Rosh Ha-Shanah (Jewish New Year) took me by surprise this year; not just because it’s earlier than usual, but mostly because I’m still jet-lagged from our summer in Taiwan, where I accompanied Gil on a research trip. (We used to live in Taiwan when Gil was doing his doctoral research, and this was our first return trip to show Dina the place where she was born.) It’s not just that my body is still on Taiwan time, but I’m also in a Taiwan mindset: I’ve been accompanying Gil on excursions to temples and Daoist ceremonies, and after dealing with all those hungry ghosts and with the infinite bureaucracy of Chinese deities, it’s easy to overlook one Jewish God, especially if you don’t believe in Him. If Dina and Miki’s Christian piano teacher hadn’t emailed me on the morning of Rosh Ha-Shana to ask if we needed to cancel class for the holiday, we would have entered the year 5774 unaware. That’s how it often goes: the Jewish holidays ambush me from their alternative calendar. As agnostic skeptics, I’m not even sure why Gil and I bother to go to synagogue. If I had to choose a religion for myself, it probably wouldn’t be Judaism: I find Daoist temples and Catholic churches esthetically much more alluring than synagogues, and when it comes to doctrine, I’m more drawn to Buddhism. But as Gil likes to say: “The God that I don’t believe in is the Jewish God.”
I have a complicated relation with God: I don’t believe in Him, but I love Jewish traditions and would like to retain a relationship with God as long as it doesn’t require too much time and effort and it doesn’t require me to give up other things I find important. In a few days, it will be Yom Kippor. I will probably fast and pray, even though I don’t expect to be inscribed in the Book of Life and don't even aspire to be. If God is indeed the God portrayed in the Tenach, I don’t care much for Him. I don’t mean to be flippant about God (or maybe I do, but that’s only because I think He can take a little impudence from me, with all the adoration He gets elsewhere), but I’m reluctant to uphold traditions that set me apart from the rest of humanity. I always feel conflicted during religious services: On the one hand, I’m moved to tears by the old prayers that have been passed on through the generations, but on the other hand, I detest the smugness that can accompany religious certainty (or, for that matter, any kind of certainty). I am touched and reassured by the continuity of tradition, but I rebel against the narrow-mindedness that’s required to believe in just one God and to stick to just one culture. Maybe I’m just too greedy: I want to belong to all religions, all places, and all people.
* What I do like about the Jewish God is that He seems to favor those who rebel against him.