I received a beautiful handmade cross at work from a client’s father in appreciation for the time I spent caring for his daughter. I thanked the father profusely and said I’d hang it up in my office. They’ll never visit, so they won’t see that it’s not there, but I’m not sure what I should do with it. In some ways, it means a lot to me, even though it’s a symbol for another religion. In other ways, though, I’m very uncomfortable even keeping it in a drawer.
When I was a teacher, one of my students gave me a clock with an iconic religious image of Mary in the background. I thanked the family, of course, but in private, I laughed, I cringed and I eventually gave it away to a friend of a friend who enjoyed it for ironic rather than religious reasons. I received a lot of candles and soaps and chocolates as classroom gifts that are indistinguishable in my memory, but when I think about my time as a teacher, I always think about this clock.
Encountering the strength of other people’s religious beliefs in any context can be startling, and since Judaism typically shies away from outward religious expressions to people who aren’t Jewish, receiving such a gift yourself, especially at work, can trigger a lot of powerful — and confusing — feelings. Clearly, you meant something to this family, and knowing that someone put in hours of time to create this for you must be both gratifying and overwhelming.
Since you had no intention of hanging it up, I’m not sure you needed to say that you would, although in the heat of the moment, you may have been understandably caught off guard. Should such a thing ever happen again, saying, “I’ll cherish this,” or, “I will always remember you and this thoughtful gift,” would probably be better. I hope you’ve sent a handwritten note of thanks as well, but if you haven’t already, it’s not too late, and such a gesture would be appropriate on your part.
As for what to do with it, a drawer actually sounds like a great option. If you don’t want to see it, wrap it up in something and put it in the bottom of a cabinet you never use. If you ever end up sharing an office with someone who is Christian, it may feel right to ask that person to hang it up for you, but maybe not.
Giving away such a precious handmade object doesn’t seem right, and if the family were to ever find out, that would border on unforgiveable. I don’t usually advocate for keeping things you don’t want or going to great lengths to protect a half-truth, but in this case, tucking it away out of sight really does seem best. While it will never be a symbol to you of your religious beliefs, you can, honestly, cherish it as a symbol of your good work and the impact you made on someone else.