Barber: Religious Exchange is Valuable to Society

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Barber: Religious Exchange is Valuable to Society

By Shaelyn Barber

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With a huge desire to get out of Utah and have a proper fall break far away from my midterms, I followed my roommate out to visit her family in Boulder, Colorado. I hadn’t been to Boulder since I was a kid, and I was excited to explore both the city and my roommate’s childhood home.

Before we left, my roommate approached me with a question. She and her mother are both Jewish, as well as another friend who was coming with us, and they wanted to celebrate an important holiday called Simchat Torah that was going to be happening during the time we would be there. She seemed a little nervous to ask whether it was okay, but I was extremely excited to experience something new.

I’d never been to a Jewish service before, and I honestly had no idea what to expect. I spent a good amount of the day fretting over what was proper to wear, customs that I might not be aware of, how an outsider would be received, whether I would somehow offend the people there… Of course, as soon as we stepped inside I immediately realized how silly my worries had been.

I was welcomed in by the congregation, and my trio of escorts were eager to help me understand everything that was going on.

Simchat Torah is a holiday where both the last sections and very first sections of the Torah are read, symbolizing the end and beginning of the annual cycle of readings from the Torah. We read small verses and in between each was enthusiastic dancing in circles around the massive Torah scroll.

At the end, they unrolled the massive scroll which stretched around the entire room. After finishing the readings, the rabbi and some of the older members of the congregation went around the circle and told fortunes based on which verse you blindly pointed at.

Experiencing and learning about Simchat Torah and the Jewish religion was one of my favorite parts of the trip.

To me, although I am a devout atheist, learning about other religions is one of the most important things you can do. I’ve taken classes, gone to various kinds of services and even considered a major in religious studies. Why? Religion is one of the biggest influences in our world. It is wide and varied, complex, contrasting and complementary. Religion is beautiful and, sometimes terrible and violent. People can clash against one another, as they develop prejudices and hatred against other religions.

We currently live in an age where people are pitted against each other, discriminated against, despised because of what they believe. Our country’s political leaders have fed and nurtured it, turning people against one another. We have to learn to grow above this, to embrace our fellow humans with love instead of hate.

Our state of Utah is dominated by one primary religion, the LDS Faith. I’m sure you’ve heard of it — likely a good deal about it. I’ve lived in Utah my entire life. Our state isn’t particularly diverse as far as religion goes, and often not very tolerant. One thing that I’ve been bothered by is the lack of religious exchange between those who are LDS and those who are not.

So, I encourage you to go do research, talk to someone who is a different religion than you and go out and explore other places of worship because, like it or not, religions of all kinds impact politics, social relationships, personal choices, morals, daily lives and so much more. It shapes our world. To understand our planet and the people we share it with, it is necessary to obtain a greater understanding of others’ religions.

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