Reflections of a son and a father on September 11
I was raised by a remarkable scholar, raconteur, ecumenist and religious pioneer who was among the first rabbis to officiate at interfaith weddings. He did so without a fee, with such warmth and grace, that he preserved Jewish households and gained many converts to Judaism. Today, many of his fiercest detractors, have now seen the light, and perform such ceremonies themselves.
My father authored many books including “Explaining Judaism to Christians and Jews” which expounds a rational approach to Judaism, asserting that Reform Judaism captures the essence of an ever evolving Judaism, which clings to timeless core principles. He observed that the Judaism of Moses, based on animal sacrifice and other primitive customs, bears little resemblance even to Orthodox Judaism today, which features a siddur, synagogue, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, Temple dues (and don’ts) and countless other practices unknown to Moses. My father referred to Orthodox Judaism as one of the greatest “reforms” because it seeks to freeze Judaism and prevent change, for the first time in Jewish history.
When my wife was pregnant with my first son Ari, I fervently desired that my father, who was 90 at the time, would defy the odds and continue to remain healthy long enough to interact with and influence my children.
While my oldest son Ari was still in the womb, a catastrophic event occurred with such ferocity that it changed this nation forever, and indelibly changed the way I viewed my role as a future parent. After the September 11 attack, I felt with even greater urgency the need to share my father’s rational approach to religion with my children, so that they could share this concept with their peers to help their generation avoid future catastrophes that are the inevitable result of joining Iron Age ideology with modern technology.
Thus, I shared with my children my father’s view that God should be viewed as a hypothesis, and cast aside if not supported by evidence. In a post 9-11 age, demanding blind obedience from children to obey voices in their head whether from clerics, parents or any holy book, should be considered child abuse, the weaponizing of children, and a clear and present danger to our species.
If all children were raised to be rational thinkers, thousands of Americans would not have perished on September 11 or on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq. Occurring 18 years ago, the numerical equivalent for life, we are reminded that if we wish to protect life, we must learn from the mistakes of our past, not repeat them. The word “nuclear” and “unclear” share the same letters, and indicate that our future is unclear if the truths of science and reason are not applied to religion in this nuclear age. The Muslim God is derived from the Jewish God, and thus we should atone on Yom Kippur by repudiating the conceit that an all knowing being wrote our Bible or anyone else’s.
When Ari was 10 years old, he was watching a school video which said the 9-11 terrorists violated the teachings of the Koran which taught only peace. Having learned the truth about many religions, including his own, he advised me that he was being taught lies about Islam and successfully sued the School Board which thus discontinued the use of this video. Ari also co-authored an op-ed in this newspaper with me in which he expressed his passion for Jewish values, and his disbelief in God. Although my father believed in God, albeit not the traditional Biblical concept, he would have been proud to see Ari embrace Jewish ideals, and use reason to arrive at his own conclusion regarding the existence of a deity. My father helped found the Temple of Understanding which brings all religions together, and my children enjoy time in a mosque, church or Ashram.
Although my father passed away when Ari was 5 and Brandon was 2, they have both been profoundly influenced by his legacy of love, joy and learning in the form of a GPS, a “GrandParent’s Spirit”, a loving voice which they can hear in quiet moments, helping them to find their way to peace and a destination where rational religion is used to build bridges of understanding and to dismantle the walls of separation that led to 9-11. May they share his voice with others so that his memory will be a blessing.
This article is appearing in the “Jewish Journal” September 11, 2019