I consider my Jewish heritage to be the largest part of my cultural identity. While I do not attend services regularly or live in accordance with all Jewish principles, my grandparents and mother have provided me with a solid connection to the Jewish faith and therefore it is more of an ethnic identity than a religious one.
My ability to understand and relate to students who are part of underrepresented religions comes from my cultural heritage. I have personally come face to face with insensitivity towards my religious practices several times. I have included a section of a student development theory paper here that showcases one of the challenge that I faced when first setting foot on CU’s campus as a freshman. Given my personal knowledge of Judisim and limited knowledge of other religions, I can easily recognize that many students face similar if not more daunting challenges to the ones I did. I found deciding which holidays to celebrate and which ones to miss in the name of school and work obligations to be the toughest but I can also see how issues surrounding eating the proper foods, engaging in the proper daily prayers or reflections, and creating the right living environments, may all be conflict with university calendars, services, and rules. My own identity as a member of a minority religion provides me with a personal context for discussing the challenges students face and makes me more sensitive to the topic of bias based on religion.
In addition to my greater sensitivity to individual student’s challenges balancing religion and high education, I also have a personal and professional desire to create more religiously inclusive environments and provide students with the resources and support to voice the issues and challenges they face. It is quite apparent to me that most administrators, staff members and students remain unaware of the benefits they receive as part of the Christian majority or how the simple act of decorating a student union with a Christmas lights or using a Christmas tree as the focal point for a holiday gift giving campaign can make those in the minority feel marginalized. As a member of a minority it is my responsibility to speak up and provide others with forums to speak up when issues of religious oppression are at play. While speaking up may not change the system, it will provide a greater context for the discussion the next time it is brought up.
My Jewish heritage is also shaped greatly by the fact that both of my maternal grandparents are Holocaust survivors as are many of my other relatives. My grandfather’s parents lost their lives as a result of the atrocity and I am sure I lost countless other distant relatives. This is probably the reason why I insist on staying connected the cultural elements of Judaism. My grandparents suffered greatly for their religion and I owe it to them to keep the traditions they instilled in me alive. With this fact, I realize that I am super sensitive to the subject of the Holocaust and all other religious genocides. I have not had any experiences lately that have helped me recognize how this will ultimately affect me as a student affairs professional, but I’m sure it will and I must be ready and willing to deal with it.
The only other element of my cultural heritage that I identify with is my German heritage. Having said that, I have never spent much time investigating what that means to me. I have never learned to speak the language, never traveled to Germany, although I do want to eventually and never spent much time talking to my grandparents about what it was like to live there. In many respects, I believe that they divorced their country of birth in order to avoid the sadness associated with the atrocities committed there and I can’t blame them for this response. At the same time, this leaves me with a very loose, if not non-existent personal connection to this part of my identity.