Religion: An Essential Aside

Many things shape our lives. The places we live, the people who raise us, those with whom we interact, and the basic values and precepts with which we are raised.

I am Jewish. I was born into the religion and it is such an integral part of me that I can't really imagine being anything else. My parents took pains to give me a religious education, starting me in Sunday School before I was six years old, and mandating, if not my attention at least my attendance in Hebrew school until I was Bar Mitzvah at age 13.

I became aware of religious differences at an even earlier age. I remember being questioned by my non-Jewish neighbors about my faith when I was very young. They could not understand why I did not share the beliefs that they were being taught in their own Sunday school classes. When we were small children, this was merely a question of wonderment for each of us. Just who was Jesus anyway, and why were they talking about him so much? As life went on, the differences took on much greater significance. My neighborhood did not have many Jewish children, nor did my school. I understood early that there were prayers and rituals practiced by the majority that I did not and would not share. This at a time when it was still pretty normal to have prayer in public schools. I got into a bit of trouble for my stubborn refusal to pray with the rest of the class, but it was something that I felt strongly about, and I would not bend.

These conflicts, small though they were in the great scheme of things, were very significant to me. They created an understanding of difference. I acquired greater sympathy for minorities, because I understood what it was to be set apart from the majority. Of course, being of European origin, and possessing fairly generic features, I also learned that I could hide if I wanted to by not mentioning the difference. This lead to some very interesting situations. It also lead to some small persecutions, but I lived through them all.

After my Bar Mitzvoth, I was allowed the choice of continuing or halting my religious schooling. I did away with it gleefully, happy to be able to take back my Sundays and weekday evenings. I was very successful at forgetting most of what I had learned. Now that I am older, I wish that I had been less successful at that particular endeavor! There were thing offered that I wish I had taken advantage of, like the opportunity to learn hebrew and a better understanding of ancient history, skewed by religious bias though the learning may have been. One of life's lessons. Learn while you can. Gets harder as time passes.

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