Some thoughts and reflections from my own religious exposure in NYC from my childhood, and being a NYC public school student.
When I was growing up in the 1970s in Brooklyn (Canarsie, and then Mill Basin/Flatbush), everyone was either Jewish or Catholic. Then, of course, you were either RELIGIOUS or NOT RELIGIOUS.
Eventually, I met a little girl in the 2nd grade whom I befriended, and she said that she was “Protestant”. So that made for three possible religious choices that I knew of as a kid.
Once we moved from Brooklyn to Staten Island, not much seemed to change. Although one of my Irish-Italian friends explained to me that the difference between Catholics and Christians is that one believes in the Pope, and one does not. I cannot totally recall at that point if anyone I ever met in person ever classified themselves as Muslim. My 6th grade Social Studies teacher told us about Mohammed and a trip from Mecca to Medina. I know that this was on a test. He did also teach us about Hinduism, and the caste system. It’s possible that Buddhism was mentioned, but I cannot recall it at this time.
I remember a student in my class was from Egypt, and later two students in my AP High School classes were from Egypt or the middle east, but it never occurred to me that they might practice a different religion, fast on “Ramadan”, start and end holidays at sundown just like American Jews will, or keep what was similar to the Jewish person’s version of being Kosher.
Back in the 80s, we did not have off for Muslim Holidays, or even JEWISH holidays. Those of us who were Jewish lost days for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, voluntarily, and if you were more religious, also lost the first two days of Passover, if they did not fall on “Spring Break”, as well as other possible High Holidays. I even had a 10th grade Math teacher, whom I was told “used to be a nun” who would assign EXTRA HOMEWORK on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, when this was finally a NYC school holiday, saying “she didn’t understand why the Jews needed days off”. Um, we were FASTING and going to Temple?
So to have the day of Eid al Fitr, the end of the Ramadan fast, as a new day off in the NYC school year, is definitely a progressive step forward. I can also tell you that there is a lot more education in religious cultures in NYC schools. I have been substitute teaching for the first time, and one of the schools where I have a long-term assignment had a homeroom lesson on Ramadan. The English Lit class has been studying various poems and books based on the Holocaust, such as “Often a minute” and “Maus”, the graphic novel, as well as “Night” by Elie Wiesel. It is amazing and wonderful to have Jewish and Muslim culture added to the NYC school curriculum, especially during a time of the uprising of hate groups. We can only hope that by teaching our youth, we will release a wave of empathetic and caring individuals who will respect each other’s cultures, and stand up against hate.
As a Bronx resident, living in a neighborhood where many were out celebrating Eid al Fitr in their beautiful dresses and gowns, ending a month-long daily fast, taking photos, and enjoying the sunshine, may I wish you all EID MURABAK!
Kama Linden is a singer-songwriter with 4 studio albums, the newest being, “Everything In Good Time”, releasing in Summer 2020. She is also an actress, fitness instructor, freelance photographer, and has a fitness book: “Healthy Things You Can Do In Front Of The TV”.