This is an odd first post of the new year, but, as I returned from holiday travels, I thought that this philosophical journey was one worth sharing. I've told this story so many times, but rarely the full version and, because my path to finding Objectivism was particularly unusual and dramatic, I wanted to finally write it down.
I graduated high school at seventeen and decided that I would spend my first year of college in Israel. I joined a program called Nativ that was "dedicated to creating and inspiring the Conservative Jewish leaders of tomorrow." I took ideas seriously and went filled with enthusiasm for the adventures I felt sure awaited me. I did have adventures and became quite proficient at hopping buses for solo travel to any destination picked by my curiosity. One day, about four months into this experience, I was strolling down Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem. I had finished another university class and knew I'd be leaving for a couple months of working on Kibbutz Sa'ad soon. I was stocking up on books to read, something to do when I wasn't milking cows or strolling the almond orchards. One of the books I picked up was Atlas Shrugged. It was one of many I gathered from the used book store. I knew the author. I had read The Fountainhead in high school and thought it was a just another good book. I did not have any clue what I was in for when I began reading Atlas Shrugged.
My kibbutz days were mellow. I loved taking care of the calves and grabbing a carrot or pomelo from the fields while on a stroll. From the top of the water tower, you could see Gaza and the kibbutz was surrounded by protective fencing, but I didn't have any experiences of danger. It was just a secluded spot and I began to read through my books. I don't have a clear recollection of the process of reading Atlas Shrugged, but I vividly remember where I was when I finished it.
There was a trip offered by Nativ. It was not a pleasure trip. It was a trip to Poland. It was called The March of the Living because, in addition to other experiences, those who attended walked the path from Aushwitz to Birkenau which had been called the "March of Death". Aushwitz Birkenau was the largest concentration camp built by the Nazis. I decided I wanted to participate in this trip and took a summer job to pay the additional costs.
I was in Poland when I finished reading Atlas Shrugged. I was in a desperate moral crisis. I remember the concentration camp of Majdanek especially with it's buildings full of shoes, double barbed wire fences, and ovens for the bodies. I sat on the edge of mausoleum looking at a small mountain of people's ashes and every fiber of my being "naturally" wanted to pray. The atrocities were so great and the tears and anguish so close. Every thought of "My god!" was answered by another though, "Do I believe in god?" My coping strategy was to give myself permission to answer that question over time.
It did take time. I was so immersed in Jewish culture and I had so believed that the religion was true; I had years of intellectual work and honesty ahead of me. I still love to bake hamentashen, dance Manavu, sing yerushalayim shel zahav, play dreidle and enjoy many other aspects of Jewish culture. I don't, however, find any truth or joy in fasting on Yom Kippur to ask a god for forgiveness of sins against biblical rules. I don't deal with the guilt of never being able to fulfill all those commandments, of always needing to be forgiven, of always being in someway bad. I have Ayn Rand to thank for that joyous philosophy that has made living so much more of a delight. It was truly a precious gift.