Sunday, September 24, 2006
The nature of being Jewish
Shlemazl and I have been emailing back and forth about the nature of what it means to be a Jew. He posted some of the emails on his site - you can see it right here. But, ultimately, there are some hard questions that I do not have the answer to, and I was hoping all you Culture for All readers would send in your imput about this... I grew up in a very secular Jewish home. My parents never kept the Sabbath, and from the age of 7 onwards, I was an avowed atheist. I remember sitting in the car with my dad, and he asked me, "Red Tulips, do you believe in God?" Being asked that question was something new to me. I never really thought of questioning the existence of God prior to this. So I said "Sure, yeah, I guess so!" And then my dad replied "Well, I wanted to know, because I don't." Those words had a seminal impact upon my life, and I started to question the existence of God. At age 7, I found I could not muster up feelings of a belief in God. When I went to Hebrew School, I took bible classes, and I remember that the bible teacher gave a plethora of secular, historical, and scientific explanations for miracles seen in the bible. And those explanations always just made sense. So I never believed that Moses really parted the Red Sea, or that he saw God in a burning bush. But I always did identify myself as 'Jewish,' since my parents, grandparents, and all my relatives were Jewish, and I was going to Hebrew School. (after school activity) During Hebrew School, I learned the bizarre dietary laws that make up the Kashrut, and I never understood the modern need for it all. I learned Israeli songs and history, and I of course rote memorized prayer and learned about all the Jewish holidays. I am happy that I learned all of this. I would not trade this knowledge for the world. And yet...this knowledge never really made me feel as strongly Jewish as I do today. Why do I feel so strongly Jewish today? In large part because of having discovered an antisemitic friend, the infamous friend who wanted to sue me for libel for calling her out on her bullshit, qrswave. Reading her rants about Israel and the 'Zionist conspiracy' certainly made me feel Jewish. Not only did I feel Jewish, but I felt a strong surge of protective instinct wash over me...a desire to DO SOMETHING about the hatred that I witnessed. And so now I am taking Hebrew classes, and I hope to eventually go to Israel. I also used to not think that I had to even raise my (faux) kids Jewish, because it never was something that important to me. I used to be convinced that I wanted to send my kids to Unitarian Universalism school (as an after school activity). And yet now, I am thinking that if I have kids, I would like to send them to Hebrew School (as an after school activity). In short, while I still am an atheist, the response to antisemitism is to FEEL more Jewish. I feel sad that the concept of Judaism has been reduced to a negative amongst secular Jews in the world. Namely, it takes antisemitism for Jews to feel Jewish. Ironically, it is antisemitism that appears to fuel the continuance of the Jewish people. And yet, if it is antisemitism that seems to be the largest factor in the intangible connection that secular and atheist Jews have to Judaism...is the Jewish culture and tradition something that I should concern myself with propogating? There are so many positive reasons to associate oneself with Judaism. Why is it that the associations that secular/atheist Jews have with Judaism seem to mostly come from a negative place? And in a world relatively without antisemitism, is there a place for secular/atheist Jews outside of Israel?