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My Reconciliation with the A-Word

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By Justin Schnell

Two months before my Bar Mitzvah, I secretly went to my computer and googled "don't believe in God." I was driven to Google when I realized that I just didn't believe in any of the ideals I was memorizing. Little did I know, there were people who called themselves Atheists. I read about them and their ideas matched my own beliefs. I didn't share my discovery with anyone. I knew it didn't matter. As a Schnell, I always knew that I would have to become a Bar Mitzvah. I didn't fight my inevitable ceremony.

Both my parents had gone through the passage of becoming a Bar Mitzvah and were excited to keep the family tradition alive when I turned thirteen. I hated it. As a kid, I didn't know what to think of the ideals I learned in Hebrew school or at synagogue. Could there really be a God? Could there be someone who controls the world and is responsible for all the poverty, wars and deaths ? If so, why celebrate such a figure? I fought going to synagogue whenever the time came, telling my parents that I shouldn't have to go if I don't believe in the Jewish ideals. Of course, my dad would say "You don't have to believe them, but you have to be there with your family."

I never listened. I thought it was stupid. As 7th grade approached, I began studying for my Torah portion, Mishpatim, or 'Laws'. I hated writing my speech about pointless laws. The more I read and wrote, the more I felt like that A-word. I got through it by refusing to relate to what I would be preaching and merely memorizing all of my lines so that I didn't have to hear all the nonsense I was studying. This decision changed my life. Looking back, I reconciled with the idea that the ceremony was an acceptance into my new community and culture and not any kind of affirmation of my beliefs about the world. Now, when I go to synagogue, I don't sit there thinking everything is stupid. I appreciate the fact that I am surrounded by hundreds of people with the same background as I, all who are glad to be a part of the Jewish community. Come Bar Mitzvah day, I got out of bed excited, performed beautifully in front of the supportive community and joined my friends at the party afterwards, completing one of the best days of my life.

To this day, I do not call myself an Atheist. I am a Jew who questions his religion's ideals, but understands the importance of being a part of a community with a rich culture. I push my younger brother to read what he is preaching in synagogue and help him with his Torah portion so that one day, he will be a part of the same community. Had I refused this initiation, I wouldn't be a member of the Jewish community. Everyone needs to feel at home somewhere, be a part of something bigger than yourself, and more importantly, have a community that acts as your second family.

Justin Schnell is a graduate of The Dalton School and is currently a freshman at The University of Michigan