Alison Schalop: Not a date, I'm going to temple

Wednesday, September 16, 2015 - 8:29pm

I’m lucky, because unlike the 19th century French-Jewish artillery officer Alfred Dreyfus and the AEPi Fraternity at Emory University — a Jewish fraternity that was vandalized with offensive graffiti in 2014 — I have never experienced anti-Semitism. From a young age, I’ve been taught that anti-Semitism is real and it could be lurking anywhere, but I never seemed to encounter this enigmatic monster. I was raised Jewish in New York City, where, according to The Wall Street Journal, 13 percent of the country’s Jewish population currently resides.

Despite being a Midwestern public school, the University has a large Jewish population as well. The school offers a wide range of Judaic studies classes and has a huge Hillel and Chabad religious system. According to Hillel.org, the University of Michigan undergraduate population is about 16 percent Jewish. This is an astoundingly high number, considering estimates show that less than 2 percent of the United States’ population is Jewish.

At the University, I’ve met a supportive group of people who come from of a variety of cultures. My group of friends is much more diverse religiously than they were at home. In New York, those who aren’t Jews know about Jewish culture. For the first time in my life, I’m surrounded by people who do not understand Judaism. I’ve never been in a place where people don’t know that “Bubbe” means grandma, “schvitzing” means sweating and “bat mitzvah” means I had an over-the-top party when I was 13 because I sang a bunch of Hebrew words I didn’t understand in front of my 200 closest friends and family members. These words either come from Hebrew or Yiddish, a Jewish language of German origin that comes from Eastern Europe and is passed down in tidbits by Bubbes.

It has hit me, in the past few weeks, that no one cares about Jewish holidays. No one seems to care about anyone else’s religion with the exception of the person who creates the Snapchat filters. Yet those are often used disrespectfully in contexts completely irrelevant to a given holiday.

Everyone likes Christmas because it means happiness, cheer, Santa and, of course, presents. People like to talk about Hanukkah and Kwanza because they fall around the same time of year and they like potato pancakes. I’ve yet to meet someone who celebrates Kwanza, but I’m not giving up. We’ve all heard of Ramadan. When I was little, I couldn’t fathom not eating for a whole month. I had yet to learn about the whole sun-sets-and-then-you-eat situation.

All of this aside, when I run into friends dressed up, on my way to services, they say, “You look so nice! Are you going on a date?”

It doesn’t even occur to them that I may have a religious commitment. Happy New Year? Shana Tova? Everyone’s confused. When it’s Easter, we all know why some are wearing pastels or headed to church in their “Sunday best.” It’s literally called your Sunday best. You go to church, on Sundays, wearing your best.

The Jewish holy day actually falls on Saturday rather than Sunday.

Since leaving New York, the reality has begun to hit me that I’m part of a minority population in our nation. Despite constantly feeling safe and comfortable in my own religious background, I now understand that I come from a group of people who went through a genocide less than a century ago. For the first time ever, I feel a connection with those who were oppressed in Europe in the 20th century.

I feel frustrated. I feel frustrated that public schools often get three weeks off for Christmas, yet the holiest of Jewish holidays are completely brushed over. I miss my family and I miss my synagogue, but I can’t even take solace in time at Hillel or spent with Jewish friends because I’m too busy with other commitments. Club presidents, professors and GSIs seem to be completely blind to the holidays. The Apple Calendar on my computer didn’t have Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur automatically programmed in. I guess they don’t qualify as official U.S. holidays. I guess my religion isn’t important enough. I know this goes for so many other religions as well, and I know there are religions that are more obscure and brushed over than my own. I know I’m lucky that Jews are even acknowledged at all.

I’m part of an overrepresented minority with many powerful and wealthy people who make up an extremely small portion of the population. Yet, my religion being ignored and undervalued somehow makes me feel as if I’m a less important part of society. Since I was a little kid, I was told that Hanukah is not as good as Christmas. Never has this rang so true.

Alison Schalop can be reached at aschalop@umich.edu.