Ha'Emet, Or the Truth I Learned From You In Good Faith

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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

neurons firing,

incomplete—

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

perpetually paralyzed,

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—

how?

 

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

to that.

 

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

something.

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