Searching for a culture of religious respect and acceptance, not hate

By Justin Katz |

I’m Jewish by blood and had a Bar Mitzvah when I was 13. Yet I’ve befriended a pastor and met Muslims who are emotionally stronger than I could ever hope to be. I can give a handful of reasons why I have the right to hate a lot of different people, but I can also give a list of better reasons why I don’t.

When I came to college, I knew there was going to be a culture shock; it happens to everyone. I always felt like I was open-minded, and that nothing could ever bother me. But the one thing that hit home was when I spoke to some religious fanatics preaching just off campus. Their messages were offensive, and I never thought I would meet someone with the level of arrogance and ignorance I found in them.

Yet, because I went through that, I met a friend who has changed my life in a short time. A pastor from a church across the street came over to see what was happening. He ended up being a driving force in making the preachers leave. Since students saw that he was clearly a legitimate man of G-d, everyone (Christian, Atheist, Jew, Muslim) respected him.

We introduced ourselves to him. My roommate and I particularly clicked with him. From joining him on trips for bagels to helping him set up a poetry reading contest, we’ve developed a unique friendship. The part about our situation that is most interesting is that our friendship began in a place of religious tension, yet we have had dialogue of tolerance and acceptance.

Despite how crazy college has been, it hasn’t surprised me. This is because I grew up in New York. I was living on Long Island on Sept. 11th, 2001. My father was in the North Tower of the World Trade Center, and by the grace of G-d, he got out alive.

In the minds of many people who were affected by that day, they would give you numerous reasons to hate the Islamic world. They might tell you they despise it, want to see it burn and condemn it. However, that is not how I feel about the culture.

Perhaps, I got lucky and this is what allows me to be open-minded. But I’ve had Muslim friends growing up, and I understand the difference between 9/11 and the Islamic world.

Politics aside, when I was in fourth and fifth grade I had a friend who was Muslim. I grew up with him until I left New York. Despite all the politics surrounding his religion, I noticed he never hid his culture. In fact, he expressed it with a passion.

I will forever respect him because he didn’t hide his culture. He worked to show the true side of it. From explaining it to anyone who asked, to wearing traditional garments, he always made sure people knew that, “This is my faith, and I don’t care if you have a problem with it or not.” His strength is something I could never hope to match.

There are a lot of reasons, in my mind, for me to hate a lot of people. However, I don’t. I chose to accept. I chose to befriend Muslims who are non-violent, and I chose to befriend Christians who love their neighbor as thyself.

I accept all faiths, and it is about time that the world followed suit.

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