If this situation is the case, it raises an interesting question for both Jews and Muslims (and any other non-Christian Americans): to do what degree do we allow ourselves flexibility to adapt, assimilate, acculturate – whatever you want to call it – to a surrounding society in which we are a clear minority? I believe that the goal of much of Jewish law is to elevate or make holy through separation. Indeed, the Hebrew word for holy, “kadosh,” comes from a root meaning “separation.” Just as Shabbat is a holy day separate from the rest of the week, so do Jews, for example, eat kosher food or wear a yarmulke to elevate ourselves spiritually by separating from the predominant way of doing things. On the other hand, Judaism is a religion that teaches us to live in society. Jews are taught to obey the laws of the ruling government. Jews who delve into mysticism do not go off into the forest and meditate after having a spiritual experience; rather, they should come back into their society and help others achieve similar spiritual heights. I would love to hear about Muslim parallels or dissimilarities on these subjects.
So how do we deal with the pressures of being a minority when we simultaneously want to integrate and maintain our distinct beautiful identities? A simple example courtesy of the American Hanukah experience: how do we explain to a young Jewish child that he is not getting presents like all his friends because he is “different, but not in a bad way?”
One answer is to isolate one’s self, as many very observant Jews do. But this approach is far from satisfying to me. My desire to maintain a “separateness” as a Jew in a majority Christian country does not stem from a revulsion of that culture. If I were to feel that the only way to be an upright Jew was to detach from non-Jewish society, I would feel that I had failed. This dilemma, of course, has been pondered endlessly before, but that’s because it’s a never-ending problem.
And I don’t have any more answers here other than celebrating the fact that I am still proud to be a Jew and happy in American society. Jews and Muslims in