Overcoming religious misunderstanding

Charlie Rosenzweig

By Charlie Rosenzweig

In times of crisis, it becomes increasingly important to remember one’s values and ideals in order to remain hopeful and prepared for the future. For many people around the world, these values come from religion. 

My name is Charlie Rosenzweig, and I am a member of Cultural Leadership. This nonprofit youth leadership program helps train high school students from across the St. Louis region to be the future social justice leaders, through the lens of the African American and Jewish experiences.

Recently, I participated in Cultural Leadership’s Holiday Swap in which non-Christians experience an Easter Sunday service, and non-Jews experience a Passover seder. 

While traditionally these swaps would be experienced in person at a family’s home or church, these services were held virtually via online broadcasting because of the coronavirus. We were given the opportunity to watch livestreams of different churches’ Easter services or to join a Jewish family’s virtual seder on our computers, phones and tablets. As a member of the Jewish community, I had the pleasure of watching Pleasant Grove Church’s Easter Sunday service.

While listening to the prayers and the sermon, I was surprised to recognize some striking similarities between Passover and Easter. One of these was the constant singing and rejoicing of G-d or Jesus. Having been to dozens of Passover seders in my life, I know that none is complete without plenty of songs praising G-d. 

I did not realize, however, that nearly every moment of an Easter service is also filled with song and prayer to either G-d or Jesus. Additionally, I realized that both holidays represent somewhat of a rebirth of civilization. 

In the Jewish faith, Passover is the celebration of the Israelites’ freedom from slavery in Egypt. Easter celebrates the rebirth of Christ as a symbol of his divine nature, as well as a verification of his promise to free the Earth of humanity’s sins.

These similarities warrant an important question: If these two holidays, celebrated by different religions, are so similar, why does there seem to be such a great divide between the Jewish and Christian faiths in American society? Sometimes it feels like there can be a stark contrast between Jews and Christians in America. We experience different stereotypes and have different expectations placed on us. This divide not only occurs between Judaism and Christianity, but between all religions across America, some of which include Islam and Hinduism. 

I believe lack of understanding and misunderstanding are at the root of this divide in our country, fueled by a culture that makes it easy to stay within one’s comfort zone. When too few people are willing to stretch beyond their norms and experience something different and potentially uncomfortable, ignorance and fundamental misunderstanding can often come to characterize many religions regarded as “different.” Anything that is out of the ordinary can be seen as wrong. This can ultimately lead to a hatred of those that are not of the majority, and discrimination and prejudice can quickly follow.

This lack of understanding, I believe, is one of the major factors stopping America from developing into the great nation our forefathers dreamed for us. It is important that our society continues to work against the growing divide between all religions and encourage the understanding of each other’s customs and traditions. 

For me, Cultural Leadership has made a big difference in my understanding of others. Being able to listen to the experiences of those who are different than me has led me to understand that these differences truly define American society. 

I believe that if all of America can have an experience like mine, our nation will be able to have a religious freedom and unity that has never before been seen.

Charlie Rosenzweig is a junior at Parkway Central High School and a member of B’nai Amoona Congregation. He is a member of Cultural Leadership’s current cohort, Class 15.