There are so many things in the world that I do not know--especially about the customs and traditions of groups I do not belong to. When I have attended church services--for example, a wedding, funeral, christening, or so on of someone I know--I have felt some discomfort at my ignorance: not knowing the words to the songs, not knowing how to participate in various traditions, not wanting to do something wrong and/or offend. Let's face it. With religion, and with differences, there are so many ways to go wrong. So my general approach has been to keep a very low profile and fade into the woodwork.
Because being Jewish is so familiar to me, I am often surprised to discover what other people don't know about it. Once, years ago, at a gathering at my daughter's preschool, approaching the winter holidays, the children were singing the Christmas songs and then the few requisite Chanukah songs. When they got to the dreidel song and the chorus ("Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made it out of clay"), a woman leaned over to me and asked, "Are they saying, 'bagel, bagel, bagel'?" I guess bagel was the Jewish word she was most familiar with. Of course, her ignorance was not her fault, and I don't mean to make fun of her. She took a risk to ask, and I am sure that I have shown comparable ignorance in comparable situations (e.g., those church visits). By taking the risk, however, she at least had the chance to learn something.
When I was thinking of this post, I had it in mind to tell a different story about Chanukah, but I think I will save that for next week. And here I will raise my glass to that woman who had the courage to ask the question.