I didn’t write about the second class because while it certainly touched upon a very different, but completely valid, aspect of Sukkot that most conversion courses I’ve been in ignored completely, it didn’t really work for me. It may be that I view Sukkot, after the month of Elul’s preparations and the wild and crazy highs and lows of Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur, to be this deeply… quiet? holiday. After rushing around for 6 weeks, it can be nice to come together, build the sukkah, and then just BE in it. Quietly. With yourself. With G-d. With nature. With your thoughts about what the holiday season that just ended meant for you. So while I’m all for sharing my sukkah with guests of both a genteel and contentious nature, I kinda just wish everyone would bring a cushy pillow with them and sit quietly. I’m not an introvert or anything though, nope.
This third class, on Torah in all of its potential meanings, was really powerful and really frustrating to me. The content was amazing. It can be really empowering to hear the Torah of other individuals, to find the millennia-old lessons, wisdom, and content highlighted anew in Art that speaks to us today, singularly and communally. The rabbi’s last question really has challenged me to articulate my own sense of faith, something that I’ll probably attempt in a blog post in the future.
On the other hand, I’ve been in enough conversion courses to know that there are a few… archetypes shall we say, and boy were they out in full force last night.
Think back to college years if you will. By the second or third week of class, you generally know that one (G-d forbid there should be more than one in a class/section!) student who is going to annoy you for the rest of the semester. They’ve never heard of office hours, let alone considered using them. They don’t do the reading for that week, or skim it at best. You’re in a literature class and they’re bringing up connections to chemical bonds. The prof asks for questions and they bring up material from last week they still don’t get or preface what could be a five second question with a rambling 5 minutes preamble.
Remember that classmate? That student in college courses has appeared in every single one of my four conversion classes. And the person has ALWAYS been Catholic (or a questioning/former Catholic). Sure, there were Catholics or former-Catholics that WEREN’T like that (and they always outnumbered the annoying ones), but I still do not get what it is about Roman Catholicism that produces this kind of Intro to Judaism student.
I find it strangely amusing because of all varieties of Christianity, I think Catholics have the best potential to “get” Judaism. Tradition, community, right deeds… it’s not exactly Judaism but I find it most representative of Judaism compared to faith-only Protestantism and mysticism-heavy Orthodoxy. But the students who were most insecure, most vocal, most assuming… have always been Catholic. Four classes for a total of 90 students are not data; I know its not a statistically significant sample, but I almost find it entertaining. Almost.
I thought we had escaped this with this group of “students” but no, last night the individual showed up. And after correctly assuming that I’m of Irish descent, the person said “Oh, I’m Catholic too.”
I’d like to pause for a moment so we can fully consider how stupid that statement was given the history of that shared Island. I know the person was nervous, it was admitted when they first entered the room. I know anxiety can cloud the mind… but why would you assume that at all, of someone you just met?
The second Archetype is the Foreigner. They tend to look down on us dimwitted Americans, thinking we’re not enlightened with their millennia of history and art and culture that their amazing nativelands have. And because we couldn’t possibly have the same experience in America, they feel the need to explain to us. There was an Italian in my first class in Houston. A Russian in my second. An Israeli and a Turk in my third. And now we have a Frenchman who thinks we don’t experience the problems of religious Fundamentalism in this country. It took every bit of strength to not blurt something out.
Your country was an imperialist invader who ruined their political and social systems, stole their natural resources, treated the citizens like poo, and then wiped your hands clean after fighting wars with them when they tried to get rid of you. To “be nice” you let them into your country to do work you wouldn’t do, and you expect them to be just like you, to give up their language and culture and religion in exchange. Maybe if you started viewing them as humans, and thus entitled to their own cultural norms, they wouldn’t revolt in the streets and turn to crime.
I’m well aware of America’s own imperial history and our own issues with immigrants from the very beginning of this country. But how ignorant do you have to be to say that I’ve never experienced the horrors of religious fundamentalism just because I live in America? There’s a fear in Europe of IslamoFascism? Oh, except for when you need them of course, like on the German World Cup roster.