What is it that shapes us to be what we are? Obviously, everything around us does, as well as everything inside us (I'm referring to that good old nature vs. nurture argument). When it comes to the nurture part of the equation my unconfirmed notions are that role models have more of an impact than others. Most of my childhood role models came from immediate surroundings with me tending to always point a finger at my uncle as the top serving one; but when it comes to role models with whom I have never been in direct contact, two people stand head and shoulders above the rest.
The two are Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov. Sagan impacted me through his book Broca's Brain and his TV series Cosmos; Asimov achieved similar impact through the large number of his books I got to read throughout my childhood. I find it interesting to note the similar backgrounds of the two: Both come from families of East European Jewish heritage, both lived in New York, and both shared relatively similar interests. The two lived, and died, in similar periods and similar circumstances. Quite importantly, for me at least, the two shared a mutual lack of respect towards the religion of their forefathers: both Asimov and Sagan are famous for their atheism (even if they might prefer to call it by other names, by most people's accounts they're firmly on the side of atheism).
I thought of Asimov and his relationship with Judaism after reading a post on Frederik Pohl's blog dealing with that very issue earlier this week. In it Pohl describes how Asimov felt like he didn't need to apologize to anyone for his views on Judaism; I'm fully there with Asimov, a point I feel quite strongly about today, the eve of my nephew's Bar Mitzvah in Israel. While it would have been nice to celebrate with the family, I do not regret not having the opportunity to take part in a ritual bursting at the seams with senselessness.
Thirteen year old children are not ready for prime time. Synagogues, where Bar Mitzvahs are held, are a depressing place that echo the way Judaism treats women with contempt through the separation between men and women (who get inferior seating arrangements). Besides that, if anyone bothered to understand what the texts they're chanting in there are all about then they simply wouldn't chant them anymore. I don't.