Monday, October 17, 2005

Interfaith Dialogue in Home Depot (Erev Sukkot)

Tonight begins the festival of Sukkot, during which many Jews spend as much time as possible (mainly meals) in a sukkah, a small wooden hut that they build in their yard. Not that I want to promote stereotypes, but Sukkot is one of the few times a year that I use powertools. In fact all of my serious tools have been purchases related to building our sukkah. So yesterday, it was natural that I made a short trip to our local Home Depot for a couple of sukkot related purchases: some dowels for a sukkah banner, a new light buld for our deck to provide light for the sukkah and screening material so that someone in the kitchen can hear someone in the sukkah.

I secured the bulb and dowels easily without any help from the staff. The screen had me a little lost. The first person I turn to is happy to walk me to the screen area to find the screen guy. Surely he noticed by light grey leather kippah with two shiny silver clips keeping it one my head. And the knit purple and white kippah with pink clips on my daughter's head. As we are walking, he quietly says to me, "It's nice to see a person of faith in the store."

In my head, all kinds of alarms go off, possible responses, the myriad ways that my faith and his differ on so many points. And I nod my head and say, "Thank you." Not worth getting into any deeper discussion than that. This is after all Home Depot, not an interfaith dialogue. But how interesting this man's view of his work life might be. Does it seem to him that so much of the world is secular? Do his customers seem particularly profane? Do few overtly devout people fix up their homes with help from Home Depot. I'm not sure, but I am sure that the kippot were the big give away. The comforting thing is that the remark was positive in that we both share a strong connection to our respective religion. Maybe we could have had a dialog on some religious values that we both hold dear.

So he walks me to the screen guy, who shows me (to my chagrin) how to fix the screen with some screen materials and a nifty new tools called a spliner or something like that. As we are walking away together, my fix-it materials in hand, he asks me (again the kippah must be the tip off), "I see you are wearing one of those things on your head. I have seen a lot of people wearing those today. Why today?"

After my short explanation about sukkot, its agricultural and historical significance, I explain that one of the main things on Sukkot is to build a "sukkah." The thing that I realized is that he had seen several people yesterday purchasing various supplies for a mysterious light building project, but had not gone up to them to ask. Maybe I was the guy with the thing on his head that was the tipping point for his curiosity. Part of me thinks that it may be that I was the most "normal" looking person with the thing on his head. Some of the other people he saw no doubt were from our local Lubavitch/Orthodox community. Maybe he found them a tad intimidating. Maybe I was the only one that was looking for some screen material.

But it just goes to show you: wearing that thing, that kippah on my head brings people to talk to me about myself, Judaism, to share with me matters of faith, even if just to share that we each have a strong connection to one. And since Sukkot is a festival with universalist themes, it is appropriate that preparing for it made the world a little smaller and a little closer together.


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