The eve of Rosh Hashanah, and a life lesson from college: A timely message for parents who believe our nation’s diversity represents our greatest strength.
We were separated by about fifteen, maybe twenty exits on the New Jersey Parkway. It was one of the first questions people from my home state used to ask when we met one another.
For New Englanders, it was an ongoing joke, but our freshmen class was equal in number to them at the University of Rhode Island before the turn of the century (New Jersey residents vs. New Englanders). You couldn’t hold it against them though—this was before their home teams, the Red Sox or Patriots, amounted to anything other than a bad joke.
In that first semester of college, my world opened up in a manner I never could have imagined prior to landing on campus. Raised in a single-parent home for most of my life and before my parents’ divorce, one of the consequences was not being exposed to a wide variety of people and places. College was my introduction to the broader world, due to financial circumstances and, for lack of a better phrase, an overprotective mother.
There was one person in particular who provided me with a broader perspective about the world. His name was Corey, and out of all the people I met in college, he illuminated the fact that I had much to learn about people’s faiths, backgrounds, and varying points of view.
We hit it off because we had something in common, an interest many young and male freshmen do when you’re 18-years-old and located on a campus with 12,000 other people close in age to youself: women!
He was one of my closest friends that first semester, but despite the fact we lived twenty miles away from one another, his religious background was different than my own. New Jersey may represent one of the most diverse states in the union, but in my hometown, we had roughly three Jewish families and only one that was African-American. Everyone else was white and Christian.
If that sounds odd to you, then you have your own bias to contend with; some kids are raised in less-diverse communities. There’s nothing wrong with that. College provided me with a broader view of the world, as higher-education often does, and it made me a more well-rounded person.
Corey picked up on this, and one night, he provided me with a personal introduction to his faith. He invited me over to his dorm room to light a menorah candle. It was simple, he said a prayer, and we had an open discussion about our respective faiths. I was Catholic and the questions I asked were likely blunt and naïve, but he was honest and direct.
Since then, my respect for the Jewish faith has blossomed. When your family life is far from perfect, and you strive to provide a better foundation for the next generation, it’s hard not to respect a faith where family… itself… is cherished.
Today, I’m grateful Corey was patient and honest with me that evening back in college. When I returned home after that first semester, my ‘hometown perspective’ was wider in scope. If everyone had this opportunity, in light of the divisions we see in our country, there would be less friction and our world would be more connected.
I went on later in life to make friendships with other people regardless of their color, religion, or sexual backgrounds—stemming in part from that one evening back in college.
For those of us who are parents, who are raising kids in more diverse communities, take advantage of your surroundings. You have the means to expose your children to a wider worldview. This will provide them with the means to adapt, and when confronted with petty mindedness, they will rise above it. Whether it is same-gender parents, immigrant families, or neighbors from a different faith, encourage them to respect diversity and see it for what it is: our country’s greatest strength.
I share this prior to Rosh Hashanah in respect to my friends and relatives who are members of the Jewish faith… and to my friend, Corey, for being both patient and honest with a kid who lived 20 Parkway exits from him back in the day.
If you enjoyed this story, check out these recent posts on The Father Apprentice: