Friday, July 29, 2011

From the Intern Files: "Looking for Answers: The Questions I Roll With"

by Project Interfaith Intern, Mike Siref

A lot of people have questions as children about how the world works. I am no different. When I was very young, I wondered what made me different? Why didn't my legs work like most other kids? Was I strange? I stopped asking those questions when I met a unique little girl who needed crutches to get around because her legs didn't work either. That wasn't the only reason she stood out to me. Her parents ran an adoption agency. She was white. Her sisters were African-American and Vietnamese. Like this young lady, I was adopted at a tender age, and also grew up in a diverse household.

My diversity came from religion. My adoptive father is Jewish and my mother is Catholic with a side of Cajun for good measure. I heard my situation explained best in middle school. “Hello, my name is Mike, and I am a Spicy Cashew!” I wouldn't trade this for anything.

Despite being part of The Hippie Generation, and a bit of a wanderer, my father has always had a strong connection to his Jewish faith. Evidence of his religious dedication surfaced in 1967, when he was presented with the unique opportunity to serve in The Israeli Army during The Six Day War. He lived in a kibbutz, and served as a cook for a handful of fellow soldiers. It wasn't until much later that I grasped the significance of some of the stories he has shared with me.

Although Catholic, my mother's upbringing wasn't based in rituals of faith, but rather family and cultural tradition. My grandmother was a very loud, opinionated, first-generation, French immigrant. She wanted things done a certain way, and had no problem being a disciplinarian if her orders weren't followed. Either that, or she'd let the parochial school system handle the discipline. My Grandfather was a Southern Gentleman, who spent 20 years serving in The United States Air Force. After retirement, he served the crazy Cajuns by working for the State of Louisiana. He is still the example to follow in my mother's family.

Coming from such varying backgrounds, my parents never forced either of their religions on me. As a young boy, I was fascinated by the history and trials of those in The Jewish Faith. I was enthralled on a yearly basis with the story behind and the significance of Passover. I also learned about the miracle of Chanukah throughout the years. I could recite several Jewish prayers while helping light the menorah. Despite that level of immersion, I have not gone through a Bar Mitzvah.

My dad also understands the camaraderie and symbolism behind Christmas. Every year, we would climb into the family vehicle in mid to late December to bring home a real Christmas tree in the range of six to seven feet tall. We would decorate it while watching Jimmy Stewart. However, the Christmas tree never went solo when I was a child. We also had a shorter tree wrapped in white lights. This was our Chanukah Bush.

Throughout much of my scholastic career, this unique environment sometimes made me feel like the residential Jewish expert. Although I took pride in this unofficial position, I often wondered why more kids weren't in a similar position? Why other families didn't look like mine? Why religion was and still is such a barrier in terms of curiosity and respect among people around the world? Despite the clouds of age and personal experience, I am still making an effort to answer these questions. I realize I should never stop asking them.

The internal Q&A sessions we have with ourselves as children change with age. As an adult, I have no problem thinking about the tough questions. In fact, I rather enjoy pondering them. Seriously. I have a chance to let my mind wander on religious paths while rolling toward a concrete goal of togetherness. Something like a spiritual Woodstock. Bring it on. Let's have some fun dealing with tough questions!

Mike Siref graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha (before they dropped football). He earned A Bacheor's Degree in Psychology as well as some very unique friends that still walk with him today. He offers previous nonprofit experience to the team at Project Interfaith (MMI Americorps at The University of Nebraska Medical Center). Other cultures and religions fascinate Mike, who makes an effort to connect with people around him. Sports and good music are Mike's escapes. The Green Bay Packers, Chicago Cubs and college football pull Mike through the calender. "Everyone from Johnny Cash to Micheal Jackson is welcome on my stereo."

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