine our little dot floating in the vast emptiness of the universe, how silly it is we make enemies of one another in these short lives we live in this little floating orb.
I hate to sound preachy, but I believe if we can let go of our preconceived notions, and truly open our minds to the quickness and abrupt nature of life in this form on this planet, we suddenly find that all the squabbles and ridiculous arguments are revealed to be that of which they are - ridiculous. We so often choose to live in fear of one another, of new possibilities, of breaking through our shells and becoming who we're really capable of being, and I think if we can truly embrace the unknown and find peace in what is known. This moment, this second, and the possibilities of this life. Our own minds pose our greatest limitations in so many cases. Our own country, our entire societies can be so vastly different, indeed all great changes seemed unreasonable at one point.
This very country was founded on an idea that 13 separate colonies could somehow become one, the idea of Virginia and New York being under the same rule of law sounded like a joke. Then, the ideas of the industrial revolution, the railroads, the incredible travels, and progress we've made in civil rights, human rights, electing a black president, widespread electricity, artificial intelligence, the internet, (I'm getting a little Billy Joel, We Didn't Start The Fire here).
Anyway, my point is that everything that is so amazing today once seemed impossible, and what made the great accomplishments of modern humanity come from mere day-dreaming to realities were the bold thinkers, the risk takers, and the people willing overlook the limitations of the present time and have the true audacity to think big - I mean the real audacity, not the mocking version of the word now being used against Obama by so many. I believe, our country still has its best days ahead, as well as our world. Many feel frustrated that there has not been change at the rate we've wanted, or overwhelmed by the massive cultural changes we're experiencing in this modern world. A sudden rush of exposure to a variety of cultures and religious views, new technologies, and social norms that used to definitely not be normal. But if we can try and let go of our preconceived notions, but still keep our heads screwed on, the possibilities of tomorrow can outdo anything we've done so far. The cynics never create the great ideas, it's always the dreamers, the ones that maybe seem a tad nutty. I think as a country, we've gotten so shaken by so much change that we're hiding in our shell, but it's time to get out there and to embrace this new world with the boldness and unshakable confidence that those before us, and before this country took in the countless steps forward that humanity has taken from where it began to where we are here and now.