This is a guest post by Amber F., newly adopted and welcomed as a member of the Jewish people. Her Hebrew name is Hadassah Ruth.
I was 15 when I realized that I did not believe in God, Jesus, and ‘Church’ the same way my family and childhood church believed in them. I was raised as a fundamentalist Christian and the blatant misogyny, racism, and homophobia were more than I could tolerate. I left home at 22 and never returned to that particular church. I bounced around various sects of Christianity for most of my twenties. I just knew that if I could find the ‘right’ church, it would all click for me. After trying multiple Protestant denominations and even a conversion to Catholicism, I gradually concluded that I was not a Christian. I could never make the idea of human sacrifice to atone for my sins make sense. I could not comprehend the concept of a personal God that would listen to my prayers but ignore genocides.
While exploring world religions during my deconstruction, I learned about Judaism. I never expected to be drawn to it as the closest synagogue is about 100 miles away from me and I had only met a handful Jews in real life. During my studies, I become enthralled with the Jewish religion and culture. I immediately gravitated to the concept of tikkun olam. I had been raised to believe that the world is a temporary and unimportant thing. I loved the idea of improving the world as a sacred commandment. I also enjoyed learning more about the Jewish concept of the afterlife. Hell was used for intimidation and I often felt as though fear of God and love of God were intertwined for most of my life. Even though I was starting to doubt the existence of God for myself, the idea of worshipping God out of love and not out of fear of eternal punishment sounded like a much healthier way to live. I watched Reform services online and was fascinated. I felt like I couldn’t get enough. And then there was Jewish culture. The significance of family. The holidays. The food. The numerous scientists, comedians, and activists that were Jewish. I felt a profound connection to Judaism that I was so surprised to feel.
That connection also made me disappointed. As I previously stated, I live many miles from any type of Jewish community, I have no Jewish ancestry that I am aware of, and during this time I was starting to realize I no longer believed in a personal God. How could I ever become a member of the Jewish people if I’m not ethnically Jewish and I don’t believe in God? Why did I feel a sense to belonging to the Jewish people when I had no ‘claim’ to them? I researched conversions and knew that it would be unlikely for me to accepted in most Jewish movements. I tried to put the thought of becoming Jewish out of mind and looked for ways to explore my new humanistic beliefs. I found the Unitarian Universalists and begun participating in their online events and services. It was great to meet other humanists and become active in secular circles. They were wonderful, but I felt like I was missing out on the depth and beauty of Jewish culture and life.
I found out about Humanistic Judaism through the American Humanist Association. A little bit of Googling led me to the SHJ. It almost didn’t seem real to me. There was an organization devoted to secular Judaism? I could adopt Judaism (and the Jewish people could adopt me!) without belief in God? It was too good to be true! I read everything I could find on the website, watched numerous videos on YouTube, and order Rabbi Wine’s book. I knew after a few days of my initial discovery that Humanistic Judaism was my home. I could cultivate that sense of Jewish belonging within me without having to compromise my beliefs. I could learn more about Judaism and further develop my Jewish identity in a safe and loving space. For me being a Humanistic Jew means accepting the rich and beautiful culture of Judaism, while also taking responsibility for improving my part of world (tikkun olam). I am honored and proud to be a Jew.