Raised in the suburbs of Atlanta, I was never exposed much to other cultures until I went to college. Although my alma mater is also in Atlanta, it draws students from around the U.S. and the world and prides itself on diversity. It wasn’t long before I realized that Emory’s Hillel was a whole lot bigger than the Baptist Student Union. With approximately 1/3 of the student population being Jewish, it was normal to see a guy walking on campus wearing his Yamaka or groups of students walking to Shabbat services on Friday night. There was even a student in my residence hall who had obtained Israeli citizenship and served in their army between high school and college. Judaism was part of the culture I was in.
By the time I graduated, more of my college friends were Jewish than not. And though I am a Christian, thanks to my friends, I had opportunities to celebrate Passover, attended several Jewish weddings, and even had the Hora at our wedding.
My first Jewish holiday was actually celebrated while I was in Argentina. It was Hanukkah and my best friend was finishing up her culinary school exams when I first arrived in Buenos Aries. While there was a huge electric menorah outside of her apartment, she had nothing inside. So I researched all I could about the holiday while she was at school and made her a paper menorah. We hung it on the fridge and every night we added a lit yellow paper flame to celebrate the oil not running out. When she came home I bought her a real menorah and even keep Hanukkah paper in closet just for her.
Last night at sundown Jewish people around the world began their celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year which starts the High Holy Days. While I won’t be joining any friends to celebrate this time around, I want to wish all my dear friends shana tovah umetukah, which is Hebrew for “a good and sweet new year.”