This I Believe

Hannah - Santa Rosa, California
Entered on December 11, 2007
Age Group: 18 - 30

I believe that there is power in struggling to find answers. I want to question myself—my beliefs, and I want to get through it on my own.

I was the girl who was so nervous about getting up in front of my ultra-conservative temple and reciting my Haff Torah Portion that I wrote out every word phonetically. I never took the time to understand each prayer’s meaning in the years of preparation and tutoring leading up to the big day. I was focused on not failing. Supposedly, my Bat Mitzvah was the moment I became an adult in the Jewish community. For me, it was one of the first moments I began to question my religious beliefs.

I don’t think I had ever truly believed in God. It never felt truthful to me and I cannot believe in things that lack truth. Unable to have blind faith, I needed proof of God.

Each year after my bat Mitzvah I strayed farther and farther away from Judaism, challenging my mother along the way. I would refuse to go to High Holiday services because I felt they were pointless—I didn’t need to miss school to listen to prayers I didn’t understand. Initially thinking that maybe some of my frustration would be addressed in an informal youth group setting, I immediately discovered that if anything, attending meetings just gave me more reasons to challenge religion. While I wanted to tackle the immense religious misgivings, Rick, the youth group leader, talked about how teenagers’ shoes were a sign of what clique they were in. As an eighth grader, I had a closet lined with different footwear—what then, shoe man? More infuriating still, my dilemma was only widened by the question that was never addressed: How am I supposed to know God exists? I wasn’t even supposed to be there. The meetings were for believers, or people who had never even thought to question their beliefs.

The suicide of a childhood friend last year brought me back to Judaism, if only for a moment. I was so confused and hurt by his death that I hoped to find comfort, even answers in Jewish philosophy. His body was never left alone until the pine box was placed in the ground, and yet no one talked about his death during the very short mourning period before his burial. His suicide was so present around me and yet I felt forbidden to talk about it. Not believing in heaven or hell, I did not find any closure. I did not feel I understood how to break apart the pain of suicide, or how that boy could be damned for his actions. I had tried to find answers in religion, but only walked away with more questions.

After years of indecisiveness I have come to realize that believing in something without proof in order to make my life easier or more purposeful, does not lead to self-discovery.

Having proof gives me the opportunity to choose and construct my own beliefs and spirituality so that they become my personal truths. As a result, I allow myself to be open to new ideas and experiences that will hopefully further define who I am as a person.