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From Atheism to Judaism and Beyond - My Journey

Updated on September 12, 2013
Chanukah Menorah
Chanukah Menorah

Children look to their parents for spiritual guidance and when the parent raises a child to be an atheist, the child can be left to fend for themselves in a predominantly religious world. Read one woman's journey of having been raised an atheist and see how she came to gain insights and understanding into religion

~my exclusion~

Gazing out my living room window one April morning, I became confused by the sight of the many families, couples and individuals parading down the sidewalks outside my two-family home. The men were wearing yarmulkes and dressed in suits while the women were wearing fancy dresses and skirts. I was only 8 years old and I wondered where they were going and why. My Mother explained that they were going to temple. I didn’t know what a temple was or understand why all of these people were going and I wasn’t.

You see, I was raised a non-religious, atheist Jew in a Jewish neighborhood in New York City and growing up, I never seemed to fit in. I couldn’t hang out with my Jewish friends and relate to the Jewish experience, I couldn’t hang out with non-Jewish friends and relate to their's either. I was a misfit of sorts.

I must have been around the age of 9 when my Mother pulled asked me if I believed in God. Honestly, I didn’t know what the concept of God was, but she told me that she and my Father didn’t believe and this was said without further explanation. I figured I was obliged to agree, what else did I have to go on? I had no reason to think otherwise. There wasn’t much chance of my atheist mother taking me to temple on the high holy days not to mention observing the Sabbath, so that I could see for myself what religion was about. There are no atheist clubs for kids either, so I mostly kept this odd non-belief to myself. I think this created a level of confusion and self-doubt for me, why was I the odd one out? I felt especially left out when annual holidays rolled around.

What does an atheist do when everyone else is sharing Christmas dinner with family and friends?

Christmas Eve for many Jews involves going out for Chinese food and then to a movie before coming home to watch the only thing on television that night, which was the yule log; these are my Christmas memories. I always felt like I was the only one not invited to the party. When my Jewish friends were busy clearing out their homes of any traces of bread in preparation for Passover, my brothers and I were busy trying to beat each others best time playing Superman Atari. I always wondered what people did at church and at temple and why they were always going there.

My best friend was Orthodox Greek and she would bring home pastel nut covered candies after attending Easter service at her Church. The candies came from a place that I would never know. She told me a little about Jesus and how important he was. One time she let me taste the nut candy and I felt like I was breaking the atheist law and befriending the enemy. I was obliged to be a member of my parent’s non atheist club. I was forced to join but the club never had any fun.


Just at the time that I started college, I got into a discussion with a fellow student about observing an upcoming religious holiday, after I told her that I didn’t observe the holiday she abruptly asked me if I believed in god, and I told her “no,” she looked shocked and confused. She asked me how this could be and frankly I had no answer. I didn’t know who God was; he was never introduced to me as a concept or something that would have value in my life. But the expression of shock on my friend’s face has stayed with me.

It was also during these college years, through my study of art, that I first came to learn who the Virgin Mary was, who Jesus was and began to grasp some understanding of Christianity. It was frustrating when in my first art history class of 14th century European art, it was assumed that I knew all of the disciples and other religious figures. I failed to follow my professor’s description of art work because I had no religious background. I had to do my own Christianity crash course to keep up with the class. There was a sense of relief after this because I was no longer in the dark about some aspects of religion, I felt less left out. I went on to discover more and more about the tenets of Judaism, Buddhism and of Christianity.

But there are many religious concepts that I still fail to grasp. No matter how many times my Catholic husband tries to explain the concept of sinning I still find it confusing. I don’t understand why a person has to be forgiven by another entity for something that he has done and why there is such a great emphasis on this. This idea insists that humans are born sinners and need to feel shame.

~religion's inherent dangers~

I think that Jesus was a wise man and shared great wisdom. I embrace the Buddhist concept of acknowledging change in life as a given. I have come to learn that all religions have great lessons to teach, but it seems that religion also carries with it a great many dark clouds. Religion creates division and gives its members grounds for differences, anger, prejudice and hostility. What begins with good intentions gets twisted into a game of teams, with an 'us against them' attitude. In the book “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, author Christopher Hitchens states:

Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience.

It seems that the beneficial teachings of religion are more often outweighed by their negative effects.

~explanations and wisdom~

More recently, my Father explained to me that the reason he rejected Judaism and God was because at the time, just after his Bar Mitzvah, he learned of the atrocities that were the holocaust. He felt there could be no God that would allow a holocaust or any other similar man made atrocity to occur. I have mixed feelings about my largely uninformed upbringing though. I feel on the one hand that living most of my life without being taught anything to do with God or religion has allowed me to look at religion and life with an unbiased eye and to see them more objectively. On the other hand, I feel that even atheist parents have an obligation to inform their children of the cultural and historical nature of religions; both their own and of others.

As a parent, I have taught my children a great deal about their respective religions, as my husband is Irish Catholic and I am of Jewish heritage, I believe that knowledge is power and arming children with as much exposure and information about the world and their cultural background creates aware and informed human beings that can maybe one day live on this planet in peace.

