I remember sitting next to my best friend in preschool, a meek display of Ritz and grapes in front of us, when she told me that each cracker was the body of Christ. Raised in a Jewish family, I was reasonably suspicious of the snack; who was Christ and why was she eating his body? Was he the secret to the perfect balance of buttery and salty? Unbeknownst to me, this was the genesis of my religious intolerance.
After my parents got divorced, my mom introduced my sister and me to an assortment of Christian denominations, from Mormonism to Presbyterianism. Regardless of branch, the bricks of pews were significantly less welcoming than the lopsided semicircle of wicker chairs at the synagogue. The mutilated body dangling from the cross stared me down as I wished more than anything to be sitting in front of the delicately carved wooden ark and Rabbi Laurie in her blue and white tallit. The candles in the churches were far away, dim and tired, different from the steady flames dancing on the strong cotton wicks of the white wax pillars that protected the Torah. I had become not only resistant to, but negative toward religions other than my own.
I was one of four bar mitzvahs in Missoula in 2012; one of four young adults who made the choice to publicly dedicate their lives to Jewish culture and faith. When my sister started skipping synagogue for band practice and movie dates with friends, I was ashamed. This intensified when I was eventually the only member of my family who went to synagogue at all. Strangely enough, as I too began to frequent services less and less often, the guilt subsided and I felt more devout than I did in the stale rooms of the temple. I was the last person in my family to learn that faith is validated not by the hours you spend praying, but by the sincerity with which you devote yourself to a belief. Being Facebook friends with the synagogue board members didn’t legitimize piety.
It wasn’t until after I’d renounced organized religion altogether that I realized the discomfort that I felt in the churches was not a holy spirit telling me I was in the wrong place; it was an intolerance of people who practiced differently than I. Understanding that the time, place, or practice of my belief did not make me a better servant to Adonai Our God, let alone a better person, allowed me to become more tolerant of differences in faith. Being exposed to a number of different religions and practices ignited an openness that I’d been resisting. Whether it be a passion for music, literature, soccer, or God, finding people that hold similar values is a spiritual experience.
When my friend offered me the body of Christ at snack time, I was intolerant because of my age, upbringing, and shallow wealth of knowledge. When I was welcomed with open arms into numerous churches, I was intolerant because of my holier-than-thou dedication to Judaism, inconsideration of lifestyles alternative to my own, unjustified sense of superiority. This realization was the catalyst for my personal development of tolerance and acceptance.
When I reconnected with God outside of the synagogue, at the intersection of adolescent rebellion and traditionalist religion, I unsuppressed my ability to make choices regarding faith without being unfaithful. My devotion to God was not contingent on a devotion to dogmatic religion and the foundations of tolerance, forbearance, and compassion on which I now subsist were subdued in my misapprehension. Though I’m still hesitant to eat the body of Christ, the understanding that religion is not a matter of superiority has cultivated my growth into a tolerant and accepting person.