The weather has finally started to cooperate. It's finally officially spring. Along with spring comes the Judeo-Christian traditions of Easter and Passover. Passover is the one celebrated in my family.
At Passover time, we read from the Haggadah, a book telling the story of the Jews' exodus from slavery in Egypt. It is a time of remembrance and a time to celebrate freedom. In my home growing up, I was always taught to consider this a holiday to celebrate all kinds of freedom: freedom from slavery of course, but I was also taught to celebrate living in a free country where I wasn't a slave to a dictator, a job, a bad decision or even a religion. Although I was raised as a Jew, I now consider myself an Atheist Jew and a good Christian.
Please allow me to explain myself. I was raised as a reformed Jew. In our household, this meant we were "one" Jews. One day of eight was celebrated for Passover, one of eight for Chanukah, and one time a year, we went to High Holiday services.
When I was a little girl, I remember asking my dad if he believed in God. He told me that, as a doctor, he felt he had to believe in God, because he witnessed the miracle of self-healing on a daily basis. He told me that he couldn't believe that the intricacies of the human body just occurred by accident. From that day forward, I believed in God.
In college, I lived in a Jewish dorm and dated only Jewish boys. I married a Jewish man. When I began to raise children, I felt that I needed more "Jewishness" in the home. So, we joined a synagogue, sent the children to religious school and began to keep the Sabbath. We might have piano lessons and sports six nights a week, but on Friday night, our dinner table was adorned with a white tablecloth, Shabbat candles, my husband's Kiddush cup and a challah. We recited prayers, and we enjoyed the best meal of the week.
Most importantly, I began to volunteer. To me, teaching my girls by example was the very best way to teach. I wanted them to know the importance of empathy and compassion, and I wanted them to know how to appreciate what they had. We lived in the South, where there was a much smaller population of Jews per capita than up here in the Northeast. On more than one occasion, my children would hear someone tell me what a good Christian I was for my good deeds. On more than one occasion, that person knew that I was a Jew, but I understood what they meant, and the good example for the children still stood.
Over the years, life's challenges took their toll. Without a doubt, the good things in my life have well outweighed the bad, but the bad has left its mark. Too many times, I listened to the evening news to hear someone say that it was "by the grace of God" that their home was still standing or that their loved ones were still alive. I began to wonder: Did God not grace their neighbor, the one who lost their home and their loved ones? I became cynical. I began to have my doubts in God.
September 11 was the formal day I lost all faith in God. It wasn't just that my own husband was right in the thick of it that day. It wasn't just that more than 3,000 of my fellow American's lost their lives that day. I think it was the fact that the terrorists allegedly did it in the name of God. Really? God wanted them to murder thousands of innocent people to assure he had their faith? I just couldn't buy it. God walked out the door for me that day, and he has never walked back in.
Sometimes I feel bad about being a non-believer. Sometimes I'm embarrassed to tell people that I don't believe in God. I have to admit that it made me feel just a little better when my 90-year-old mother-in-law, who kept kosher all her life, finally went to Ruth's Chris to enjoy a steak and a baked potato with sour cream on it, stating that if God wanted to send her to hell for 90 years of keeping kosher and one sinful meal, then so be it.
But I'm getting used to living without a belief in God.
This year, I look forward to celebrating Passover. I will be celebrating my fortune of having a family to share it with. I will read from the Hagaddah. I will eat all the traditional holiday foods. I'll enjoy parsley dipped in saltwater to remember the tears my ancestors shed while in slavery. I'll eat Haroses to remember the sweetness of freedom, and I will remember to appreciate living in a free country where I am not a slave to anything, not even my religion.
I continue to volunteer for all kinds of things. I continue to live a life with what I believe to be a good moral compass. I continue to celebrate the food, family and festivities of Jewish holidays. People still tell me that I'm a good Christian. I just do it all now while being an Atheist.
This essay was originally posted on Newsworks on April 10, 2014.