A multicultural weekend

I have to admit that it can be depressing to see such a long string of negative reports every day. After watching the latest news reports, one sometimes has to wonder if there is even the tiniest shred of humanity left in the world. We seem to be surrounded by terrorism, assassinations, political intrigues, xenophobia and religious conflicts. It is so easy to get caught up in the online discussions and arguments taking place on social media that we often forget to look around us and see the random acts of kindness that are present in our lives every day. Too many of us forget to be grateful for what we do have and to celebrate the achievements not just in our lives, but also in the lives of our friends.

My son and I are both news junkies and, fortunately for us, this past weekend was an escape from the negative stories being broadcast and a reminder for us of the good in people, of the joy in life, of the warmth that is found in diversity. We spent Saturday with my son’s father, my ex-husband, touring an art museum that was filled with people from around the world who made time to enjoy a peaceful setting far removed from the troubles of the world. Later that evening, my son and I celebrated a friend’s birthday, surrounded by old and new friends from Turkey, Argentina and America. Rapidly changing languages, topics switched just as quickly from fond memories of homelands to global politics and the changing face of education. No topic was off limits, and any ensuing debates were civil and respectful as the opinions expressed by others were respected even if everyone did not agree.

The following day we went to the monthly fundraising breakfast at the local Turkish cultural foundation. Feasting on a wonderful assortment of traditional homemade Turkish food was an assortment of people from all walks of life, from all religions and many different cultures. Over seemingly endless cups of tea, topics were debated, information was exchanged and life stories were shared. In many ways, the warmth of this gathering set the tone for our day as we reluctantly left the breakfast and made preparations to head to our next event of the day.

A good friend recently purchased her first house, and she and her teenaged son were holding a housewarming to celebrate their move. The concept of an open house was new to my son, but he was eager to see some of his friends at the event. The tradition of a housewarming dates back to medieval times, long before the availability of central heating, when fireplaces were used to heat a home. Guests would arrive bearing gifts of firewood and stack the wood in the fireplaces throughout the house. Since empty houses were thought to harbor evil spirits, the fires not only warmed the home but also symbolically warded off any lingering bad spirits. In many countries, housewarmings are held to bless the new home and bring good luck to the residents. Small gifts or food and drink are brought by guests to help celebrate. A usually informal affair, a housewarming offers friends a chance to drop in and congratulate the owners on their new abode.

Our friend who hosted the housewarming also had her rabbi there to lead the house blessing, with all of the guests joining in with the prayers. Before and after the blessing, we ate, made new friends, caught up on news from old friends, laughed and exchanged stories with the other guests. It was a mix of Jewish, Christian and Muslim (my son and I) friends, all enjoying spending time together while we celebrated our mutual friend’s new home.

Another way to live

Considering the conflicts and the hatred, racism and bigotry around the globe, our weekend in our little corner of the world proved there is another way to live. Was our experience some sort of aberration? Was it a one-time event? In a nutshell, no, it was an example of what our lives should normally be like every day. No one cared what religion anyone else in the room practiced, no one worried about what country someone else called home. All that mattered was that we had come together to celebrate with our friends and rejoice that they had a new home. In today’s crazy world, in a home in South Texas that was filled with Jews, Christians and Muslims, we ate, we talked, we laughed and we celebrated life together. We all shared in prayers to wish our friends security, safety, prosperity and a long, happy life in their new home. I think this is the true essence of all religions that so many people tend to forget or overlook. Celebrate, encourage, support. The world needs more of these simple things and less of the hatred that is being spread, less of the prejudices so many people desperately cling to, less of the animosity towards anyone who seems even a tiny bit different. Instead of viewing the world as “us” versus “them,” we should be striving for unity, for brotherhood, for acceptance, for love.

In reality, our weekend was not really all that unusual. There were no earth-shaking revelations, no “aha” moments that changed the course of the world. It was simply a weekend spent with a wide variety of people who did not judge others, who were willing to exchange ideas without resorting to insults, who understood that everyone did not have to agree on every topic all of the time. It would be nice if everyone could make the time to meet other people from different ethnic groups, from different religions, from different backgrounds. Think of how the world could change if we stopped seeing the world as “us” and “them.” Maybe I am a dreamer, but I know I am not alone.