A few weeks ago, ESPN held its annual “Jimmy V Week,” named for former college basketball coach and analyst Jim Valvano, who lost his battle with cancer in 1993.
Less than two months before he died, Valvano received the inaugural Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award at the ESPYs. In his powerful and moving acceptance speech, Valvano talked about love, life, and his refusal to give in to the disease that was slowly eating away at his body.
During his speech, Valvano said that what’s important in life is knowing “where you started, where you are, where you’re going to be.” So I’m going to do just that.
Where I started
I was born into a Reform Jewish family in Minneapolis, Minn., that was incredibly active in our local congregation.
My mom worked for years as an administrator in the synagogue’s pre-school, my dad was an active member of Men’s Club and my sister became a Bat Mitzvah and was an active member of our youth group.
As for me, I loved being Jewish. Through religious school on Sunday mornings and Hebrew school on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, I soaked up as much knowledge as I could about Jewish history and tradition, culminating in the completion of my Bar Mitzvah in May 2007.
After having a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, a lot of Jewish kids, including my sister and many of my Jewish friends, get heavily involved in Jewish youth groups. But that didn’t happen to me.
It was around this time when we left the synagogue that we had belonged to my entire life. Joining a new congregation in middle school was tough, and my entire family struggled to get involved in a new Jewish community. Eventually, it got to the point where we only went to synagogue twice a year on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
I also began thinking more critically about Judaism and my feelings about it. I realized that going to synagogue and saying words that I didn’t fully understand (and were in a different language to boot) didn’t mean much to me. I started asking more questions and really trying to figure out what I believed in.
In the end, I found that I didn’t believe in any specific religious doctrine, nor did I believe in a God or Supreme Being that plays an active role in our daily lives. I just couldn’t accept an all-powerful being that would allow so much evil and pain to exist in the world. I couldn’t believe in a Being that would allow one man to kill 12 million people including 6 million Jews or any of the other numerous atrocities in human history.
Instead, I placed my faith in humanity and free will. I came to believe that everything that happens in our lives is completely under our control and is directly connected to the choices we make.
The Holocaust didn’t happen because of God’s master plan. It happened because one man, Adolf Hitler, made a series of horrible choices and the rest of the world chose to let it happen. Human choices, not God, caused it all to happen.
Where I am
And it’s my own choices that have brought me to where I am now. I’m a freshman studying journalism and Spanish at MU.
I consider myself religiously secular yet culturally Jewish (nifty phrase right?). Even though I no longer believe in any specific religious doctrine, Jewish or otherwise, I still think of myself as Jewish. I still celebrate the
Jewish holidays and if I were asked about my religion, I would say that I am Jewish.
Yet I am more confident than ever in my faith in human choices and free will. Every day, I see more and more evidence that we alone control our lives with the choices we make, without any interference from a higher power.
This belief instilled in me the understanding that I can do anything I want to if I make the right choices. It has also, on the other hand, shown me that the things we choose not to do have just a big of an impact as those we choose to do.
Where I'm going to be
So where am I going to be? Your guess is as good as mine. The one thing I do know is that I want to keep moving forward, and I plan to use writing for this site to help me do that.
Even though I’m not a part of an organized religion, religion as a whole fascinates me. Anything that can be the cause of so much, both good and bad, in the course of history is something I want to learn more about.
So every month, I hope to write two columns. The first will involve me providing commentary on various religious items in the news and trying to add something to the conversation.
The other, I believe, will be a little more unique. Once a month, I will take a Biblical story or other religious custom or event and flesh it out in the course of a column. I am eager to learn about the beliefs of various religions and hope I can provide some sort of insight.
My goal with this column is to learn about different religions and add something productive to the religious conversation. But to truly accomplish this goal, I need your help.
Whether it’s a different point of view, a question, a column suggestion, a correction or anything else, please make your voice heard. Use the comments section to, respectfully, join in the conversation with me.
I’m excited for this journey, and I can’t wait to get started.