Respecting a Different Religion From Afar

Though as a child I was planted at Temple Emanuel on Long Island to sprout into a well-versed, practicing Jew, I have never truly found any solace in religion. I willingly went through years of Hebrew school after my bat mitzvah simply because I enjoyed the ethical conversations we would engage in as a class. That, and I had pretty much grown up with the other kids in my class.

I have wondered if being immersed in Judaism as a teenager has done anything for me in regards to having some sort of faith. Spending hours studying and reading Hebrew must have resonated on some level or another. However, when I had The Oracle get T-shirts that say “There is no God but journalism,” the truth of my agnosticism became self-evident.

Admittedly, I had dabbled quite deeply into astrology and other New Age concepts like any good New Paltz freshman girl — crystals, spell books, etc. This was satisfying for quite some time, but I realized that my interest had little to do with faith, and was more of an attraction to meditation than many of these spiritual doctrines. I wish I could say that I still meditate and retain some sort of centering method, but as an overworked reporter and student, my brain seems to interpret meditation as a time to think a thousand thoughts at once.

The real reason I am writing on this topic is because of my experiences as a reporter at The Mid-Hudson Times this past summer. As mentioned before, I was raised Jewish and had many Jewish friends, so I was totally booked up with back-to-back weekends full of b’nai mitzvah parties — I had never been to any other place of worship besides a temple. As far removed from identifying with Judaism I feel, I always strive to not be one of those young liberal adults who scoffs at religion. As a reporter at The Mid-Hudson Times, I was assigned to cover the Town of Montgomery. Tragically, over the summer, Gunnery Sgt. Mark Hopkins lost his life along with 15 other military servicemen in a plane crash in Mississippi. The plane was bound for California, transferring servicemen based from Stewart Air National Guard Base and North Carolina. Hopkins was an active, beloved member of the Goodwill Church of Montgomery.

Attending Hopkins’ funeral at the church was my first time going to an Evangelical Presbyterian church service. I always felt a bit awkward standing among such passionate singing and praise of God. But like any good journalist, I became simply a piece of furniture for the duration of the service, suspending my disinterest in religion. Standing among the people who were mourning for Hopkins and the rest of the servicemen who passed away, the fervor of their faith was palpable. However foreign and strange singing songs about Jesus watching over us feels to me, I found it to be interesting to see people have so much invested in something I had completely denounced.

In a way, I was a bit jealous that I did not have some kind of higher power to believe in and pray to when someone passed away or something awful happened. I felt a strange sense of happiness for the people in the room that they were so comforted by their religion and community. I’ve become reflective of the wonders religion can do for people, how it can help and aid them in grieving.

I will say this, however: I have a boundless gratitude for the members of the temple I grew up in. In 2012, my mother was diagnosed with myelofibrosis. She had to leave my sister and I to live in a hospital in New York City for treatment, later moving to a rehabilitation center to complete her recovery. At the time, I was 16 and my sister was 19, so we were alone in our Long Island home for about 6 months. Our temple created a schedule for Hadassah members to bring us dinners and other home-cooked meals once a week in a rotation of different people. This was extremely helpful to my sister and I, as we tried to deal with the real possibility of losing our mother, while also looking out for ourselves in everyday life. As I said before, the community that religion creates is what I find most valuable in having any sort of faith. 

This is probably my last column I’ll write as a staff member of The Oracle, so I am taking this opportunity to share my recent revelations because I can write whatever I want, and I probably won’t be able to talk about my weird thoughts in a publication again in the real world.