BY EDEN FARBER / AJT //
Last week, I got hit in the face with a baby balloon that read “It’s intersex!”
I was preparing for Shabbat at the pluralistic Jewish summer program I’m at right now, and our theme for the week was “Life.” Thus, all around were baby balloons – ranging from the traditional “It’s a girl!” to “It’s anatomically male!” and “It’s confused!”
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At this point, you may be wondering what would compel a group of teenagers to decorate balloons – albeit, somewhat jokingly – with such gender nuances in mind. Well, I need just one word to answer your question:
Pluralism. And as part of our program, we’ve learned that the number one rule in a pluralistic community is that I have a truth, you have a truth, and we gain from learning about each other’s truths.
Admittedly, the above picture may seem like a silly one to exemplify what it means to be in a pluralistic community. I could have instead chosen to say that for this program, there are seven prayer options, ranging from a traditional prayer quorum to an eating-meditation exercise.
That, or I could have mentioned that there’s no dress code, or that we are specifically roomed with people who have different values and customs from us. All of these examples are extremely important aspects of this community we’ve created.
But I chose to tell you about the gender-neutral balloons we teens made for our Friday night dinner, and I did so because it shows not only what the faculty has set up for us, but what we have accepted for ourselves: living open-mindedly.
Now, this open-minded-mindset shtick – it is not a rule that we’re told to follow but break when a faculty member leaves the room. It’s something that has been ingrained in us as a value for interacting with people.
I’ll admit, it’s not an easy task, being whole-heartedly open-minded; it means you have to walk into a room with 100 strangers and meet them all without making assumptions based on their exteriors. Considering the only information you have about them (the way they talk, dress, etc.) is the exact information you can’t use, it’s honestly almost impossible.
Almost. But I’ll testify right now that it’s quite worth it. When you leave your first impressions and biases at the door, the relationships you make with people are deeper, because they are based on the people themselves.
I understand how you may be concerned that this concept of pluralism only works in specific contexts. After all, pluralism sounds naive; it sounds like something we can talk about, but never achieve.
I’d argue, however, that the only reason it sounds unrealistic is because the rest of the world is not willing to accept it. It’s scary to let go of your preconceived notions about people, be they strangers or friends – but the benefits are unbelievable.
Imagine a world where my truth is mine, yours is yours and we can still smile at each other at synagogue or have lovely family meals. It’s a world where your religiosity or spiritual devotion is not determined by your clothing choices, and a world where we can coexist in the deepest of ways.
Pluralism is not a language that only hippies or teenagers speak. Pluralism is ours.
But only if we want it to be.
Atlanta’s Eden Farber, 16, was recognized in the Jewish Heritage National Poetry Contest of 2010 and has published op-eds and poetry in Modern Hippie Magazine and the NY Jewish Week’s Fresh Ink for Teens section.