Printed in our November issue of the Kol Tikvah.
As a native New Yorker and still a recent transplant to the South, I underestimated the power of living in a Christian community. Even on Long Island, while the Jewish population was far larger, we were always a minority and often felt it. But the sheer numbers and strength of the Jewish community created a different atmosphere.
In public schools, then and now, no one would ever have to contend with a group in schools called the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). Their mission is to “To present to coaches and athletes, and all whom they influence, the challenge and adventure of receiving Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, serving Him in their relationships and in the fellowship of the church.” While it is admirable to live it out your faith, our students are often encouraged to attend these meetings. What is a greater issue, we have a number of parents who permit our kids to attend. Please take note of the phrase …and all whom they influence…. While we want our kids to make Jewish choices, we are often conflicted with the desire to not deny them any opportunity.
I have recently heard from several of you about a not-so-new campaign in some local churches about how to bring Jewish neighbors into the church. This is a missionary group that is being advanced by a very wealthy man who was born Jewish but who has since found a stronger faith in Christianity. His Light of Messiah Ministries’ task is: “Bringing Jesus to the Jewish People.” I even got a free DVD in the mail from him to see his message.
These are dramatic challenges to our community, but we also face more subtle, perhaps less threatening issues of an unfamiliarity of Judaism and Jews by our neighbors. I have heard from parent after parent about how our schools’ teachers and administrators have not been so sensitive to our community’s needs during the Days of Awe. Many of our students even felt pressure to NOT miss school.
Why am I sharing all of this with you?
I understand the need to live out our faith. I try to do it every single day with every decision I make. I don’t even blame others whose faith dictates that they need to focus on bringing our community over to their faith. But I am not prepared to make it easy for them. We have a lot to offer the world and ourselves. When people contact me asking, “what can I do?” – it is often too late.
I will have a letter for our parents in August and hope everyone will bring it to your school principals and teachers that will explain different holy days and why some in the Jewish community will miss school, and how we would like for them to respond to our needs.
Encourage your child to refrain from “being welcomed” into FCA or sports teams whose mission is to teach the values of Christian faith, particularly the kind of team at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in East Cobb.
Do Jewish! Live out your faith. Try to become better equipped to participate in Jewish prayer. Come to a study session. Register your high school student for our post-b’nai mitzvah programs. Tell your grandchildren how important being Jewish is to you. Being Jewish is so much more than an ethnic identifier. It is more than nostalgic recollections of my childhood synagogue’s sukkah or my grandmother’s matzah balls. We have a worldview, too. The greatest strategy for keeping our kids Jewish and having another Jewish generation is to “live it.”
As December approaches and schools will decorate the halls with different religious symbols, I have asked my friend and colleague, Shelley Rose, the associate director of our region’s Anti-Defamation League, to learn more about “ABC’s of Religion in the Public Schools.” This gathering is scheduled for Thursday, November 15 at 7pm. This gathering, for parents and for middle school and high school students, will be an opportunity to learn our rights, receive some strategies, and figure out how to appropriately respond to the concerns we have.
Just so you don’t think that all is lost…just the other day, a prominent, neighboring church’s youth minister invited me to speak to their 80 high school students in their Sunday learning program. The youth pastor saw that the students had such a closed perspective on God and wanted to hear another perspective. I get those calls, too, all the time. As I develop greater relationships with local pastors, I find that there is much work we can do together to develop mutual understanding and respect. They can be our greatest allies in teaching a community unfamiliar with Judaism how we ought to treat our neighbors.
But we cannot rely on others to secure our community. It begins with us…today.