Sunday, November 28, 2021

Seeking the common denominator – a seasonal call to thinking big


[Holiday dinner*]

As a society and as individuals, we tend to seek to identify differences. Politicians carve out constituencies by statistically defining groups. Reports in the traditional media are explicitly about the unusual, not the banal. The masses of parents preparing a sandwich for their children’s lunch before they go to school is not of public interest but an especially shocking tale, however rare, of child abuse is news worthy. Social media certainly is quite often a dividing force. Personally, as a translator and teacher, I have been taught and directed to identify non-similarities and explain them. Thus, the dominating tendency is to create us as compared to them images.

However, this week, I accidently experienced a welcome call to reality. I teach general English to translator two groups of first-year engineering students at the Braude School of Engineering in Karmiel, Israel, which is located in the Galilee, a multiethnic area. The backgrounds of my students include religious and non-religious Jews, Christians, Muslims and Druze. (This year, I have no Ethiopian or Circassian students.) As part of the process to accustom them to public speaking, I asked them to stand in front of the class and tell the other students about their favorite holiday moments. To my wonder and joy, each and every one of them, all 57, spoke about getting together with family and friends, eating special meals and enjoying the feeling of belonging. The occasions differed, from Ramadan and Ziyarat al-Nabi Shu'ayb to Sukkot and New Year’s Eve, each according to his/her customs. However, the actual religious or calendar event was ultimately irrelevant. All the students valued the feeling of food, togetherness and love.

This wave of common joy led me to think about Thanksgiving. I do not enjoy holidays as a rule. Somehow, the expectation that I am supposed to be happy depresses me. Thanksgiving is the exception. It is a holiday of too much food, bad football, and spending time with family. It has been some 30+ years since I actually celebrated it because I live in Israel and am married to an Israeli. Yet, I still have positive memories. My feelings are exactly the same as those expressed by my students.

Living in a diverse community and having witnessed how easy it is set off conflict among groups, I now see how important it is for everybody to teach and encourage the recognition of common humanity. Instead of emphasizing religion or color and creating tribe mentality, as in the Middle East and many other parts of the world, each of us in our various capacities, including parent, educator, marketer and even translator, should recall and transmit how much people have in common. The easiest way is to seek and recognize the universal reasons why people behave the way to do instead of attributing behavior to a unique, often negative, factor. To do so is to oppose the tribalization of society. Granted, the influence of any individual in the face of organized and unorganized groups is very small. However, as small as neutrinos are, quite small I assure you, when grouped they carry a large mass.

So, during this season, so important to so many religions, maybe because of the winter solstice, the best way to celebrate is marvel how people worldwide are so similar despite all the differences in culture, religion, language and other background elements. It probably won’t prevent another war in the Middle East or anywhere else for that matter at least in the near future. However, the insistence on seeking the common denominators among us can only benefit people and society if only in that creates hope for a solution. I wish everybody many happy holidays celebrated by eating too much with too much family.

* The blind need captions to fully access the Internet.

 Photo by Sebastian Coman Photography on Unsplash


  1. I was attracted to this post (in the Anglo Support Network FB group) because of the title, but I have to say that I am not surprised by your observation, that people love to be with friends and family (I hope I did not miss anything).

    As an oleh chadash, I am noticing differences between a number of groups of olim here (in Netanya, as an example), and my thoughts go to how to best cultivate a feeling of "oneness" amongst olim (focusing on olim for the moment). ie. to try to counter the tendency for people to stay within their groups and not interact with others.

  2. It may seem obvious but most people, including myself, often forget how much we have in common. As for immigrants, they also tend to be tribal, unfortunately. I am lucky enough to be part of many tribes. I wish you success in your new country. I have lived here for 30 years and have never looked back.