09/25/2014 01:36 pm ET Updated Nov 24, 2014

The Days of Awe

These are the days of awe. Roshhashana, the Jewish new year, followed eight days later by yom kippur, the day of atonement.

When I was about five, I was talking to some friends in the driveway of our house in New Rochelle. The talk got around to being Jewish. Each announced he was Jewish. Then they asked me. I said I didn't know, but I would find out. I rushed upstairs and said, "Mom, am I Jewish?" "Yes," she answered, and, without digging deeper, I dashed back to my friends and said breathlessly but with relief, "I am, too."

At Riverdale Country Day School in second grade, Tommy Buckner assured a skeptical playmate that I was all right because I was a "good Jew." Every morning at Riverdale, the day began with Christian hymns at assembly. We also had Christmas pageants. One year I was one of the three wise men, a role I'm still working on.

At Phillips Academy Andover, things got more serious. Every morning at assembly, we sang, "holy, holy, holy. Lord God almighty." Sunday church was compulsory. Boring, but I did like to belt out a rousing "onward Christian soldiers, going off to war." This was the '30s. Hitler had an effect. So did Lindbergh, Father Coughlin and Henry Ford. Most fraternities at Andover were off-base to Jews -- another nail in the coffin of four crumby years.

At home I never went to religious school and was not bar mitzvahed. We went as a family to services on the High Holy Days. My father always said, "we go to be counted." We didn't go because we believe. We went as part of the team. One Christmas my father dressed up as Santa Claus, whom few believe is Jewish.

A confirmed atheist, I contributed for a while to the Freedom from Religion Foundation, FFRF. Eventually, I decided I didn't care if high school football squads said a prayer before going into battle. In fact, it seemed like a nice thing to do.

Now here we are with the days of awe. Iris will go to temple with her son, Andrew. I will stay home. I used to go with her but I found it three hours of tedium, and I dislike standing, sitting, standing. Iris and Andrew are at the very least agnostics, but they were brought up with the traditions and they enjoy continuing them.

There is no message in this... no right or wrong. But, as my three-year-old daughter once said plaintively to her five year-old brother, who was hogging a fire truck, "s'posed to share."