I spend Monday evenings sitting around a table in the dining hall at the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale with Christians, Jews and a stack of Bibles. Jewish Christian Bible Study, a space always filled with laughter and earnest banter, is a sweet time of holy envy for me.
Holy envy, a concept introduced by theologian Krister Stendahl, is admiring elements of other religious traditions, even wishing they held greater weight within your own. For me, these moments of holy envy are not a desire to convert to Judaism, nor to generalize it. Instead, they are beautiful glimpses into a different framework of loving and serving God. My holy envy is for the rhythms of rest built into a Jewish week. It is for their commitment to sunrise minyan, to observing holy days despite an academic calendar unconcerned with their ritual responsibility. My holy envy is for the value placed on investing in doubt, for the pursuit of answers as secondary to the asking of questions. For their generous welcome — both my church and my parents’ church rent from synagogues. At Yale, I have been welcomed into Jewish spaces at both Chabad and at Slifka, to Saturday Shabbat meals at rabbis’ homes. Even when I was a stranger, they invited me in.
Last Monday, two days after the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue and the night after Yale’s vigil, I offered on behalf of the Christians in our Bible Study to take the week off. The suggestion was kindly declined. My Jewish friend told me it was a time to be doing more learning, rather than less (cue holy envy). Once again, they invited us in to sit together.
If I’m honest, I was afraid to go to Bible study that day, afraid to sit in the wake of such tragedy. Sure, I had posted on Facebook, sent texts and emails. I had prayed, passed out candles at the vigil and emailed my pastors to suggest that we address the shooting as a congregation. I had called my community to stand together in solidarity. But sitting together was harder. To sit around a dining hall table, to say aloud the words, “We’re so sorry,” to recognize the horror of what had happened in Pittsburgh, to acknowledge the ways our religious heritage has enacted terrible violence against theirs, to invite correction — that required something deeper, more exacting.
When we march at rallies, we symbolize momentum and action. When we stand at protests, we evoke strength and steadfastness. But when we sit, we reveal something perhaps equally true, equally sacred: our insufficiency. Sitting is softer. Sitting involves stillness, but also shifting, straightening, adjusting. Our ancestors probably didn’t sit much; it is a vulnerable position. But we build relationships when we sit with one another. Around dining hall tables, on common room futons or courtyard benches, we sit to get to know someone or simply be with them. Standing may be the action we use to describe solidarity, but sitting has its own cadence through which we shift from thinking in the third-person “them” to the first- and second-person: “I” and “you.”
At Yale, grand displays of standing in power, strength and allyship are ubiquitous. This is a good thing — there’s certainly nothing wrong with an impassioned Facebook post, and the importance of rallies, protests and walkouts can’t be overstated. Standing is essential, as are action and advocacy. But the challenge is this: do we leave time to sit with the people we stand for?
We leave barely any time in our schedules to sit and catch our breath by ourselves, much less to sit with others. We evaluate our worth based on our productivity — sitting can feel like a waste of time. “Don’t just sit there, do something!” is the drill-sergeant voice I hear when the latest crisis strikes. That is true — we shouldn’t just sit there. But try flipping the script: “Don’t just do something, sit there!” There is something uncomfortable, yet crucial, about the reversal. Yes, our solidarity is incomplete without taking a stand. But it is also incomplete without taking a seat — to listen, to offer insufficient words, to simply be with friends in confusion and sadness. It is when I sit with Jewish communities that I can hear their stories more clearly, understand how indebted I am to their tradition and better resist anti-Semitism.
My home church meets in a synagogue whose namesake “Etz Chayim” means “tree of life” in Hebrew. The synagogue often holds shiva, a Jewish practice of sitting with those in mourning after a tragedy, in the very same beit knesset where they welcome us to sit and learn in our own religious tradition. Coming from a culture that often conceals the grieving process, this amazes me. Jewish communities are set up to stand with their community and also to sit with them. That is something for which I can be wholly envious.
Yalies tend more towards standing than sitting. We’re fixers. We might even see sitting as submissive. But I wonder what it would look like for us to see strength in the vulnerability of sitting with one another. When I sit around a table with Christians, Jews and a stack of Bibles, it is a small but meaningful practice in seeing the image of God in one another. Around that table and across campus, I believe we are called to show up for each other — not as theoretical partners in pursuing peace and justice, but as real friends and neighbors; standing for one another, but never forgetting to sit with each other.
Lauren Chan is a sophomore in Hopper College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .