Must pray on Saturday and can not keep the store open, anticipate loss of business; you are Jewish. Pray in school, anticipate objections; you are Muslim. Pray to 330 million gods, anticipate fear and injustice; you are Hindu. The United States of America is a country that welcomes immigrants with open arms to live in and bring their own religions, cultures, and traditions. Over time, as different religions come to America they do the best they can to stay distinct and resist conforming their beliefs and customs to the pressures of American culture.
Sociologist Will Herberg suggested that America was not only a melting pot, but a triple melting pot that represented the faiths of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. 1 The core values shared by these three denominations represent the American ideals. That is one of the only advantages that Judaism has over the other immigrant religions. Otherwise, Jews across America have felt the hardship of not being a part of the Christian nation. It is common to see the Irish out parading on St. Patricks Day, Christians bearing palm branches on Palm Sunday; however a Jew will never be seen parading with a Torah on Simchat Torah or parading on Purim.
There is a level of equality that unfortunately has not yet been reached. There are three different categories within Judaism; Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. Orthodox is the most observant and also has not changed its doctrines since they were instilled. Reform is the least observant and has adapted to the modern world and current way of life. One of the most noticeable differences is in the Sabbath, which is heavily observed by Orthodox and moderately observed by Conservative and Reform Jews.
The Sabbath is celebrated starting at sundown Friday evening continuing until sundown on Saturday evening, while Christians celebrate only on Sunday. This causes problems when Jewish people live in communities where the majority is Christian and they do not understand the need to observe on a Saturday. If Jews own businesses, this may hurt their profits, as sales are normally heavy on Saturdays. A fear of many Jewish immigrants is that when they move to America they will lose complete faith and their Judaic roots. 3 However, not all change constitutes a loss of faith and some change promotes the greater good of all mankind.
One thing that some orthodox Jews are learning is the equality of women. In orthodox synagogues, women sit separately from men and are not considered equal in many aspects of daily life. 4 American life allows women to hold positions of power and changed the way they are perceived. One great distinction between Jewish and American lifestyles is the dietary restrictions that Jews live by. Kashrut is the term for the body of dietary law. The numerous rules outline exactly how a Jew should prepare their food, what food they can and cannot eat, and what to eat on certain occasions.
It is difficult for Jews to keep kosher in America because they have to go out of their way and shop only in kosher marts and shops. Also, dining out or eating in someone elses home is almost impossible. Mainly just the orthodox Jews are strict to most of the laws, conservative and reform Jews just try to keep the basic laws. 5 In Israel, most of the food that is available is kosher and it is much easier to follow the kashrut. There are few hardships that one has to accept knowing that they are leaving their homeland to move to a foreign nation where there rituals and traditions are not commonly carried out.
Every minority community faces a variety of challenges living in America. The American way of life is secular, and religious belief or disbelief is held to be a private matter versus a public one. Muslims face challenges that are associated with the character of Islam. The Islamic faith and its practices involve special obligations and responsibilities that shape the way Muslims as individuals and groups respond to the conditions of American society. 6 Since Islam is not just a religion, but a way of life, it is difficult to live in a society where the main religion is not Islam.
In an Islamic country, everyone dresses the same and observes all of the same practices. Americans are not educated in the teachings of Islam and may not be sympathetic to some of the demands of the faith. To pray five times a day and fast for a month out of the year can be seen as non-productive and threatening. The obligation of salat (five daily prayers), is an issue in school and in the work place. As a religion, Islam will not conform and dismiss the necessity for these prayers because they are not a part of American life. Another part of a Muslims life is their dress, specifically that of a woman.
A Muslim woman is required to cover her hair in an effort to avoid attracting men and seeming flirtatious. This necessary article of clothing has been the cause of much controversy. In many public schools around the nation Muslim girls are being ridiculed and harassed because of the way their religion asks them to dress. One girl chose to not wear her hejab (piece that covers the hair) in public as to not draw undesired attention to herself. 7 These subtle conformities show that in time Islam will reshape more and more to fit in with American society.
Hindus comprise almost fourteen percent of the worlds religion, yet they are minorities in the United States. The foreign beliefs of this religion cause them to feel alienated by American society where so much revolves around the Judeo-Christian belief in one god. Hindus mainly practice their faith in peoples homes. A group called the Organization of Hindu Malayalees (OHM) was formed in 1991 to give Hindu immigrants a means for meeting people of their faith and observing together. To be able to fit in but yet still be able to maintain ones cultural and personal integrity is the challenge every immigrant faces.
Hindu men and women have special outfits that are distinctly Hindu that they wear on certain occasions. The trouble is that the Hindus that are born in America feel embarrassed to be seen with their parents when they are wearing this traditional dress. A major concern of many Hindu parents is their childrens future marriage partners. They feel that moving to America will lead their children to marry outside the faith and abandon their religion. Many Indians came to America in search of job opportunities in hope that they will eventually bring their good fortunes with them back home.
The stay in America seems to be more permanent and Hindus need to start establishing more concrete methods of practicing their religious beliefs. Not all immigrants that come to the United States have been of non-Christian religions. Christian immigrants from all over have been reshaping the way they practice their religion to conform to American culture and norms. There are several churches across America that are specific to certain ethnicities such as German, Italian, Mexican, etc. Germans converted their public meetings into English.
These groups observed their different ways of practicing within their own churches and communities. In the Italian community of East Harlem, they have managed to keep with their native traditions in celebrating their festa. 9 As a Mexican family moves to America they must get accustomed to prayer in English and being surrounded by white Irish priests. The way Catholicism is practiced in Mexico and most Hispanic nations is stricter and less secular than the United States. 10 The common theme between all the immigrant minorities is that they will lose their sense of ethnicity when they come to America.
However, there is a fine line between losing faith and religion and losing traditions, values, and the culture of ones people. It is acceptable to adopt American ways to demonstrate loyalty to the country without sacrificing ones own identity. There are many processes whereby a minority group gradually adopts the customs and attitudes of the prevailing culture. Immigrant religions struggle between keeping their roots and adjusting to American culture. As these immigrants conform to American society, America also conforms around them to form a universal identity unique to the nation of America.