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.
I am not into organized religion either, and growing up in the South was very hard, since my father was a lapsed Catholic, and my mother a lapsed Baptist. But I have learned that it doesn’t matter a hill of beans how other religious people act in accordance to their faith. Just because a lot of idiots out there bastardize religion, doesn’t meant that the message is at fault. It just means that there are a lot of unthinking assholes that we all have to learn to navigate around. There are a lot of people that think they are good cooks. If I don’t agree, I just don’t have to eat the food they prepare. Doesn’t mean all food is bad.
Great post Ruthe…
Happy New Year! I found your comments very insightful. I’m with you on organized religions, but they must fill a deep need in many. You were more “entrenched” in your religion than I was as a Missouri Synod Lutheran, but their rigidness messed me up for years….until I became more involved with trying to match the colors of the stained glass windows with the garments of those seated in the pews and totally ignored the sermons of my unworthiness.
Wow! I’m not the only one with doubt! That’s very reassuring! I think, Ruthe, you and I may be at the threshold of saying what we really want to say in this lifetime. I’m glad you liked my Epicurus quotation.
Interestingly, the Ethiopian millennium occurred right before the Jewish new year this week. Funny how every culture has its own celebrations/calendars. All seem “fake” to me, in the sense of being man-made and deriving from pagan/nature festivals of yore – that makes it difficult to ascribe a deep religious meaning to them. Doesn’t render them meaningless, necessarily – I was more than happy to eat Ethiopian food with my friends this week – but I take them all with a giant grain of salt.