What’s Religion Got to do With It?

4 Feb



Nothing at all.

People often see a cause-and-effect relationship with someone like me, who has a terminal illness and who has either become more religious or changed religions.  But, as I say in my blog profile, the truth is that translation doesn’t give you cancer, and cancer doesn’t give you Judaism, despite the conclusions that might be drawn from my life or my current situation.

Sometimes people don’t believe me when I tell them that there’s no correlation between my religion and my illness.  “Aren’t you concerned that this is G-d’s punishment for turning your back on Jesus?” they ask.  The question doesn’t surprise me… I was, after all, once told by a coworker in the States that I would be cured of an illness if I quit reading the “evil” Harry Potter series and spent a little more time reading my Bible (ironically, I’d read more of the Bible than she had, and studied it more in depth).

I can’t blame them, though – outwardly, it does look as though my journey towards Judaism and my journey through fighting cancer began at roughly the same time, although I had actually started moving towards Judaism years beforehand.  Things finally came to a head in March and April of 2009, during the Lenten season.  I had been invited to my Swiss Mom’s grandson’s baby naming in January, and it was the first time I had ever been in a synagogue or seen a Jewish service.  As the prayer book was in a mix of Hebrew and French, I missed out on a lot of what was going on and decided to do some research on the Internet once I got back to my room.  What I found out was that the ethics and beliefs and practices of Judaism lined up a lot better with my own personal beliefs than those of Christianity did.  But I also found out that conversion to Judaism is a very lengthy and serious process, so for Lent I decided to take a friend’s advice and take something on rather than giving something up.  I researched the official theology and history of all the mainstream Christian denominations to see if any of them would work for me as well as Judaism did, but I came up short.  Easter and Passover were at the same time that year, so I had a decision to make – celebrate Passover and eat only unleavened foods for eight days or take communion at Easter.

I chose Passover, and the moment I did, it was sealed in my mind that I would, one day, officially be Jewish.

But maybe religion does have something to do with it, after all.  Religion did get me to take Hebrew classes and let me continue to sing in choir, which gave me a very supportive social network and the intellectual stimulation I needed to avoid floundering around in boredom.  The Shabbat services gave me a sense of peace and proximity to G-d.  It’s hard to be bitter or resentful or depressed when you feel peaceful and loved and close to G-d.  And when you have positive feelings, it’s easier to grapple with your own mortality and fight through all the medical difficulties you face.

Knowing that the conversion process would take at least two years helped, too, ironically.  Many people said I shouldn’t try for it, since planning that far in advance when you have a terminal illness isn’t wise.  I, on the other hand, saw it as a new challenge and motivation to stick around on the Earth – I told the doubters I’ll either die Jewish or die trying!


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