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I (unwillingly) went to Ash Wednesday Eucharist today

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Christian Holiday, Lent, traditionally known as the holiday where one gives something up (like chocolate), and also marks forty days before Easter. Ash Wednesday follows the holiday Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday. At school, we commemorate Ash Wednesday with a Eucharist.

Being that I, a Jewish teenager, go to an all-girls Christian school, I have gone to four Eucharists a year since seventh grade, but for some reason, this one was different. By the way, a Eucharist is a Christian tradition to remember the Last Supper. One consumes bread which represents Jesus’s body and drinks wine to represent his blood. Anyway, our school hasn’t hosted a Eucharist since Ash Wednesday before COVID-19 in 2020 (this was freshmen year for me).

Now that I am a junior, I had new feelings about having to attend this ceremony. Quite simply, I had no interest in going. Besides the fact that I felt uncomfortable during these four times a year Eucharists, I really just felt out of place. I talked to my guidance counselor who agreed with me. She checked with the head of upper school who decided that this is a community event that I, and other non-Christians, must not miss (side note: when my parents toured the school, they were told that these four days did not have a required chapel attendance). Yes, I go to a Christian school, but I am really unsure of how this qualifies as a “community event.”

Instead of causing a scene about not wanting to attend, I decided to just put my head down and go to this ceremony. A few minutes before heading to the chapel, I, along with two other students, went to the director of diversity and inclusion. She told us that she had asked yesterday about us being allowed to miss the Eucharist. She was told that we did not give the administration enough of a heads-up. I am not really sure how she received that answer since I asked approximately a month ago. Reluctantly, I headed to the church.

One of the opening excerpts read during the ceremony was from the Gospel of Matthew, which according to my research is widely read on Ash Wednesday. A quote from this verse reads, “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others.” As a Jew sitting in the pew, I immediately felt a connection. Trumpets aka shofars? Synagogues? This felt extremely strange to me. I did some research afterwards but could not find any concrete evidence for this correlation. That being said, I unwillingly had to attend this service where I not only felt out of place, but also targeted.

One difference between an Ash Wednesday Eucharist versus the other ones throughout the year is receiving a cross made of ashes drawn on your forehead. Not going to lie, this tradition made me highly uncomfortable (disclaimer: this is not meant to stomp on another religion’s traditions). As I remained seated and watched my classmates returning to their seats smiling with big crosses on their foreheads (which remained for the rest of the day) it just felt inappropriate for me to be witnessing the ceremony.

The first Eucharist I attended, in seventh grade, was a cultural learning opportunity. By now, some ten Eucharists later, I have learned the culture and am ready to stop being forcefully immersed in it.

I mean really, imagine if the quote was reversed and said, ‘as the hypocrites do in the churches.’ It’s about time that we grow up and stop deliberately putting other people and religious groups down because they are different, Jewish prayer included. I felt slighted as a Jew, a feeling of antisemitism. In today’s case, the antisemitism wasn’t deliberate, but perhaps when the verse was initially composed, it was meant to blatantly target Jews. Perhaps it is time to concentrate on loving our neighbors, instead of accusing one another of hypocrisy and perpetuating hate.

About the Author
Lea Thomas is a high school student in Memphis, Tennessee.
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