A fault of religion

March 1, 2017

I am Jewish.  Or rather, I was born Jewish, the product of a Jewish mother and Jewish father, on both side Jews as far back as can be traced.


However, for most of my life, I have only experienced a strong disconnect with my birth religion, a feeling I don’t belong, like a pair of shoes which don’t fit.


It began when I started Cheder, I would use whatever method I could to avoid going – a stomach ache, a screaming tantrum or oversleeping.  If I was unsuccessful in my mission to absent myself, I would do anything in my power to be as disruptive as possible when there and often spent more time outside the classroom than in it. 


In my teens, my best friend and I would inform our parents we were going out straight from cheder, but in reality, after being marked present in the register, we would sneak out of synagogue, jump on a train and head to our actual place of worship - our beloved Wembley Market.


Despite my discordance with Judaism, my teenage friendship group consisted entirely of friends garnered over the years from the annual Jewish summer camp I attended.  My boyfriends all sported large noses and circumcised penises.  I even ended up marrying (and subsequently divorcing) a nice Jewish boy, adored by my parents.  I recall my distinct unease with the decision to marry in synagogue. I expressed my feeling of hypocrisy standing in front of a God – of whose existence I questioned – asking him to witness and bless my happy union. 


My two sons were circumcised, attended religion school and were bar mitzvah – all rituals challenged by me, but overruled in favour of tradition.  It was a safe path I followed but one I questioned more and more as I grew older. 


However, it wasn’t until I was in my thirties, after much therapy to exorcise my many demons – one of which was religion – that I realised that I had a choice and I could say no; it was up to me to decide whether or not I participated in these rituals.  So I started opting out of family celebrations for the numerous Jewish festivals, much to the chagrin of my observant in-laws. My mid-life rebellion finally freed me of the Jewish shackles which had bound me all my life.


Religion was and is the cause of many wars and it does not enrich my life in any way – certainly not in the way that theatre, music, art, wine and food do. Indeed, the demands and expectations of my religion was one of the reasons for the demise of my marriage.  I have never wanted to be Jewish – this was a fault of birth as far as I was concerned. 


So it is ironic that I should discover I have a faulty gene which is directly related to my Jewish heritage.  Ironic or is there actually a God punishing me for spurning my Jewish identity?


Is this a sign for me to embrace the faith into which I was born?  Will Jewish observance make a difference to the outcome?  No, I will still have the BRCA1 gene mutation.  Will praying to God prevent the gene from encouraging more cancer in my body?  No – the cancer cells will develop whether or not I attend shul or drive on a Saturday.


I never asked to be a Jew – one of a race which has been persecuted through the ages and now persecutes me personally with this imperfection.


I know I should feel honoured to be part of a community which, despite prejudice and hatred, endures and continues to thrive.  But now, more than ever, I see it as a bloody inconvenience and the sole cause of what will ultimately be my downfall.


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