Continuing a practice begun when I left childhood, I did not go to a synagogue yesterday, but I did take the day off from my class. I’ve never been able to resolve my feelings about observing this holiday. I feel that treating it as if it were just another day would be a kind of betrayal. So, as is my custom, I spent most of the day at home and later went to Robin and Steve for a lovely holiday dinner.
I am certainly Jewish. The religion and culture has shaped my life, and the way I think, in hugely important ways, both good and bad. As a child I spent much time at the synagogue learning Hebrew and attending services. Many of my early memories involve time I spent at the synagogue.
The end of the Second World War brought about a rush for consumer products. Many people had more money than they had seen in almost two decades. Rationing ended and consumer product manufacturing was ramped up, people bought personal and household goods they hadn’t seen for many years. Most important, they wanted to show off their wealth. The Jewish holidays were an excuse to buy new suits, new hats (women’s hats were hugely important), flashy jewelry. The services became a time to make sure your friends and neighbors saw your largess; God was an afterthought. As an earnest, impressionable thirteen year old I was appalled. This was the beginning of my abandonment of organized religion.
Many things contributed to my feelings. My father spoke constantly about anti-semitism. My mother kept kosher and observed the dietary laws, and frequently complained about the difficulty of preparing for the holidays, which were never celebrations. All of this made being Jewish more negative than positive. When I began to understand the extent of the Holocaust I was forced to question what kind of a God would permit such slaughter.
Alice, at Wintersong, has a wonderful quote from Epicurus (341–270 B.C.) that captures my feelings about God:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not
omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he
both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor
willing? Then why call him God?
Robin and Steve celebrate Judaism in a wonderful, positive way that I thoroughly enjoy. I remain a Jew and celebrate with them; I will deal with God when, and if, the time comes. Today our celebration will be even more joyous: Eli has returned from Chile.