Judaism as culture

By Matthew Palatnik | Poolesville '20

By Maya Sardar | The Potomac School

I am an agnostic and I am a Jew. This probably seems like a dichotomy, an inherent conflict, and growing up, it presented one for me. Realizing that despite one’s lack of religious belief, one can still feel a strong connection to religion seemed very strange, and it has taken me a long time to fully understand this and consolidate my feelings with regards to my sense of Judaism and my own secularism.

The greatest contributor to my sense of self is probably how my parents chose to raise me, allowing me to choose my own identity and sense of self, while also instilling positive cultural Jewishness. I cannot be more grateful to them.

I was raised knowing that I was Jewish. As a child, my whole family would gather for holidays, eat, talk, and enjoy our shared culture. I attended synagogue, and I had a Bar Mitzvah, which was meaningful to me. I realized later that it represented a cultural rite of passage and a milestone in my life. My parents also taught me about Tikkun Olam - repairing the world - a traditional tenet of Judaism that supports social justice and peace. This early introduction to the creation of a more just and safe environment not just for myself, but for everyone in my community, is something that has driven my interest in social justice, identity, and my contribution to this magazine.

As I got older, my parents, who had differing religious views themselves, my father an atheist, and my mother, an agnostic who observes aspects of Judaism, allowed me to choose my own path as to what I believed. Because of this, I was able to choose to be an agnostic, and I stopped going to synagogue.

Yet in spite of that, I still felt like a Jew. I spent a lot of time considering this; it got confusing trying to explain to people how I could be both agnostic and Jewish, but I eventually realized why I felt the way I felt. My parents choose to allow me to grow up in a culturally Jewish environment, while also opening the door to my own personal development, made me who I am. My sense of Jewishness comes from my connection to the values and beliefs that create a better world, and encourage intellectualism.

Those positive aspects of Jewish culture are some of the most important parts of who I am. Because of that, I have realized that no matter how I choose to practice, or not practice, the religious aspects of Judaism, I will always be Jewish. Those values are something I want to pass on, not just to my own children, but also to the community and people around me.