Today was the semi-annual ritual in which those of us who sit behind desks go out into the park to help out when things get really busy. Partly to have some extra people around to assist the hordes of guests who descend upon us, but also, I suspect, partly to remind us of how good we have it in our air-conditioned cubicles. Having been on the front lines for over a decade, I know what it’s like, and while I do grumble a bit about it — hey, it’s hot and I like my air conditioning — it does provide the opportunity for some prime people watching.
One of the groups I saw today was a Jewish family all in traditional clothing. The father and son both wore yarmulkes and I could see the fringes of their prayer shawls hanging down from their shirts. The father had on a long-sleeved button-down shirt, while the son had made some small concession to the heat by wearing a t-shirt. The mother and two daughters had on full-length skirts and equally modest blouses. They stood in the middle of the street getting their bearings, a stark contrast to the parade of shorts and tank tops passing by them. But them seemed not to mind the heat, and chatted happily with each other as they planned their route through the park.
And it struck me that here was a group of people who adhere to a religion far more strict than the vast majority of us are used to. It tells them how to dress. It tells them what they can’t eat, and how what they can eat has to be prepared. It tells them to do no work from sundown on Friday until Saturday night. It has rules upon rules upon rules.
None of which get forced on anyone else. If a restaurant or grocery store doesn’t keep kosher, they don’t demand that their lawmakers pass legislation requiring it; they simply find restaurants and grocery stores that realize it’s good for business to do so. If a company or store is open on a Saturday, they’re not picketing and insisting it be closed; they’re not out and about to really notice it. They’re more concerned with making sure they conform to what they believe their god demands of them than they are with making sure everyone else does.
By contrast, we have so-called Christians who might attend church every Sunday, but who otherwise seem to pick and choose which parts of Christianity they want to apply to themselves. And which parts they insist on applying to others. They’re the ones who are trying to codify their religious beliefs into law. A group who is so coddled and catered to for fear of their retribution, and yet which has the gall to call themselves persecuted if governments and corporations don’t march in lock step with their beliefs. While a religion that suffered the most horrific persecution imaginable not even a century ago simply goes about the business of following their faith.
I know that family was there to have a good time, not to provide me with a flash of insight. But the thought stayed with me the rest of the day. Acts over words. Personal faith over public proselytizing. Belief over sensible warm-weather clothing.
Look, I said I appreciated it, not that I totally understood it.