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Saint Mary’s students discuss diversity of religion at the College

| Friday, November 3, 2017

Saint Mary’s held a Belles of Different Faiths panel Thursday, during which five students discussed their faiths, practices and some of the misconceptions behind their religions.

Sophomore Iman Omar, senior Colleen Zewe, senior Taylor Thomas, sophomore Emily Barr and sophomore Abbee LaPlace were on the panel.

Editor’s note: Omar and Zewe are News Writers for The Observer.

Ann Curtis | The Observer
A panel of five Saint Mary’s students from different religions reflected on their experiences at the College on Thursday.

Thomas, who formerly practiced Judaism, said Judaism is about being a decent person.

“Judaism really pushes the fact that you should be a decent person — not because you have to but because you want to, that you want to help the person next to you,” she said. “In my household, we don’t believe in blind love. You want to push the person you love to strive to be more, just as you do for yourself, as well.”

LaPlace said the Torah encourages others to live kindly and fairly.

“A rabbi had commented on a Torah portion and he said, ‘When we treat others kindly, fairly and lovingly we are trying living Torah,’ meaning that we are truly living in the way that HaShem wants us to live,” she said.

LaPlace said her favorite tradition as someone who practices conservative Judaism is mitzvah.

“Mitzvah are good deeds … so being kind to one another, making someone smile,” she said. “I think the biggest Mitzvah I do is teach Hebrew to second graders, and I teach Torah study to my fifth and sixth graders.”

LaPlace said her biggest struggle has been overcoming anti-semitism.  

“There’s always been the jokes, there’s always been the taglines, and it took me a very long time to realize that the people who say those things aren’t completely bad, they aren’t cold-hearted people, they are just very ignorant,” she said. “They don’t take the time to learn about other people, they just assume.”

Barr, from the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, said people have many misconceptions about love in her religious community.

“Most people have heard that in the past, we have [practiced] polygamy,” she said. “It hasn’t been practiced for over 100 years now.”

Barr said she has struggled with attending a school where she is the only one who practices her religion.

“I don’t want to say it’s been lonely because that sounds negative, but it kind of has been,” she said. “Arizona and Utah have been settled by Mormons so there’s Mormons everywhere. There are churches on every corner. Then I came here, and there’s one church within 50 miles.”

Thomas said she feels some of the professors who teach religion at Saint Mary’s do not always take every religion seriously.

“I never had any issues with the ministry on campus. I feel like my biggest issue has come from the classes themselves,” she said. “I am not a fan of a lot of the religion professors here. Not all of them — there have been some really great ones — but some of the professors have rubbed me the wrong way. I know a lot of them are Catholic, so when they speak about Catholicism there is all this love and passion, and then the minute they switch to discussing other religions … you can tell by their tone of voice they don’t take other religions seriously.”

In some of her classes that discuss religious myths and legends, Barr said, she feels she cannot fully participate and share the myths and religions particular to her faith.

“One thing that’s been interesting is I’m taking a class called ‘Myth, Legend and History,’ and we talk a lot about the saints and the Virgin Mary” she said. “And I’ve enjoyed the class, but I feel like I can’t contribute to the class because with my perspective, I’d have to explain for awhile before my point makes any sense.”

LaPlace said she has encountered some students who have singled her out for her religion.

“Coming in as a freshman, I was told to find a new friend and introduce yourself,” she said. “So the first time I walked into the dining hall, I walked up to this girl and said, ‘Hey, can I sit with you?’ And she looked at me, looked at my necklace — the Star of David — and said, ‘Are you Jewish?’ And when I said yes [she] told me I could not sit with her. … That was my first taste of my community here as a Belle, and that just kind of threw me off for a really long time.”

LaPlace said she wishes the College would try harder to involve all faiths and religions within the community.

“Something I really struggle with is that there are a lot of talks here at Saint Mary’s,” she said. “Last year in particular I noticed that there are a lot of ones about the New Testament and the Quran, which is great, but how hard is it to call a rabbi and ask if they can add the Torah into this talk? It’s small things like that that bother me.”

Thomas said she has had to defend her religion in recent years due to the rising tensions between Palestine and Israel.

“I’ve had people come up to me and yell at me, saying, ‘You’re Jewish, how dare you? Israel is destroying lives,’” she said. “I’m not going to give you my opinions about Israel, but it’s really hard because a lot of people will tell me my people are murderers. We all just have to look at the individual and stop assuming stereotypes about everyone.”

LaPlace said she often feels like she has to defend her pro-Israel stance.

“I am pro-Israel,” she said. “But not pro-Israel in the fact that, yes it is a Jewish state and yes, it’s somewhere I belong as a Jewish person, but everyone else belongs there, too. Pro-Israel is not just about it staying a Jewish state. It’s the kindness of everyone.”

Barr said religion should not condemn, but encourage love and virtue.

“Hate the sin, not the sinner,” she said.

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About Gina Twardosz

Gina Twardosz is a senior English Writing and Communication Studies double major at Saint Mary's College. She's the co-editor of the Investigative Unit, a Saint Mary's social media liaison, and she occasionally writes for SMC News and Scene. Gina is a tried and true Midwesterner and yes, she does say "ope" often.

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