Supporting our Local Islamic Community, One Bored Teenager at a Time

Last night in Fort Collins, Colorado, a few hundred people gathered outside our local Islamic Center for a candlelight vigil of support and solidarity. Our entire family attended -- me, my husband, our 12 year old daughter and our 14 year old son -- three of us willingly.

We are all Jews in our house, but we are not all faith-filled Jews. We celebrate the holidays, we usually light Shabbat candles and set aside Friday night for a family dinner, and we have lots of conversations about what it means to live a Jewish life without faith, to practice Judaism without God.

When children are young, the holidays don't have much meaning beyond a few parties, craft projects, and the many variations of Jewish holiday foods. They dress up in costume on Purim, open presents on Chanukkah, miss school on Yom Kippur, and choke down matzah during Passover. Living a Jewish life is a series of Sunday School, Hebrew School, and hopping from one holiday to the next, trying each year to guess when they'll fall on the "regular" calendar.

In the darkest days of winter we retell the story of the Maccabees and their fight for religious freedom. We fry up some latkes and talk about the miracle of the oil and play dreidel and tell our children that it was used by Jews to secretly satudy Torah when the government tried to prohibit it.

How awful it must have been, we say, to live in times like that.

Pass the applesauce.

Why is This Year Different from All Other Years?

Donald Trump invaded our Chanukkah this year, and I'm betting a lot of other Jewish families took the time to talk about him around their menorahs. What it means to be a Jew and what it means to celebrate Chanukkah were struck in stark relief this year.

We are all subjected to the rhetoric of Trump and those like him, but it is the Jews who must respond with the most force, the loudest voices of condemnation, boots on the ground.

I thought my kids were feeling the righteous indignation right along with me and felt the obligation to stand up and speak out. I thought they were ready and eager to jump into the fray with me, until the day of the march arrived.

Our 14-year-old wasn't into going.
  • I'll be bored. 
  • It doesn't matter. 
  • What difference does it make if I go or don't go?
  • No. I am not going.
I was disappointed, and surprised. He'd been interested in our political discussions over the past weeks, and I knew he agreed that the anti-Muslim chatter was worrisome. "Jews stand up," we had all agreed, and now was the time to do it. But when a 14-year-old gets it into his head that he does not want to do something, the parents have two choices: Fight or Flight. Pick the battle and fight until someone surrenders, or let it go and live to fight another day.

There was never any question in my mind: The was the hill I was willing to die on. He was going to the vigil. Period.

So we fought, and there were the usual threats, and eventually he capitulated. He may have been mumbling, grumbling, and stomping his feet, but he got into the car when it was time to go.

The Islamic Center of Fort Collins, completed in 2013.
The Moment 

We arrived late to the vigil -- there were no parking places anywhere near the Islamic Center, and even when we drove blocks away, all we saw were people bundled up and walking toward the Center.

We stood at the back of the crowd and listened to the speeches and sang along to a couple of songs about peace/salaam/shalom. It was dark, and cold, but there was warmth to be found in the crowd.

The Islamic Center of Fort Collins was completed in 2013 and is a large, two-story structure. We stood in the courtyard bathed in the light from the Mosque's curtain-less windows. There was a crowd inside as well, watching a simulcast on large TVs.

The view from above -- what the children saw.

Silhouettes in the second-story windows caught my eye, and I saw a group of children -- young boys and girls of elementary age -- looking down on the crowd. Some of the girls were wearing traditional head coverings, and one or two would occasionally raise a smartphone and take a picture of the crowd, of us.

What did it feel like to them to look down on this gathering of mostly non-Muslims, standing in their courtyard, the place where they probably escaped to play when they were restless or bored or had been dragged to the mosque by their own parents.

If this were our synagogue, those would be my children looking down from the window, looking out. What would I want them to see?

I pulled my son close to my side and pointed up to the window.

"Look. Look at those kids. Imagine how scared they might have felt recently. How they might have wondered what people like us thought about them. How do you think they feel now?"


"If you weren't here," I told him, "this crowd would be just a little smaller. But they can see you. You made a difference."

He threw his arm over my shoulder and gave me a squeeze.

"Yeah," he said. One voice in a chorus.

(Want to know more about Chanukkah? Read here. The main themes are religious freedom, re-dedication of sacred spaces, and celebrating God's (limited) miracle of providing oil for the eternal light in the temple while the people took the required time (8 days) to make more.)


LindaCO said...

I saw this via Rev. Haley from Foothills UU Church sharing it on her Facebook page. Thanks for these good words.

April said...

Yours wasn't the only reluctant teen. :-) Mine also found they were glad they came. We stand. We stand up. We stand up together.