Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Apostate

Historically, I've never been a religious person. My father is a religious man, and we went to church every week when I was growing up. I never felt particularly connected to our church; the kids in my school went to the Catholic church on the other side of town, and the kids in our church already knew each other from school. The people were very nice, but church was a chore. My honest strong memory is getting kicked out of a special Sunday school service in 1986 so I could go home and listen to the World Series on the radio - which I don't know if it was a real memory, because I don't know what day of the week it was and I can't really imagine that the game was early enough to make a difference. I've tried, at various points, to connect with the faith into which I was born, and it's never worked. I was a paid member of a couple different church choirs, which isn't really the same thing as attending services; I would not have gone (and didn't go) when I wasn't paid.

Long story short, I'm walking away from my Christian roots. I stopped identifying myself as a Christian several years ago, and this past September, I began taking classes at Rodef Shalom (our family synagogue) which will ultimately result in conversion to the Jewish faith. Once I'm done with my classes and complete the other required items, I will officially be a Jewish man.

It's taken me a long time to figure out why my feelings have developed. I've met truly delightful and caring people everywhere I've met, and the people with whom I've sung in church choir (and the ministers and reverends for whom I've sung) have been amazing people. I have nothing but respect and love for them (my St. Peter's Choir picture - with whom I spent three great years - hangs in a prominent place in my singing wall), but that isn't where my heart lies.

Ultimately, the biggest difference, to me, is the focus on this life instead of the next one. I love the concept of "tikkun olam:" "Heal the world." Doing good, and making things better, because it's the right thing to do; not because of the threat of hell and reward of heaven. Doing good is its own reward. I love that our leaders are active in making the world a better place. I love that my wife fights and marches and calls and petitions and works hard to improve things.

I like how being Jewish isn't just a thing that I do on Sunday mornings. It's lighting candles on Friday night; it's making Saturdays special. It's eating a specific way, because it's a sign of my commitment to G-d (and this one, I'm going to have a problem with - I love bacon, and Taylor ham is one of the primary reasons I go back to New Jersey - but I'll figure it out). It's Sunday school, and Hebrew school for the kids, and reading and studying things in my new faith, and learning lots more songs to sing, and - eventually - reading Torah in the original Hebrew. It's lots of holidays that revolve around the concept: "They tried to kill us; they failed; let's eat."

I like our Jewish community; I like how so many of our activities and friends revolve around our synagogue, from baseball to weekend time to youth activities to preschool and so on. When The Wife and I were discussing how to raise our children, I stated that, if we were going to bother pursuing religion for our children and our family, that we were going to find a community and dive in. When we got to Pittsburgh, we found an amazing community of people at Rodef Shalom. It made it easy to dive in. The fact that The Wife started working there later was icing on the cake; we found a home when we started pre-school.

I hope my friends won't read this as a criticism of their beliefs. That's not my intention. I'm certainly not saying that people of other faiths don't make the world a better place, and I'm not naive enough to think that my newly chosen faith is perfect. We're all human, and anything human is, by definition, imperfect. Still, it's the right fit for me, and I've been a happier human being since I made the commitment to go down this path.

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