I was not brought up with a very strong religious identity. My mother’s family wasn’t religious. My dad’s was but for some reason, my Dad’s explanations of our religion, which is Judaism, never extended further back than the Holocaust. When I questioned anything, the answer was was an angry “because if you were in Germany in in the ’40s you’d have to wear a yellow star and you probably would have been killed”. Um.. ok. I was 11. I get it. I get angry sometimes when I don’t know the answer to things either. We were Jewish 9 days out of the year: 2 days for Rosh Hashonah, 1 for Yom Kippur, 2 for Passover because after that who cared and about 5 for Hanukkah, because 8 was just way too many days in a row to do anything that significant. When we did go to temple, my Dad would take me to the only temple he knew about in the neighborhood. One in which a friend of his went to. It was not really a temple, but it was in a storefront and it was all orthodox and ultra-orthodox. We were looked upon by the regular congregants as if we might as well have been Christian. No one ever talked to my Dad except his friend and no one ever talked to me except his friend’s son, and that seemed reluctant at best. I didn’t go to Sunday school to learn about our religion leading up to my Bar Mitzvah. I went to some guys house once a week to learn how to read two pages of a Haftorah that I had no idea what I was saying or why I was saying it. So it is safe to guess why I rebelled and never really went back.
I talked to my Mom about this several year later. Her parents were not religious at all. I don’t even think they had 9 days. She had a lot of Aunts and they were all pretty religious but it didn’t extend to my Mom. She grew up in Borough Park in Brooklyn which was and is Jew Central. I don’t know how it happened, but my Mom said once when she was young she wandered into a Catholic Church on Sunday morning. She listened to the Homily and she said she loved going back every week just to listen to the Priest talk. One day one of her Aunts saw her coming out of the Church and freaked out. She never went back.
Through the years I have gone to different temples, but I never fit in. I have a lot of friends who while only going to temple on the holidays, they knew the songs and prayers. They had a family history of getting together and making it a family event. For me, it was me and my Dad, my sisters and my Mom were exempt. If I was Jewish 9 days a year, they were Jewish for 5 or 6. I when I went to temple recently and it came to one of the songs that is very well known and even the worst Jew could sing, I was unable to do so. I left feeling unwelcome, dejected and upset. We have a son. He just started religion classes at the Church. My mom asked if he would grow up knowing he was half Jewish. I told her that he would know as much as I did growing up. I think she got the gist of the answer.
I could have done something as an adult to learn. I could have gone and filled in all of the vast gaps left by my upbringing, but I have always been so bitter and angry that I never did. By doing that I am also missing the one thing that all of my Jewish friends talked about which was the family togetherness. It was their tradition. It was something they shared as a family. I didn’t have that and the ship has sailed. I am clueless to this day. I admit I am not without fault here, but when I did try to go back, it was empty.
I married a Catholic girl and she is amazing. We got married with a Priest and a Rabbi. The Rabbi, it turned out was my grandfathers Rabbi from Canarse. The priest was and is one of the most amazing men I have ever met. I have since been to church more than I have been to Temple. We often go to the Priest, who is a Monsignor, and hear his mass. He is an incredible speaker. Really inspiring. I know what my Mom heard when she went to church back in the day.
This is all about religion and not about faith. I try to live a life that my ancestors would be proud of. I try to live a life that if I ever find myself face to face with Moses or Jesus, they would look at me and say that even if I didn’t live up to those high standards, I tried my best. I don’t go back because I am very blessed and never felt the need to. I might not have been given religion, but I try to live a good life and in return I have been extremely blessed.