This is a guest post by Sheila Malcolm, Madrikha/Leader at Beth Ami, Colorado Congregation for Humanistic Judaism and a board member of the Society for Humanistic Judaism.
“No,” I told Rabbi Soddon as he paced back and forth across the contained living room. My mother sat in a chair. I don’t recall my location in the room, but my voice was emerging from deep within. “I’m not going back to Hebrew School and I’m not going to have a bas mitzvah.”
Words were spoken – cajoling, flattering, maybe a bit threatening. In the end, I changed to, “Yes, but…” But I’m done after the bas mitzvah. No more services, no family events, no camp. I’m done.
I’ve told this story before without this pause, moving on to paragraphs about hiding my identity in high school, studying Ulpan in college, tentatively traveling to Israel, sharing Jewish holiday practices with my students as a young teacher. But this pause is a question. Why did I say no?
I bet most of you can answer that question as well. I said NO to rote memorization of words I didn’t comprehend. I said NO to a burned-out teacher who stopped even attempting to respond to my queries and challenges. I said NO because I’d rather be reading precious novels and poetry than the words to my assigned parsha. And writing my own song lyrics and poems. How wonderfully progressive it would have been, I say in hindsight to the long-gone Rabbi Soddon, if you had let me write my own, my voice, my self.
Most of all I said NO to god. I stopped wishing HIM to exist, up there in the clouds as the sun’s rays poured through. Clenching my eyes shut and listening for answers that never came, before going on to do what I knew was right. Making those important life decisions on my own, without the divine guidance which just stood me up. We parted ways, god and me, and I didn’t cry or look back.