© 2012 Leah Limor


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    • Leah Limor profile image

      Leah Limor 5 years ago from New York City


      I think the confusing upbringing is not based necessarily on conflicting religions but on parents that fail to guide their children and have an open dialogue about these spiritual ideas; religion is only as good as the people that observe it. I am happy that you found a home in Judaism. Thank you for your great comment!



    • profile image

      Robin 5 years ago

      That sounds like my mom. She married a Roman Catholic man who is my dad. I grew up with both and nothing at the same time. Christianity believes we killed their god. Judaism believes their god was an errant school boy. Problem here? People look at skyscrapers and don't question that someone created them, yet they look at the world and think it just appeared. That, to me, makes no sense. What, to me, makes sense is a G-d who did create the world for a purpose and continues to do so. The idea that I was put on this planet just to have fun is extremely depressing. A week without shabbat I can't imagine anymore. Imagine one day a week disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with family and friends and a God that loves you. One day in which all your work for that week is over. A day to rejuvinate yourself to get ready for the week ahead.....Jewish religion is knowing someone has your back and loves and cares for you like a father but has the power of a godfather type character...and loves you unconditionally no matter what you do....check out aish, or for more

    • Leah Limor profile image

      Leah Limor 5 years ago from New York City


      Are you saying that finding God needs to be a more personal experience rather that one put upon us by a scripture or religious influence?

      It sounds as though you have found a deeper and more meaningful personal experience through your practices and interpretation of scripture. I interpret your description to mean that you are following Judaism. Thank you for sharing your experience with religion, you make good points.

      Christmas seems to be a weighted holiday, but maybe that is a topic for a different article.



    • Leah Limor profile image

      Leah Limor 5 years ago from New York City


      Your observation about religious Jews who simply repeat prayers and follow customs reminds me of the way my Mother was taught. My Mother has described to me how being raised as a religious Jew meant simply following rules and customs without explanation and this left a negative impression on her about the purpose of religion and not just Judaism.

      Your description of kadosh feels good to me because I have always been the kind of person seeking to make good in the world, but this always felt right to me without any religious labels to describe it. Thank you for your insight and opening a window through which I can peek in and see from your vantage point. This means a lot to me. Thank you!



    • ShalahChayilJOY profile image

      Shalah Chayil 5 years ago from Billings, Montana

      Your statement that, "religion also carries with it a great many dark clouds. Religion creates division and gives its members grounds for differences, anger, prejudice and hostility. What begins with good intentions gets twisted into a game of teams, with an 'us against them' attitude," is so right on. That's because every religion is man's attempt to reach or please the image of a god that gets formed by merely reading some parts of scripture or being indoctrinated by a religion's teachings.

      But dissension is also a human tendency and sometimes hard to avoid falling into.

      I really enjoyed this hub! Though I was indoctrinated Roman Catholic, I left it behind and now observe the Sabbath, the Feasts prescribed in scripture and study it as my 'constitution' for living and relating to others.

      Christmas may not be all it appears to be from the outside.

    • profile image

      Monica Sharp 6 years ago

      Leah, there is another point in judaism that people are forgeting. The goal of a Jew is to be kadosh, (holly). The way a Jew becomes kadosh is by practicng tzedakah ( charity). Under my limitations I help people in my volunteer jobs. If you want ot be really religious and follow the halahah. it dpesm't matter how much you pray and pronounce Adonay Eloheinu, if you don't practive tzedakah. The prays will be only repetitive words in hebrew, whcih people accept because they barely know the meaning of most of them. As a matter of fact I was talking to a rabbi one day if he could translate all the prayers to portuguese ands he said he couldn't translate all the prayers to any language. The reason is the prayers are so old that some words lost their meaning. Praying is repeating words. it is the way people who "beleive in G-d" my feel their inner satisfaction and maybe positiveness. Sorry let me stop here.

    • Leah Limor profile image

      Leah Limor 6 years ago from New York City

      Monica, I agree with the possiblity of following the traditions without necessarily believing in God, although every Jewish prayer begins with a mention of God (Adonai). This makes it difficult to introduce the religion in a practicing sense without denying what seems to be the main thrust, which is an adoration for God. It is not impossible, but rather difficult. There is a huge range of ways in which individual Jews define their Judiasm but there also seems to be a level of judgement between some of them in regards to how purely they practice the religion, which I think is sad. Thank you so much for sharing your experience, it is so interesting to me. I am thrilled that you enjoyed reading my article. Thank you.

    • profile image

      Monica Sharp 6 years ago

      I really enjoyed reading your article. In regard of your father's motivation to depart from judaism, he is not alone. A great majority of holocaust survivors had the same reaction. On the other hand there are a lot of Jews who don't beleive in G-d. Judaism is a blend of millenar tradition and religion. Some Jews want the tradition to be kept and passed to future generations regardless of the religious part. I am Jew but I don't beleieve in G-d. (OOPS, but I keep the tradition of not writing his name). I beleive the people regardless of each religion they were born and raised always have their concerns about the existence of G-d. I believed in G-d for a long time. Now I think that if G-d exists h- is probably a bully. I can't imagine a superior being allowing people h- created as h-s image to destroy the nature, kill each other, create new chemical substances that makes people sick and die. I believe people can choose to be part of a religious tradition and still be atheist.


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