In my work and in my life, I have always been quite critical and even cynical about religion. I have argued in my work that religion, like other ethnic ties, are used by politicians to distract and divide. Yet today as I was in the audience during a relative's religious rite of passage (Bar Mitzvah), I was struck by how much of the prayers, songs, chants and other rituals are burned into my brain.
I hated going to services growing up, and spent most of my time in the synagogue figuring out how to climb to the top (twas a Frank Lloyd Wright design as you can see to the right). I stopped going to services after my Bar Mitzvah (which was a painful experience given how little I wanted to prepare for it) except for the high holiday services (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) when I was a teen and except for the occasional Bar Mitzvah of the next generation. Yet I found today's service (quite long) magnetic? That the songs and all the rest helped to generate a sense of commonality/community. Which is, of course, the point.
I still found myself outside more than inside. That even though I was born and raised in this community, I am an outsider as I do not believe. People can say that it is an ethnic community and one can belong even if one does not believe, but the core of the community is a shared belonging to a religious identity. While I remember how the songs are sung and how to say/chant the prayers, I do not do so because I am not willing to celebrate or promise my allegiance to this or any other god.
And this reminds me that any identification creates a sense of us and them. I was very much a them today despite the appearances of us-ness--the garb, the physical similarities to those around me. I was reminded of the title to my first book and its snazzy cover that neatly demonstrated the concept--that ties that bring (some) people together are also divisive.
I participated because family is more important to me than religious identity or differences. But I was uncomfortable and always will be at occasions like this.... until we get to the eating and drinking part. Oh, and the occasional dancing is ok, too.
One of my cousin's asked me to Semi-Spew today, but I am not sure this is what he was looking for. Oh well, you get what you pay for.