Writer's Note: My friend Meesh is guest-writing "Unveiled" this week. I hope you find it reflective. —Mona Shadia
My family is from Iran, and we're Jewish.
When my father was a young boy walking to school, children in the neighborhood would yell at him, calling him a "dirty Jew."
My mother tells a story of a childhood friend who ceased to associate with her once she found out my mother was Jewish.
My grandfather has similar stories relating to his position as a colonel in the Iranian army, stories of having to hide his religious identity for years and years.
His greatest fear at times was the fear of being "found out" as a Jew.
Thankfully, I have not had to endure the level of fear my family encountered in Iran. Nevertheless, being part of ethnic and religious minority groups is something that has been a factor in my life since childhood.
I grew up in La Cañada Flintridge, an idyllic suburb of Los Angeles not particularly known for its high concentration of Jews or Iranian Americans. Since then, my life has taken me to many places, some in which I was very much a minority, and some not.
To say that I have never feared being "found out" as my grandfather did would be inaccurate.
When I was much younger and random people wished me a "Merry Christmas," I usually experienced a moment of internal debate: "Should I tell them I'm Jewish and don't celebrate the holiday? Is it even worth it to mention anything?"
This type of experience is certainly not particular to Jews or Iranians, but experienced by a multitude of minority groups within this wonderful American salad bowl we call home. (I have always preferred the "salad bowl" metaphor to the more common "melting pot." )
Thankfully, the trajectory of my life has almost cured me of my fear of being "found out." But there are remnants.
About two months ago, I attended an interfaith event at a mosque, which Mona has previously written about. At the reception following the event, Mona and I began speaking with a charming Palestinian gentleman. At some point during the conversation, the gentleman inquired as to our respective religious backgrounds.
For a split second, I felt a sense of downright apprehension to reveal to him that I was Jewish (in light of "Arab-Israeli-conflict-related anxiety," or "AICRA," for short). This was an ironic emotion, given that I was attending an interfaith gathering that was intended to bridge connections between Muslims and Jews.
On another recent occasion, I was standing in line at Subway. A woman wearing a fun, colorful head cover was standing next to me with her adorable child.
When ordering my sandwich, I asked the guy who was preparing it whether there was any pork in the salami meat.
The woman next to me indicated that she didn't eat pork, either. When I told her that I observe certain Jewish dietary restrictions, the woman replied that her husband did business with a number of Orthodox Jews, and that she sometimes ate at kosher restaurants when she got tired of her usual halal joints. (Many Muslims consider kosher meat similar to halal because it is prepared in a very similar way).
It was a nice moment.
In the past couple of months, pretty terrible things have happened in our country because of the irrational, pernicious fear of people of different backgrounds.
Innocent Americans have been killed in senseless acts of violence merely because of who they were or who they were perceived to be.
We have way more in common with each other than we might think we do.
And, even when we don't, it's still great to encounter other people in this salad bowl with a little faith and an open attitude.
Perhaps the first step to preventing terrible things from happening around here is to eradicate the fear within ourselves.