Experiencing Diversity in the CRGC – Zheng Ma

I have been part of the CRGC since last semester, and that has brought me many unprecedented and meaningful experiences. As an international student who comes from China, it was difficult for me to find such a diverse and inclusive environment that could give me opportunities to learn from people with different beliefs. In China, most people are atheists and therefore the environment is not very diverse religiously. They respect others’ religious beliefs but often feel that religions are outdated traditions. In the CRGC, the background of interfaith fellows is quite diverse not only religiously, but also in many other aspects such as race and geography. This kind of great diversity really lays a foundation for deep discussion and creative ideas. I will always remember those moments where interesting and creative discussion helped me gain a deeper understanding of other religions.

One of those wonderful moments happened when we celebrated the Jewish holiday Sukkot with other Jewish fellows. I’ve rarely had the opportunity to deeply interact with Jewish people before, not to mention celebrate Jewish holidays, so it was an eye-opening experience for me. Celebrating the holiday itself was an exciting and meaningful experience, but what was even more appealing to me was that Jewish fellows shared with us some unique Sukkot traditions. This event further kindled my interest in Jewish culture and holidays, so I did some further research. I learned that Sukkot has both historical and agricultural origins. Agriculturally, it is a harvest festival and that is the reason why it is celebrated at the end of harvest time. Historically, the festival is to remember the dwellings the Israelites lived in during their 40 years of travel in the desert after their Exodus from slavery in Egypt; this is the reason why many Jewish people eat and even sleep in a sukkah during the festival. Celebrating the festival with Jewish fellows opened a window for me to explore a field I had not touched before, specifically Jewish culture and history.

Our conversations are not just limited to profound topics. In the past semester, through interacting with other fellows, I have also learnt many interesting things about their religions and themselves. Specifically, Dr. Rosenhagen once asked us to bring objects that could represent our faith, and fellows brought many interesting objects such as a prayer carpet and holy books; they also shared stories about why those objects are unique to them. Listening to other fellows share has been invaluable experience since it has helped me understand how diverse and wonderful experiences shaped diverse and wonderful individuals; ultimately, it is the differences in experience and individuals that make this world vivid.