I am not a man of faith. While raised in a Jewish household, religion was never something that I took to—I just can’t subscribe to a belief in a higher power. There was a time when I would have described myself as an atheist, but I feel that atheism requires a conviction and certainty in the non-existence of anything outside of the empirical world that I lack. Also, most of the atheists I know are assholes and just as insufferable as any religious fundamentalist. I am much more willing to admit that there is a lot going on that I don’t know and can’t explain than atheism typically allows for. I suppose that would make me an agnostic. When it comes to life, I believe that we’re born, we die, and all we have any modicum of control over is what takes place between those two markers.
Where am I going with this? Well, I live in a neighborhood that has a large concentration of Orthodox Jews. For some reason, Orthodox Jews make me nervous—they always have. When I’m around them, I feel terrible for not being more Jewish, as though my being a bad Jew is letting them down; their conviction makes me question my lack of faith, and this in turn leaves me feeling uncomfortable in their presence.
This Saturday, I was out running—it’s part of my normal routine. On my Saturday run, I am used to passing or weaving around Orthodox Jews on their way somewhere. It’s the Sabbath, and while I don’t know all the things Orthodox Jews don’t do on the Sabbath (check the logic of that if you feel inclined, it’s flawless), I know they don’t drive, they don’t exchange money, and they don’t touch anything that has to do with electricity. Anyway, I’m on 12th street, not far from home, and I don’t think anything of the two people in yarmulkes, a man and a boy, coming towards me, but then the man flags me down. He apologizes for stopping me, but it’s the Sabbath, and they’re not allowed to touch a light switch, and there is a ceiling fan in their home that is on too high—it’s shaking and causing some concern, would I mind coming into their home and adjusting it so that it stops rattling?
I don’t hesitate. Of course I would do this for them. I want to convey that I am a Jew, I understand the custom, but I’m also a bad Jew, I don’t subscribe to any of it, and please don’t judge me. I couldn’t do it. I simply walked with the man and his son into their home, apologized for all the sweat, adjusted the fan, they thanked me, and I left. This seems like a nothing of an occurrence, an odd, barely noticeable jump-cut in life’s progression, but it meant a lot to me. I felt I’d done something good, a small mitzvah. Whatever.
I had a nice long chat with Leah Newsom, so here is another part one of two. I’ve known Leah for years, but I didn’t know know her, so we talked about it all—coasters, tissue, Myspace, family, religion, writing, the MFA life, travel, tattoos, deep stuff. Leah is a co-founder and editor of Spilled Milk, an online literary journal focusing on ultra-short form—”a highly caffeinated alternative to mindlessly scrolling your infinite, mundane newsfeeds.”