This week's blog post is written by Lily, a Yahel fellow living in Lod.
For twenty-three years I’ve gone through the motions. Almost robotically, I’ve moved through each of my major life experiences with an ease and a grace that I have never truly taken the time to contemplate.
Prior to beginning my volunteer work in Lod, I’ve tiptoed around the thought that I’ve been born into a life equipped with certain advantages that others don’t have the privilege of experiencing. Over the past couple of months, my surroundings and community in Lod have sparked a shift in my understanding of the ways in which I’ve been able to freely navigate these complicated spaces with little to no difficulty. My work has thrust me into the realization that I benefit from certain unearned advantages – all very real, socioeconomic, ethnic, and religious privileges.
As the eldest child of a Filipino immigrant and an American, I integrated (almost) seamlessly into the small pool of the 50 other students in my grade, dragging our feet to algebra, then religion class alongside each other. Attending a private, Catholic grade school blinded me to the struggles of those on the periphery. My holidays were always the holidays being publicly celebrated. My prayers were always the prayers recited before lunchtime. The Starbucks cups in December consistently depicted doodles that were familiar to my identity as an American Christian. I nodded when my teachers narrated for us the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Issues of religion and ethnicity rarely phased me. I approached religion and socialization in general with an airy nonchalance.
[This is not to discredit the enormous hardship and countless obstacles that my parents, grandparents, and ancestors have overcome before me; rather, my inherent indifference to ‘the outsider’ throughout my childhood exemplifies the ultimate manifestation of an immigrant’s unmistakable longing for a life on ‘the inside.’]
I could float in and out of the cliques that seemed to define my youth. It wasn’t until I chose to attend the public high school that I became aware of my place in society and it wasn’t until I finished my undergraduate degree at a liberal Northeastern college that the reality of my existence as a Christian began to resonate with me.
Naturally, I often contemplate my education as a child. My teachers never spoke of the other two monotheistic religions. My theology textbooks never referenced the religions parallel to mine. I wasn’t taught to shun those of other beliefs; rather, I was educated on neither our similarities nor our differences. Life in Lod has further solidified my belief that we share a majority of the same issues.
Here, my privilege is further exemplified and exercised. In this land of polarities, I have found myself conveniently nestled between the two conflicting identities of Judaism and Islam. The Christian faith operates on the belief that the practices and beliefs of Judaism (and Islam) are fundamentally incorrect - that the acknowledgement of Jesus Christ is the foundation of and the only avenue to a relationship to God. God’s relationship to humanity is tandem to and dependent on the belief that Jesus is the Messiah. These cardinal beliefs require Christians to place themselves in a position of superiority over Jews, and everyone else who doesn’t prescribe to Christian beliefs, at square one. While I still practice in the Catholic church, I believe God’s relationship to humanity is not exclusive nor dependent on these conditions.
As a Christian, I am merely here as an observer. As an American, I am someone here this moment, and gone the next – with no real tie to this place other than a burning curiosity for the relationship between religion and interpersonal connection. To pass through this land as an outsider is to delicately thread my way in and out of the fabric that is Israel.
The community of Lod has inspired me to think about empathy in general, as well as what it means to lead a life of empathy for the ‘other.’ In terms of privilege, I wonder what it requires from us to first acknowledge our advantages and then question the systematic methods by which one becomes privileged.
Conversations surrounding privilege are difficult to foster. I understand deeply the human need for affirmation of our suffering and sympathy regarding hardship. We all want to be acknowledged for our strengths and successes, but seldom do we pause to acknowledge the ways in which we have benefited from the gift of a head-start, an upper-hand dealt to us at birth. These conversations, while difficult, are crucial. I encourage each of us to cultivate an environment in our personal lives in which these conversations can be held.
Religion aside, Lod has provided a mirror through which I am now beginning to see the reflection that is my privilege. This reflection has transformed my perception of community, and most importantly, the ‘other.’ I am now beginning to identify not only my religious privilege, but the privilege involved in being a leader and social activist. To be in a position of impact is an even more nuanced entitlement that I hope to delve into throughout the next 5 months.