The other day, I was talking to my sister Valerie, currently a high school senior, about her impending entrance into college. It turns out that Valerie is nervous about fitting into a liberalized institution of higher learning after being (in her words) trapped within the conservative confines of her parochial, all-Jewish high school.
“Remind me which college you are going to,” I asked her in a seemingly innocuous manner. “Skidmore,” she answered, somewhat perturbed. “Oh yes,” I responded, “a private liberal arts school in upstate New York. You’re right, it’ll be quite hard to find Jews up there.”
Unfortunately, she missed my sarcasm, and it’s not surprising. Perhaps her skepticism stemmed from when she visited UR earlier in the year during the Jewish holiday called Sukkot. Wikipedia tells us that as part of this holiday, “Jews are instructed to construct a temporary [hut-like] structure (called a “Sukkah”) in which to eat their meals, entertain guests, relax and even sleep.”
Needless to say, when my sister and I went to the sukkah with our kosher meals (that each cost more than the co-pay of my dental insurance), I was shocked to see a Douglass employee as the Sukkah’s only occupant. The employee, who had his legs up on the table and his hands behind his head, was doing nothing more than using his lunch break to catch a little shut-eye. However, upon hearing my sister and I enter, he immediately leaped to his feet and, after stammering his way through an apology, offered an explanation for his presence. “Two days ago, I helped build this hut and?.”
“It’s called a Sukkah,” my sister blurted out. “A suckit?” he replied apprehensively. “No, no, no,” my sister answered disappointingly, “it’s called a?.”
“It’s close enough, Valerie,” I said in a scornful tone. Then, directing my attention back at the employee, I nodded amiably in his direction thereby beckoning him to continue.
“So anyway,” he continued assertively, “ever since I finished building this here suckit, nobody’s been coming in here and it’s just been a shame. So today I’m standing outside and I’m looking at this suckit that I worked hard to build and I’m shocked that on such a beautiful day, people aren’t going in to eat lunch or to relax after class. Then I just figured that since no one else was using this beautiful suckit, I figured I’d pop in and?.” The employee suddenly cut himself off and lowered his head slightly before continuing, “But I do sincerely apologize. It was out of line for me to intrude on your suckit.”
“It’s your’s too you know,” my sister countered smugly. “What do you mean?” the employee retorted confusedly. Cutting in, I answered: “You built this sukkah, you eat meals here, you relax here, you sleep here, and right now you’re entertaining guests. You are a circumcision and a bar-mitzvah away from being Jewish.” The employee started chuckling to himself and replied, “then I guess I’m half-Jewish.”
Early this semester, somebody tried to convince me that Judaism is the predominant religion among undergraduate students in UR. Though I have trouble believing the factual accuracy of this claim, it certainly speaks to a fact that I will confirm-that there is a large Jewish community on campus.
Nevertheless, when I go to the Interfaith chapel on the Jewish high holidays, I am constantly disappointed to find less people then I would in an introductory science class the day after an exam.
The problem is that these students who purport themselves to be Jewish through political opinions and witty Hebrew-lettered T-shirts have abandoned the aspect of religion from their Jewish faith. But Judaism is just one of the various monotheistic religions that is observed by the large majority of students on campus.
Consequently, a common trend among all of these monotheistic religions is that a considerable subset of students have placed a greater emphasis on the cultural (rather than the religious) facet of their faith. Given the liberal atmosphere of our campus, perhaps this “culturization” of monotheistic religions is necessary in fostering an environment that encourages religious tolerance and discourse.
Nevertheless, it also provides the opportunity for certain people to take on a somewhat hypocritical attitude in regards to their perceived religious observance.
The next day, I was in line at the kosher deli at Douglass. Looking up, I saw the employee that I had recently befriended in the Sukkah.
“What can I get you?” the employee said to the student standing in front of me who, incidentally, was wearing a kippah (the ritual Jewish head covering). Turkey on rye was the robotic response. As the employee was handing the customer his sandwich, he said warmly, “Enjoy the sandwich and have a happy holiday of Sukkot.”
Upon hearing this, the Jewish customer excitedly turned to his friend and exclaimed, “I completely forgot that it’s Sukkot today! Now I have the perfect excuse to not show up to the rest of my classes.”
As I looked toward the employee with a dismayed look upon my face, he caught my glance and asked, “I didn’t call it suckit again, did I?”
Schwartz is a member of the class of 2007.