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July 16th, 2010
03:47 PM ET

Religious minorities: Is the disadvantage the advantage?

Editor's note: CNN's Talya Minsberg files this report about what life is like for some religious minorities in the United States:

Imagine having an exam or mandatory meeting on a holiday with the religious importance of Christmas.

It’s a regular occurrence for religious minorities in the United States.

Many college students will head back to school after Labor Day, September 7. And for Jewish and Muslim American students, a dilemma awaits. This year, the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, begins at sundown the very next day, September 8. And September 9 is Eid al Fitr, an Islamic holiday marking the end of the month of Ramadan. Both holidays are celebrated with festive meals and special services.

Before the fall semester at many universities even begins, some professors will hear from students, “I know it’s not ideal, but I will not be here during the first week of classes,” while some families will get the dreaded, “Sorry, I can’t come home for the holidays.”

In many ways, religious minorities get the short end of the stick.

Having her high school's homecoming on Yom Kippur was not a shocker to Emma Peck-Block, whose family was one of the few Jewish ones in the small town of Menomonie, Wisconsin.

Like many minorities, Peck-Block went to what many minorities call the “Christmas argument.”

“We caused a stir and asked, ‘If it was a basketball game on Christmas, would you change it?’ and they said, ‘Of course,’” Peck-Block said.

“So why wouldn’t they change homecoming? They held homecoming on Yom Kippur and I didn’t go.”

Many argue that the disadvantage is the advantage. As a religious minority, you must really work for your religion and think about your decisions. You must be prepared to miss work, school and social events. And in the end, you must be willing to stand out in some circumstances.

“You can have a good life as a minority in the States as long as your know who you are, how confident you are with yourself,” said Rabbi Saul "Simcha" Prombaum, who leads the small Jewish community in LaCrosse, Wisconsin.

“A small-town Jew may not have much [Jewish] education but may have a stronger identity because you constantly have to talk about your religion,” he said.

The small size of a community also binds members, said Huda Bashir, a Muslim college student from Moorhead, Minnesota. “I have Christian friends that visit tons of churches near campus before deciding where they feel comfortable. But there is only one mosque on campus, so I have an immediate community.”

Being part of those small communities sometimes brings the responsibility of being a spokesperson, but neither Bashir nor Peck-Block seem to mind.

“It was exciting to be different,” Peck-Block said. “I’d bring my dad in to talk to my class. … My friends were eager to learn and try things like potato latkes [pancakes] that I would bring in for Chanukah.”

Bashir welcomes the curiosity.

“I’m totally fine with questions," she said. "It's worse when people make offensive comments without any knowledge.”

“If you are identifiable and knowledgeable, you become a resource for people who never have met anyone in your religious group,” Prombaum said. “In some cases, it will be you versus the stereotype of your minority group. It’s an interesting position.”

So as college starts this fall and Bashir and Peck-Block make holiday plans, Prombaum has some advice.

“You’re better off finding a way to accommodate yourself rather than force acceptance when you live as a minority in a majority culture," he said. "Instead of forcing the majority to bend, it’s better for you to enlighten the population.”

Do you agree? What do you believe are the advantages of being a religious minority, if there are any? Should minorities force the majority to bend or do you agree with Rabbi Prombaum?

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Education • Islam • Judaism • Religious liberty • Traditions • United States

soundoff (99 Responses)
  1. DenverGrl

    I'm Jewish, and I know that if I want to celebrate Rosh Hashanah beginning on Wednesday evening, that I have to take that time off as vacation. I have one floating holiday that I can use, and Christmas is a mandatory holiday at my company, since there are no customers, hence no work on that day. That's just part of choosing to be observant. I'm OK with it. The majority of America celebrates Christian holidays whether they are Christian or not. That's just the way it is. If Christians lived in Israel, then they would have the same issue with their holidays.

    September 7, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
  2. The Word

    Yoism.org is something that any reader should give a try.

    I don't believe in god, i simply believe in yo.

    August 1, 2010 at 5:04 am |
  3. The Word

    come on guys we all know what religion we really are, yoism.org

    August 1, 2010 at 4:18 am |
    • peace2all

      @The Word

      Can you please elaborate...... I would like to hear what you have to say about this...

      Peace.....

      August 1, 2010 at 4:28 am |
  4. Gary

    David Johnson you make the most sense. You point out correctly how religion is nothing more than a man made culture.

    July 21, 2010 at 10:53 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.