At the beginning of each Torah service at the synagogue of Beth Yeshua Hamashiach, a ram’s horn is blown. In the days of the ancient kings, the horn, or shofer in the traditional Hebrew, was blown to call the people of Israel to worship and to war. At Beth Yeshua, it is blown to commence the gatherings of a group of people in search of the ultimate peace—religious understanding.
History teacher Michael McGuckin can be found in this gathering every Saturday morning during the Jewish Sabbath. He also keeps other Jewish traditions: studying the Torah, reciting the Sh’ma prayer every morning, wearing the traditional kippah skullcap and the tallit prayer shawl during prayers. But McGuckin was not born to this; he did not always follow Judaism.
“I grew up Christian,” the history teacher said. “Attending church, learning Bible stories, but finding that Christianity did not satisfy me.”
As a result of his academic approach to religion, McGuckin decided to try exploring Judaism.
“I find following things back to their source are interesting. If I am to follow Yeshua [Jesus] I need to know who he was…He calls us back to worship as he worshipped. Therefore I feel obligated to find out how he worshipped.”
McGuckin is only one of many who are exploring religions they were not born to. And at a place such as Kerr with a diverse mix of religious groups, such sampling is common.
“I like to try new things,” senior Marie T. said. During her junior year, she went to a celebration of Holi, the Hindu Festival of Colors, with her friend Aarohi P.
“Overall it was very liberating,” she said. “I just got to release so much stress.”
Despite not being familiar with Hindu tradition, Marie says she did not feel unwelcome.
“I think they’re very accepting people,” she said. “Yeah, at first it’s awkward that there are no other African-American people. But that’s just something you need to get used to.”
Another group that welcomes outsiders is the Muslim Student Association, which meets every Friday afternoon and encourages members to bring friends. This was how senior Collins M. started attending meetings.
“I had a friend, a really cool friend…and he invited me to come and I liked it,” he said. “I actually don’t believe in that religion but I do like to see other cultures and experience them.”
In some cases, exploration of religions can lead to conversion. Spanish teacher Eileen Caetta is one such case.
“I guess I first got interested [in Islam] back when I was married to my second husband because he was from Palestine and he was Muslim,” she said. “I got to learn more about it.”
Raised a Catholic, Caetta converted to Islam last spring. She cites the ability of Islam to answer her questions as one of the reasons she was drawn to it.
“I know as a Catholic, when you asked questions they would just say, ‘Oh, it’s the mystery of the Catholic Church,’” she said. “While with Islam there was a logical reason for whatever the question was about. Also there are a lot of things in the Quran that they’ve recently found out are scientifically true, but they’ve been in there for hundreds of years, long before any human being could have known it was true. In fact some of the scientists converted after finding that out.”
In other cases, family obligations and beliefs can limit exploration. For five years, sophomore Nhu P. attended the Vietnamese language school at St. Justin’s Martyr Parish, but she never participated in the church ceremonies.
“My family [members] are devout Buddhists, so it would be kind of weird,” she said. However, Nhu allows that she would like to try participating in a service, given the time and chance.
McGuckin, who worships at Beth Yeshua with his family and a community of others “on the same kind of journey,” expresses no regrets about his choice.
“It’s been a journey,” he said. “I like journeys. What I do is I ask questions. I ask lots of questions. I ask lots of questions. I’m not satisfied with simple or easy answers.”
Marie shares that interest.
“I think at this point of time we’re trying to find out who we are,” she said, “and sometimes we can’t find what we’re looking for in the religion we’re born into. So we go and explore other religions to see if these fit our styles and our personalities.”