When I was deconverting from Christianity (a 3-year process), I entertained becoming a Jew — after all, I still sort of believed in God. So I attended a local reformed synagogue for a year and joined a Jewish Folk Dance group. I loved studying the Hebrew script so I could chant in the synagogue on Shabbat (Friday night). I was also thoroughly and pleasantly surprised to find out during Schule (Sunday morning) that the Jewish men ranged from Atheist to devout YHWH lovers and that they could still stay good friends while debating these issues — after all, they were still Jews. But I wasn’t a Jew and never would be and Zionism was ugly — so I left.
Nonetheless, I have always had a place in my heart for the Jews because of the persecution stories I have heard over the decades. However, if I lived in Israel where often the tables are flipped, I am sure I would not have such a warm spot.
Another big part of Judaism that I enjoyed was their holidays. And the Jews, like other believers, love their holidays like people in every religion. Holidays (holy days), after all, capture basic human emotions, strengthen family memories and tie the community together — what’s not to like. The religious specialists, however, often pour more into holidays making them a tool to drive people of different faiths apart. So to counter the exclusivist elements in religion, I try to show believers that the holidays capture basic things we all love.
Atheists wrestle with how to celebrate holidays — especially if they live in a land dominated by a stifling religion. But religions have often stole many of their holidays from other cultures, so why can’t we reclaim them for ourselves. My atheist family celebrates both the Winter festival and the Spring festival which were taken from “pagans” by Christians. Why not also figure out how to celebrate the Jewish Passover which began yesterday. An Atheist could strip it of its Jewish parochial nature but preserve its common human elements of “conviviality, Epicureanism, a love of good conversation”.
Today I read a fun, short article by Judith Shulevitz at Tablet Magazine describing how Passover was probably borrowed heavily from the Greek customs of “symposium literature”. Give her article a read and see if knowing some of its origins will help you to borrow from Passover just as Jews borrowed from the Greeks — and thus embrace the universal natural human tendency to decorate our seasons. Borrowing is cool, just don’t pretend anything is yours. Blow the shofar for all the things we share!