Religion is a touchy subject. Some people are fervent about their faith, sometimes to the point of being militaristic. My parents never forced us into any religion or told us that one particular faith was more “right” than another. When we were younger they would take us to a variety of religious services or ask friends of theirs to take us. I can remember going to a Hindu temple, which was quite the experience. The inside of the temple was covered in art work which was gorgeous, vivid and full of life. Everyone I met at the temple was incredibly friendly and I ended up going back several more times. I thoroughly enjoyed the cultural experience I had there, but I still felt like too much of an outsider to go on a regular basis.
After the Hindu services, I was taken to Catholic Mass a few weeks later. I had gone with several friends from school and my mother had graciously bowed out of attending this particular service. I didn’t mind the sermon and the people were nice enough to me. At the end of the service, however, when everyone went up to the altar to take Communion, I was told that I had to stay seated. I was left in the pew and, being 6-7 I was upset that everyone else got a snack and not me. I went home to tell my mother I didn’t want to be a Catholic. Even though I had specifically told my mother I disliked the Catholic services, she took me to a Roman Catholic Church a week later. She had explained to me that, just like Judaism, Catholicism was divided into different “groups.” I fell asleep during Mass and my mother was forced to carry me out. Thus ended my brief exploration of Catholicism, both in the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church.
Having gone to Catholic and Hindu services, my mother farmed me out to Pentecostals, Christian Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists and various Protestant friends around the city. Each time I returned home, I told my mother I just wanted to go with my grandmother to the synagogue, but my mother told me that I could not make that decision until I was older. When we moved to the States, I was told to go to Southern Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, RLDS/LDS, Episcopal and even Unitarian services. The only religion I wasn’t able to go to services for was Islam and that wasn’t from lack of trying on my mother’s part. Then we moved to Missouri and everything changed.
When I was sixteen, my mother had told me that, “Since you can drive now, you are allowed to choose whatever religion you want.” I had told her that I wanted to continue going to the synagogue with my grandmother and she let me go. She had done the same with my older brothers and was in the process of chauffeuring my younger brother around as well. My two older brothers decided to attend Lutheran services, as they had enjoyed the community in NYC.
Growing up in Missouri, I was surrounded by a lot of Catholics and Baptists. I didn’t particularly mind either of those groups, but they seemed to think that Judaism was about two steps away from Satanism. Throughout school, when a new student would come into our ranks, they would always make sure to introduce like, “This is RO and she’s Jewish.” Apparently my identifier was “Jew” and I was constantly reminded of the fact that I was the only Jewish kid in school.
It hadn’t always been like that. When I was growing up in Poland I had visited the same synagogue my grandparents went to on numerous occasions. I knew a lot of other Jewish kids and was friends with quite a few of them until I moved. Even the majority of the Catholic kids in Lodz didn’t care that we were Jewish and would socialize with us outside of school. It wasn’t until I moved to the Midwest that I realized I was in the minority.
After we had moved to Missouri, my mother renounced Judaism, began going to a Christian church with my younger brother and threw away any decorations that dealt with Jewish holidays. For the remainder of our time in the Midwest, she made sure to distance herself from Judaism. The kids I went to school with would constantly ask, “Why aren’t you a Christian like the rest of your family?” I never quite knew how to answer that question. It wasn’t because I thought they were wrong, I didn’t even think I was particularly right. What it boiled down to was my level of comfort and I felt the most comfortable going to the synagogue with my grandmother.
As the years continued, I became less annoyed by the “Jew” label. I had begun to realize that I drew some sort of pride from being the “only Jewish kid” and I felt more exotic in a way. It had been difficult enough trying to fit in, as not speaking English made befriending other kids quite a task. I had consistently invited close friends to the synagogue and many asked if they could come back. Throughout high school, I maintained a fairly close relationship with Judaism. I went to services, participated in cultural activities and even presented during community meetings. I enjoyed the feeling of being with people who did not consider the term Jew a negative thing.
When I went away to college, I stopped attending services with my grandmother. I began to question Judaism and ultimately decided to leave the congregation. It was hard on my grandmother; she was the one remaining member of our family who still practiced Judaism. She had been so proud of me, her one practicing grandchild and I crushed that pride so selfishly. To this day I only go to the synagogue when my grandmother begs me to go and I don’t really follow any of the central tenets of Judaism. I don’t eat pork, but more so because I’m a vegetarian. That is about the only thing I took away from Judaism and my time spent in the synagogue.
It does make me a little sad. I was given the opportunity to choose, what should have been, a very important part of my life. In a way, I feel like I have failed myself by not allowing me to maintain a sense of balance in my life. Everyone always says that you should find balance in mind, body, spirit and yet I don’t feel like my spirit is well-balanced at all. Perhaps I will continue to grow in every aspect of my life, the spiritual aspect as well. When that time comes, I will try to remain open to the idea of allowing myself to stray from the very scientific path I have been following for years now. There will hopefully come a time when my beliefs are challenged and I have to make decisions that are outside of my comfort zone. As of this very moment, I don’t feel well equipped to deal with any sort of spiritual change, but I am hoping to change that. The more I realize that religion and spirituality don’t necessarily mean the same thing, the more I will be able to open myself up to the possibility of trying to balance myself spiritually. Until then, I must continue to question and strive to find balance within the life I have built for myself.