My story is pretty normal, I guess.
I grew up in a Reform Jewish community in Buffalo, New York. I had two Jewish parents and we observed holidays like Hanukkah, Passover, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We often lit candles at home on Friday night. At age thirteen I had a bar mitzvah and at sixteen I was confirmed.
But it’s probably fair to say that, from the beginning, I had some pretty unusual ideas about God.
On Rosh Hashanah after my bar mitzvah I chanted the Torah portion Akeidah Yitzchok. My interpretation of the story was one in which the God who asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, and the angel who stopped him from doing so, were really two sides of Abraham’s own personality.
In eighth grade, I wrote a paper for science class about the connection between seasonal events and religious holidays. I noted that some aspects of Jewish ritual suggested that the Jews had been nature-worshipers at one time in their history.
And once in tenth grade Confirmation Class, without really meaning to, I asked our rabbi a pretty pointed question: “Was the Torah and the rest of Jewish tradition essentially just a ‘common myth’ for the Jewish people?”
In college I rarely attended worship services. But then, in my second year of undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan, I was introduced to a radical new way of thinking about Judaism.
Our leader made a bold assertion in his Yom Kippur sermon that year. Judaism, he said, is not really a religion. Judaism is history, language, foods, jokes, stories, and other cultural trappings. But being devout in the traditional sense is not an important part of being a Jew. He illustrated his point with a joke: “If that were true, then the only thing an atheist Jew in New York and an atheist Jew in Moscow would have in common, is that they both don’t practice the same religion.”
As far as I’m concerned, there’s room at the table for all kinds of people, and all kinds of Jews, who may or may not believe in God. But wherever we fall in the spectrum of the various religious and philosophical traditions available to us today, I think we all have a responsibility to learn the right lessons from our respective traditions.
Among these I would include:
We have a responsibility to one another as fellow human beings.
We have much more in common than we may want to think.
We all have something positive to contribute.
We are all in this together.
So welcome to my blog. I look forward to learning, arguing, and growing with you over the years to come.
Whoever you are.