Mendel Letters 20: How I Became an Atheist
We never discussed this directly, but you knew it was always there. When we were boys, my brother and I went to Hebrew school in the afternoons and on weekends and Saturday and holiday services. There was a rule, if you didn’t go to schul, you went to school, and you didn’t go to the Yankee game.
My mother died after a prolonged bout with breast cancer when I was eleven and my younger brother was nine. That started me on the path to non-belief. What kind of God could do this? Worse, in some ways, instead of the religious community offering any kind of emotional support, they made sure we followed all the rituals for mourning. We were the two little boys who stood to say the prayer for the dead along with all of the older people.
When I started high school I was a skeptic, an agnostic, but by the time I was sixteen I decided I could not believe in something based on faith without evidence. God, if there is a God, wasn’t going to punish me for using a brain God, if there is a God, gave me. I raised my own family to celebrate the historical Jewish holidays but as evangelical atheists — we recruit. You took more comfort in the ritual than me, but I don’t think you really believed either.
I continued attending synagogue with Zayde on the holidays long after I was a committed atheist, but that was so someone would be with him. Funny story, I was talking with one of my cousins who insisted that he went to services with Zayde, not me. We realized that the Bubbah and Zayde moved from near his house to near mine about 1965, so the responsibility shifted.
Hard copies of these typed letters were discovered in an old camp trunk in the basement storage facility of one of the few buildings that remain standing in this Brooklyn neighborhood. The building is quite decrepit and is scheduled for demolition. The letters were found in November 2048 by a teenager who believes they were written by his great-grandfather. The letters are addressed to Mendel, the letter writer’s father, who appears to have been dead for at least six years when his son, whose name we are unsure of, started to write him. The son appears very agitated in some of the letters. With permission from the family, we are publishing them on the date they were written, only 28 years later.