By Ben Spielberg
Age .2: I have just been circumcised for no apparent reason. A bearded man prayed to me. I cried throughout the night.
Age 4: I have begun to notice that there are other people in this world known as “Christians.” My favorite television shows all have specials during this time of year. I don't understand how that tree got inside those houses. I learn about a “mistletoe,” which is an evil contraption that will make any girl kiss me. I carefully plan how I could use a mistletoe, should I ever find one.
Age 5: My classmates have started talking about an elderly Caucasian man known as Santa Claus. I ask my mother who this obese man is, and if he will come to our house bearing gifts. She tells me that he's not real. I smile and think about this secret; only my mother and I are aware of the foolish beliefs of the rest of the world. I wonder what eggnog tastes like.
Age 6: It's some Jewish Holiday, which means that I have to read aloud, as I am the youngest of the group. My sister begs my father to let us “find the matzah,” which is a hidden piece of stale bread. The yeast-less substance is always behind the oven, and my father very socialistically gives each of us a $20 bill. I make sure to remind my siblings that I found the matzah, and I take note that it tastes delicious when smothered with peanut butter.
Age 7: My brother has something called a Bar Mitzvah. He is 13 years old and now considered a man. He reads in a foreign language and discusses the Holocaust. I become even wearier of the German-sounding Santa Claus.
Age 8: My family has recently moved to Los Angeles and made friends with a Christian family. We are invited to church. I spend the next three hours thinking about my next move in Pokemon. I learn that my mother accidentally drinks the holy water.
Age 9: I feel uncomfortable sitting next to a German girl in school. I wonder if her parents are Nazis.
Age 11: I grow angry and fed up with religion. My thoughts of God have become dark. I read my first Bukowski novel. The idea of God seems stupid. I brush off the thought of planning for my very own Bar Mitzvah, despite the large sums of money my friends have accumulated.
Age 12: My father sends me to Stephen S. Weiss for one year and I am miserable. I don't understand the Friday morning prayers. The uniform is uncomfortable and the grape juice too sweet. I began to exercise silence during the “Under God” part of the Pledge of Allegiance. I spend much of my time in the principal's office.
Age 13: I make it clear to my father that I will not have a Bar Mitzvah. I grow embarrassed of my Jewish ethnicity and decide to change my last name. I ask people for change at school and they call me a Jew. I hate my nose and try to find the best angle for photos of my face.
Age 14: My parents are talking about the Israeli-Palestine conflict and I tell them I don't care. They are shocked and disappointed.
Age 16: I tell myself that people believe in God because they are too weak to believe in themselves. This idea comforts me and I feel superior to most human beings. I debate becoming a Satanist, opting instead for the sanctity of atheism. Later, I decide instead that I will simply have no religion.
Age 18: Heroin.
Age 19: I am dope-sick and I go to my first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. They talk about God and they hold hands. They are weak. I pop Imodium until the prayer at the end. I don't know the words and I stay silent, just as I had during my years at Stephen S. Weiss. I swear off AA for one year.
Age 20: My father gives me an ultimatum. I can either go to temple for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, or I can find an alternative place to live. I have been kicking dope for two days and I go to temple. My stomach is churning and there are families everywhere. I think about the hidden track marks on my arms and begin to weep next to my mother. My anxiety skyrockets and my sobbing becomes uncontrollable. I tell my parents I am going to use the restroom, catch a ride to Highland Park, and get high. I ignore the phone calls from my family for the rest of the day.
Age 21: I have been inserted into a Jewish-based rehabilitation program. Shabbat services are not unbearable, even though I still don't know the prayers. I enjoy a respectable 50% of the things Rabbi Mark discusses during Ethics. Somebody gives me change and says it's a “mitzvah.”
Age 22: I recognize that there is nothing inherent in Judaism that I am ashamed of. The Torah, just like the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, is filled with stories that are meant for us to be good and righteous people. I am still filled with anger at the thought of stereotypes and religious fanaticism.
Age 23: I work at a Jewish rehab and am educated at a respectable Jesuit university. I have generally abandoned my 16-year old thoughts of Godlessness and instead opt for a balance between my yetzer h'ara and my yetzer h'atov. Religion no longer makes me cringe, and I no longer feel shame in Judaism. I am proud of the fact that I was brought up to wrestle with different ideas. Still, I deny my father's pushes for a Bar Mitzvah.