My mother is an atheist, any notion of God
obscured by the weight
bearing down on her bent back,
obscured by the burn
from the crack of the whip,
down her spine
—they can't reach their destination.
A benevolent God wouldn't do this.
He wouldn't take the human body
and turn it in on itself, eating away at itself,
for He created it himself, and he said it was good, right?
He wouldn't take her legs and wrap them
in the resounding silence of questions
unanswered, apathy and inertia of a nation
an incapacity for collective action,
she is Atlas, holding up the world.
Holding up the weight of everyone else's faith
that she was chosen to bear arbitrarily
but cannot share—
I guess that's why she always seems so tired.
He wouldn't steal away her livelihood,
her autonomy, my childhood,
Wouldn't render us immobile, make us
me pathologically petrified
to move forward
for fear of leaving her behind, no—
a benevolent God wouldn't do this.
So how ironic that she's
the reason I believe.
If I told her, she'd answer,
how can you put faith
in the word of a book that says
to stone rebellious children,
to burn gays, lepers, dissenters
at the stake, to never let a woman stray
lest heaven forbid she become impure
without a guiding hand on her shoulder—
in the word of a God who punishes
me for the sins of my father—
But I don't have to live by Leviticus,
the ideology of Deuteronomy,
I'm not a textualist, and
these don't exist in isolation.
They are voices out of many.
I don't hear archaic commandments
born out of a time when things were different,
when you couldn't compare are value systems—
I can't convince people who won't listen
But I can tell her that in my temple, I hear
Lech-lecha mimoladtecha el-haeretz asher arecha.
“Go from your homeland, to a land that I will show you.”
I hear, L'shanah haba'ah b'yerushalayim.
“Next year in Jerusalem.”
I hear go, but don't forget from whence you came,
don't forget who paved the way,
as you leave behind a city skyline
to find yourself in the snowy midwest.
I can tell her that, in my temple,
I hear the voices of Ruth and Esther,
the wisdom of the Song of Songs.
I hear “I charge you, O daughters of
Jerusalem, not to give your love
away until it is ready.”
I hear live, but live steady—
even if your gait isn't.
I hear don't be ashamed of your identity—
even if it makes you different.
I hear live with unabashed integrity,
an open heart in the face of misfortune.
I hear value your community,
no matter how small or strange,
I hear always be a voice for change
with your eyes ever on the horizon.
Be better than the generation before you,
and teach your children what you lacked then.
And so I put my faith not
in the word of a book, but
in the heart of a living document
that aims to explain identity.
An identity that began before a dream
of a dream of a distant time, that survived
oppression, prejudice, exile,
Exodus, and mass genocide.
An identity that could not be exterminated,
refused to be terminated or lost in our Diaspora.
Not burned away by the multiple sclerosis,
It seeps from under the floorboards
of my apartment, lights sparks in
my memories, seeds left to grow
throughout the days
of my childhood, teaching me
resilience, spirit, community, tenacity.
I was raised with all
the evidence I needed
to believe in