Monday, June 4, 2012


My friends and I at synagogue the day of my conversion


"Why I am a Jew: Confessing to the Evolution of Atheists Concerned for America"


           Those of you who've been following this site for even a short period were probably shocked to see me wearing a kippah (yamaka) in some of the videos I've added throughout the site. (A kippah is of course a Jewish-type hat which modern Jews, inexplicably men, wear while inside their respective synagogues.) My strong, unrelenting essays revealing the "dark side" of the Bible might've even suggested that I'm an "anti-theist"; in reality, I've always felt that Atheists who say all organized religion is bad are just as insane and radical as the religious extremists whom they so vehemently oppose. No - my Jewish enlightenment came as a welcome surprise a year ago, sweeping me off my legging completely. It in fact truly became the one thing that has saved my life.   
My mom and I on Rosh Hashanah
    It all started with my mom beginning to explore Judaism early last year. At first I didn't take her too seriously, as my mother has infamously gone from religion to religion throughout her adult life. But after casually joining her at a Friday night Shabbat (the proper term for the Jewish sabbath) service, I became intrigued and compelled to greater curiosity about the religion. In addition, it just so happened that a good friend of mine, Jamie, was Jewish, and that her stepfather was the senior rabbi at that very synagogue, Ohev Shalom; henceforth, my already knowing Rabbi Rubinger (Aaron :P) alongside Jamie's in-depth knowledge to guide me made the path to my Jewish illumination that much sweeter.
      As days passed I was impressed to be participating in a religion that DIDN'T reject me just for being gay, and which actually ENCOURAGED me to question everything, even the Judaic texts, for only the benefit of my own spiritual advancement. The religion's intent, I learned, was not to overbear the outside world with its own dogmatic teachings, but rather to best interpret and learn from its texts how to make the world a better place. Amazed, before I knew it Aaron was waiving the fee for the conversion class (which my mom and step dad were already enlisted in), and faster than a ray of light I was morphing from a passionate Atheist into a zealous, scrupulously faithful prospective Jew.

     One thing that really  opened the door for me, though, was the stunning fact that a Jew apparently can be "Agnostic" about the existence of God. This granted me from the start leverage to maintain my unbelieving stances while also exploring what Judaism could do to enhance my life. As I delved deeper, I was relieved to learn that whereas most Christians retain a firm degree of literalistic attachment to the Bible, Jews acknowledge that their Scriptures are highly unlikely to be the unaltered Divine word, especially following millenniums of transcription. Immediately, I highly respected Jews even more so for logically accepting that their Bible, the Tanakh (called the Old Testament in Christianity), remains - though probably not purely divine - still a God-given record of their extraordinary history as well as THEIR supreme moral guidebook to life. See, Jews are specifically forbidden from proselytizing others to their faith, another major plus for me coming as an Atheist :). (To further bring context, here's a full definition of the Tanakh: pivotally compiling Judaism's entire Bible in itself, it contains the Torah ("Teaching", also known as the Pentateuch by Christians; 'the Five Books of Moses'), Nevi'im ("Prophets") and Ketuvim ("Writings") respectively.)

Me in costume for Purim, a Jewish holiday
    As I attended the conversion classes, I therefore became captivated by the fact that Jews prevent modern-day opponents from inevitably discrediting their Scripture of its credence (as with today's heavy scrutiny on Christianity, for instance). See, had the Jews continued using a literalistic pretext toward the Bible, opponents to Judaism would otherwise be able to attack the Hebrew god DIRECTLY for any (and every) adversary to be found within Judaic texts. Instead, this way, I realized, a Jew could take the good with the bad in exploring their Tanakh without feeling any guilt. I easily fell in love with this signature principle to Judaism, absolutely gratified and persuaded by this key difference from Christianity!

       And unlike salvation-based religions like Christianity and Islam, Judaism focuses on the here and now. Instead of obsessing about an oh-so-exclusive afterlife, as Jews we strive to improve the world around us. This works well for me, someone who resents religions more preoccupied with the hypothetical afterlife; if I'm going to stand behind any cause, religious or otherwise, it needs to have some kind of practical relevance to the living world. I'm not going to live my life preparing for a world I don't even know for sure will follow after death. Simply put, I cannot genuinely be a part of something that doesn't strive to make a difference somehow in the ever-worsening world of our own! No, through Judaism I am obliged to make the world a better place: Justice, peace, righteousness, charity...these were the values that turned me into a Jew.

    And hence I was left insatiably enamored by a predilection to Conservative Judaism. Before I knew it I was attending (with or without my mom, notably) both Friday and Saturday Shabbat services every week. I was making friend after friend among the congregants and fellow prospective Jews in my class alike. I bonded with both Rabbi Rubinger and Rabbi Kay, asking them all the pressing questions across my mind, and showed my devotion as I attended synagogue for the string of holiday services in impending months (i.e. Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot, Simchat Torah etc.). Before I knew it synagogue had become a source of sanity and enrichment to my life, and the congregation like a second family.

Me my very first time at synagogue
     And now as I attend classes for my upcoming Bar Mitzvah (slated for April of next year), I can safely say I have absolutely no regrets. Am I more open to the possibility of God's existence? Yes, I think that in the extraordinary development of the Universe, starting with the Big Bang of course, it's hardly farfetched to think that there might be some consciousness to all that.  Fittingly, Judaism does not describe an exclusively male, patriarchal-like god, but rather a genderless overruling deity, which resonates appropriately with me, the firm-as-ever feminist and all.  I'm now open to belief rather than stubbornly redacting it. But regardless, most of all Judaism drives me to become a better version of myself everyday, commands me to as a matter of fact, so with that said you better believe it's here to stay :)...

    ...But don't worry - so is Atheists Concerned for America :P!


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