Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The Jewelry of Jerry Jeudy: the power and significance of Religious symbols

Alabama's Jerry Jeudy caught the attention of many at the 2020 NFL scouting combine. In some ways, this might be surprising. Standing 6'1" tall and weighing 192 lbs., Jeudy is not a physical specimen. Furthermore, this year has a talented group of wide receivers. But folks took notice because Jeudy prominently wore a Star of David on a necklace. 
It's not uncommon for athletes to wear jewelry— symbolizing their religious tradition, or for them to use the platform of sport to talk about it.  As noted on ESPN
Asked about its significance, he explained it was in reference to the first syllable of his surname.
"My last name's Jeudy. People sometimes call me 'Jew,' ... So, I just got a Jewish star," he explained. "I'm not Jewish, though."
The Star of David, known in Hebrew as the shield of David, is a six-pointed star formed of two, often interlaced, equilateral triangles and is a widely recognized symbol of modern Jewish identity and Judaism. 
Listening to this story reminded me of the power of symbol, what do we hold as sacred and how do we personally respect that and ask it of others.
I was once asked to write a blog posting in response to the question: Is it okay to wear a Rosary? For those who don't know the Rosary Latin for rosarium, “rose garden” is a religious exercise in which prayers are recited and counted on a string of beads or a knotted cord. By extension, the beads or cord may also be called a rosary. It is a it is associated with the Catholic faith.  I enjoyed the opportunity to research, reflect upon and answer the question. You can read my full response here, but essential answer is as follows:
Ginny Kibityz Moyer captures an answer quite well. She says, “The rosary isn’t jewelry; it’s a sacramental, which is an object meant to help bring about spiritual effects through the prayer or devotion it inspires. (Sacramentals don’t have any sort of magic power in and of themselves; the positive graces come through the prayers.) Many people argue that if you wear a rosary around your neck, you are treating it more like a fashion accessory than a sacramental and are thus distorting its intended purpose.” 
Ultimately, only the one who wears the Rosary can speak to why he or she is wearing it, but I think it’s important to understand—although a distinction: between jewelry and sacramental, it is an important one. Rosaries are never mere jewelry or “fashion accessories” and yet, I can understand how there might be some confusion and/or need for clarification.
The Rosary is however, not the Cross—the symbol of Christianity. When I encounter a person who wears a cross, I assume that they are a follower of Christ and that their faith is important to them. I say that because Christians are not required to wear a cross; I would would hardly refer to it as a fashion accessory (although Tiffany and Co has had a beautiful one by designer Elsa Peretti that is very popular). I have heard from marketers that the cross is the most widely recognized symbol in the world and yet, to wear one around one's neck, visible and made public is still a statement to me. I do not wear a cross, but I have often thought that I should. I am not ashamed of my faith and it is important to me. I do value wearing religious jewelry and have work a miraculous medal for years. I love when people ask me about it and the opportunity to share its significance.
I work in a Catholic school and am a member of a Catholic parish so my perspective on the world is skewed (meaning, I tend to know a lot of Catholics). I do not see men or women wearing a Star of David often, but when I do, I see them in the way I see a Christian who wears a cross. I assume that their faith is important to them and they are proud of their Jewish identity. 

In the United States, Jews are but 1.9% of the total population (Pew Forum). Undoubtedly this number would be higher were it not for the Holocaust of 6 million Jews in World War II. Moreover, the rise of anti-semitism and hate crimes against Jews, leads me to believe the Star of David carries increased weight and significance as a sacred symbol. To me, it deserves the utmost respect.

It is worth reporting that Jeudy, tweeted an apology.

"Don't mean no disrespect to the Jewish people! I'm sorry to the people who take my chain offensive!!" Jeudy wrote.

Jeudy has put a picture of Aaliyah—his younger sister who died— in a Star of David. When he looks at it, he says, "she's right there." 
I do not write this blog posting an as indictment against Jerry Jeudy. I do however think it serves as a great place for us to discuss: How do we recognize and understand the meaning of symbols, in particular religious one? Do some hold more weight than others? Do we have a (moral) obligation, to understand the meaning of a sacred symbol we decide to wear? And when a symbol we consider sacred is co-opted to speak to one another about it. 

One of my favorite professors at Yad Vashem in Israel once told me, "if you put two Jews in a room, you will have three opinions." I wonder for all those who watch the draft this Thursday, what their opinion on this topic might be whether you are Jewish, Christian and so forth. I personally don't think the Star of David should be used as a "frame" or worn by a person of another faith, but let's talk....please, anything other than COVID-19 for a minute!

Photo Credits
Red Jersey

Star of David

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