Friday, June 08, 2007

A stranger in a strange land

I was reflecting today on what really bothered me in the experience I described in my recent "Sour Mile" post: I think what I really wanted this chaplain in an overwhelming Christian hospital to do was to acknowledge that it would certainly indeed be a problem to have a Jewish chaplain (that is, me) in his program.

I concede that what I am saying is counterintuitive. You would think that a minority person would want to hear exactly what this guy was working hard to tell me -- which is that it would not be a problem, and that any needs I had could be accommodated.

But the problem is that I know that there is no way any such assurance could be true. Any person who has ever experienced being a minority knows that his or her minority status is a constant issue that must constantly be struggled with. The really scary thing is when somebody refuses to acknowledge the presence of that struggle. It means even harder work for you as the minority person in terms of educating the people around you -- before you can even start the difficult process of struggling with the differences, you have to first convince them that the need to struggle even exists.

For us Jews who live and work among others, it is essential never to forget that, no matter how welcome we might feel where we are, we still always indeed remain strangers. Our greatest leader -- Moses -- made a reminder of his strangerhood (living amid other people) in the most dramatic way -- he gave one of his sons a name that constituted such a reminder:

וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן, וַיִּקְרָא אֶת-שְׁמוֹ גֵּרְשֹׁם: כִּי אָמַר--גֵּר הָיִיתִי, בְּאֶרֶץ נָכְרִיָּה.
And she [Moses' wife Tziporah] gave birth to a son. And he [Moses] named him Gershom: as he [Moses] said, "at stranger I was in a strange/foreign land. [Exodus 2:22]
Again, like I said in my Sour Milk post, I appreciate the good and honest intentions of the chaplain I was talking to. But, I wanted to identify why his assurances did not fully satisfy me.

Shabbat Shalom!

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