Exploring my religious identity has been, in a word, peculiar. I grew up Reform Jewish, was Bat Mitzvahed because I really wanted to have a party (having a Bat Mitzvah was the cool thing to do in my middle school — it wasn’t a celebration as a product of the learning of my faith), and rediscovered my commitment to my faith sophomore year of college. Admittedly, faith was something I regularly scoffed at prior to my recommitment. I thought the idea of any higher power was, though innocuous, a thing of imagination and I thought everyone fit the stereotype of their religion. I like to believe I’m a good person and didn’t need to have a higher being to tell me that I needed to give back to please Him.
And then on Rosh Hashanah at the start of my sophomore year, a swastika was spray-painted on a synagogue right outside the UW campus. I cried that day and I couldn’t understand why. Religion had never been important to me and even though I had learned about hatred in textbooks, I was ignorant enough, or maybe naive enough, to believe it would never happen to my community. I became enraged and felt instantly lost. Those were my roots, and someone had violated and defiled them. Before sophomore year, I lived in a bubble: one that was full of privilege and lacked self-growth. It took me a long time to break that bubble and unlearn religious stereotypes that I had believed growing up.
Shortly after that incident, I began working on a feature story for The Badger Herald, my student newspaper, about religious dialogue on campus. I interviewed folks of many religious and non-religious beliefs and came to the realization that many marginalized religions have a shared experience. One student had pointed out to me that, though not part of university grounds, there are three Christian institutions on Library Mall all right next to each other. Nobody bats an eye. What if a mosque had been there? She said people would lose it. She was right, and yet it seemed perfectly natural to me to have those churches be so close to each other. Yet for her, it was isolating.
Other microaggressions that students told me included a lack of recognition from the university of sacred days to various faiths (like Rosh Hashanah). How would anyone know anything but hate if Rosh Hashanah isn’t even widely recognized as a holiday on campus? Ignorance is never an excuse for hatred, but when we don’t talk about the various identities we hold, the values we share, and the differences that really aren’t that different, how could we as a society not be ignorant to one another’s struggles? Before writing this feature, I really did think that religion wasn’t an important factor in mending bridges. Yet it’s a commonality between us all, faith or non-faith. We all have the virtues of wanting to be the best we can be and to uplift our own community. Hatred is rooted in ignorance and the way to mend those bridges is through finding that commonality and connecting with each other through that first. It’s a small step, yet one conversation or one event can make someone realize that faiths are not just their stereotypes. I know that’s what happened for me, and I believe dialogue can do the same for others.
– Peyton David