I was raised to believe in God, God Almighty. And I don’t say that I am an atheist, I can’t say it. I’ve always believed that there was someone up there who loves me. I’ll tell you this though. I do not believe in religion. I think that religion is the cause of far far far more problems than it solves. I would love for somebody to show me otherwise, but that’s just what I see.
Both my parents are Jewish. I identify with Judaism because I was born Jewish. But I was raised not very religiously; my parents never really forced it on me. We were just Jewish. You always have some person who’d say: ‘oh you’re Jewish, I couldn’t tell’. Why? Because I don’t have the curly curls next to my head? Or what were you expecting?
It’s funny, it was my sister who taught me that I should pray every night, before I go to bed. My parents didn’t really tell me I had to pray, they sort of led by example. My dad tried to put me in Sunday school, when I was twelve, to prepare for bar mitzvah. But I kept getting into fights with this one kid there, and then he stopped bothering, so I never had a Bar Mitzvah. I think with my family it’s more about identity than about adherence to religious practices. If somebody asks me who I am, I am proud to tell people I am Jewish. More because I feel that to hide that would be very disrespectful, to all of the people who have been forced to hide it in the past. Somebody asks me what I believe, that’s more complicated.
I respect every faith, and atheism. I think all religions have the same underlying philosophy, ‘do no harm’, ‘be good to your fellow human being’, they all have something that I identify with and aim for, a lot of us do. But it’s funny because all of the people I respect the most in the world are atheists. Most of the people who I know in the media, who are religious, I am sorry to say, it makes me suspicious. Actually, right now I am following some people online, who identify as Jewish, who are doing some fantastic work, I really admire them. So for example, a Jewish organisation in the US, that is dedicated to fighting on behalf of DREAMERS, and people being deported.
Of course, I had my own relationship with religion. As a gay man, I’ve learned to be very wary of people on the religious end of the spectrum. I think the stance [on homosexuality] doesn’t depend on the religion, it depends on levels of orthodoxy. If you go far enough, there’s no faith that just says, ‘but, the gays are okay’. But I have to say, I am extremely lucky, and extremely privileged, because when I told my parents, they accepted me immediately. And I know how lucky I am – especially for old school Russian Jews, who had met like three gay people their entire lives.
Growing up was a whole different story. It was very difficult, because I come from a very right wing province, and they sort of knew that I was gay before I did. I don’t know what part religion played in that. If you dig deep enough, there’s always some preacher saying, ‘beat up the gays, it’s fine’. But Alberta is a rotten place to grow up gay. It’s not Uganda, but it’s not easy.
I’m not as well familiar with Jewish beliefs as I should be. I’m not even sure there’s a proper heaven in Judaism. I’m happy to believe there’s a god, and yet, I’m also happy to believe that there’s death. And I’m okay with that. Mostly I’m trying to focus on what’s happening here, here and now, rather than on what happens in ‘the better world’, as my parents say in Russian.