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In my jewelry box lies a necklace, my favorite necklace. No, it is not the most stylish or expensive piece in my possession, nor is it something I wear to this day, yet it defines me, my upbringing, and my family. It is a dainty necklace, a nondescript gold chain of interwoven links that falls just below my collarbone. Dangling from this understated chain are two charms, representatives of two things that usually never go together: a cross and a Star of David.
My upbringing wasn’t exactly conventional. During my early formative years, I bounced from visiting the church where my grandfather was the pastor to spending Friday nights in synagogue with my parents. Ultimately, my parents, strong believers in a private school education, decided to send me to a private, Christian elementary school for the first four years of my education. Part of this school’s curriculum was religion including church services in the chapel every Wednesday.
My favorite part of the chapel was the church pews. My finger would trace the lines the dark cherry wood, which were symbolic of what was once the rings of the tree it originated from. My second favorite part was the red velvety cushions, which sat complacently atop the pews. They were my favorite shade of red, the red of a glass of wine, the red of Superman's cape. I would sit daydreaming, making mazes for myself out of the lines of the wooden pews. But this world of my daydream would wash away as a wave of emotion came over me. The students of my school and my fellow classmates had begun singing hymns, their emotion almost tangible to me. Even during silent prayer, the air was heavy with the prominence of their faith. Every Wednesday, I would feel this immense emotion overflow out of everyone in the chapel, never faltering from week to week. Wednesday's service was the culmination of their faith, coming out and inundating the chapel. I had always admired that, people's immense faith, and to this day I carry this admiration and the memories of Wednesday chapel.

Three years after my Christian school era, my mother remarried to an Orthodox Jewish man thrusting me into a different Jewish lifestyle than the one I had been exposed to. This included exposure to traditions of the Jewish faith, which heretofore had been foreign to me. Indeed, it represented a different way of life.
In the days that I use to take the bus to school, I could always expect two things. The first is that I would always have Eggo waffles for breakfast, and the second is that my stepfather, Richie, would always be in the dining room davening, the Hebrew word for praying. My baby sister sleeping at that time, I would be careful to make as little noise as possible in the scarcely illuminated hallway. In traversing the hallway, my path would intentionally zigzag as I avoided the creaks in the walnut floorboards. Once I finally reached the stairs; the hardest part of my journey was over. From the top of the steps, penetrating the darkness of the hallway, was the brilliant light of the chandelier in the dining room. This light served as a lighthouse for me, ensuring my safe arrival at the bottom of the steps. As I walked into this haze of light, I would see, as expected, my stepfather adorned in his talis and tefillin. He would be in such intense prayer that I wasn’t even sure if he was aware of my arrival. But, like the students in my Christian school, this intensity and devotion in his prayer, symbolic of his faith in God and his religion, never wavered; everyday no matter what, the dining room light would be on.

Though unconventional, the influences of these two religions come together in my life as beautifully as my necklace. The amalgamation of the two religions with which I have been raised demonstrates that no religion outshines the other; they are both individually beautiful in the traditions and practices that come with each. Through these two very different experiences, I feel I am able to appreciate the magnificence of faith. I am thankful for my upbringing and I feel it has shaped me into a more tolerant and open-minded person. Though at this point in my life, I am not guided by any particular religion, my past experiences have prepared me for many of life’s lessons. I have learned that it is not about what faith you choose to practice; it is about that sheer fact that you are practicing, that your faith permeates your life. Religion, no matter what branch or faith, gives people, especially children, a set of boundaries and rules to live by that I feel are irreplaceable in one's childhood.





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racha said...
Nov. 7, 2010 at 3:36 pm

I loved this article- it was very enjoyable and touching! beautiful!!

Racha

 
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