“Do you believe in G-d?” my son asks while I hastily drive him to meet the rabbi for Hebrew school, after yelling “sweet Jesus” to the sweet-looking senior in the left lane driving so slowly it’s as if he’s on a Sunday jaunt through the English countryside, and long before thinking through what I should say to my little seraph.
What I say shocks him, not because I turn off the radio and begin driving the actual speed limit, but because I gather my thoughts and tell him the truth. “I don’t know,” I say earnestly. I begin nibbling my nails worrying I may have confused him. As his mother, I assume he sees me as all-knowing, it’s generally how I roll.
I don’t regurgitate the evolutionary science that easily reinforces an atheist’s logic, nor do I give a glorious sermon from my vehicular pulpit, where many of my fist-pounding conversations occur these days. I’m not prepared for that, nor does it seem like this is what my son is asking to hear. I seize the moment, stay focused, and ask him his beliefs instead.
What comes tumbling out of his mouth next is nothing we casually talk about over tacos on a Tuesday night. “Why do people hate Jews so much?”
“What a serious question,” I simply say. “I don’t easily have that answer.” I verbally park there for the time being.
A few weeks later, I sit with a cup of tea and fine tune what I really want to say. I share religion’s historical facts, its intended purpose, but also its inconvenient Sunday-hold on society because I’m a modern-day mom, real and authentic, and I want to shop at Hobby Lobby any day of the week, especially after getting my nails done on a Sunday afternoon.
However, I have a secret love affair with the soft parts of my own religion, not for its strict doctrine; but for its warmth, generosity, and unwavering inclusion, especially when I selfishly demand it. I think this is what believing in G-d feels like for me. I don’t want to overthink it or sound like a stoned philosophy major in well-worn Birkenstocks ruminating toward the stars, so I keep my thoughts simple and leave it at that.
Knowing I am living a rare and powerful moment with my son, at the last minute, I decide to throw in current events, in my attempt to tie the past and present together in a big, fat red bow like a master schoolteacher seamlessly does.
I circle our conversation back to Whoopi Goldberg, last month’s lightning rod for race and religion. She had made a misguided, on-air comment on The View. The panel danced around the Tennessee Board of Education’s decision to ban the graphic novel “Maus” for its too-graphic material about the too-graphic Holocaust.
Without thinking (I’m giving her boundless credit here because I’m channeling generosity of spirit), Whoopi blurted, “Let’s be truthful about it, because the Holocaust isn’t about race.” Then said, “The minute you turn it into race, it goes down this alley.”
I go down this alley with my son. I boldly tell him that ignorance about the Holocaust is beyond shameful and best left to those who still celebrate statues of white supremacists (I mentally note to pin this conversation for another time).
I repeat Hitler’s actual words from a letter he wrote in 1919 stating, “The Jews are definitely a race and not a religious community,” I tell my son about the political manifesto, “Mein Kampf,” written by Hitler in 1925, where he talks of white “Aryans” as the “genius race” and Jews as the “parasites.” Hitler calls Jews a “race tuberculosis of the peoples.”
My Holocaust history lesson comes to a close, and I still cannot reconcile Whoopi’s lack of understanding of historical (and factual!) events, nor can reasonably explain that a survey released in 2020 found that many young adults do not even believe that 6 million Jews were exterminated in the concentration camps ruled by Nazi Germany. No matter what your religious or political doctrine, let’s admit that’s simply pathetic. Period.
I reason, maybe haphazardly, that religion is not what your parents or grandparents want you to believe — and that one sizzles the roof of my mouth to say aloud, no doubt a not-too-subtle abomination from my grandmother, may she rest peacefully in heaven. It’s about learning the facts and then listening to your heart.
I finish my Sermon at the Dinner Table with another bite of pizza and a shared realization that we may never know why Jews are hated so much. Then I say what Whoopi actually did get right: “It’s how we treat each other.”
Yes, Whoopi, that’s a fine place to start.
Andrea Chacos lives in Carbondale.
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