Me and my kiddo

Me and my kiddo

Monday, January 3, 2011

Finding Objectivism

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.


  1. This is a great story! I'm glad you shared it. I always love to read about how people first experienced Atlas Shrugged, and your story is particularly powerful.

  2. Great story. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. I love dancing Ma Navu, as well. It is one of my favorites--I especially love the camel-riding rhythm of the backwards Yeminite step!

    I still practice Judaism, but like all Jews can, I interpret the tradition to fit my understanding. My identity is that of a Jew. I enjoy going to services because that is where you meet other Jews in a place like New Mexico. I do observe Yom Kippur--not as a holy day of guilt-- but as a day to reflect upon how to improve myself in order to live in the name of the best within me. I do not accept unearned guilt, but I do accept responsibility that sometimes my actions do not live up to my own high standards.

    So I have been influenced by Ayn Rand--I read Atlas Shrugged for the first time my freshman year in high school--and I believe that I understand and agree with Objectivism. But I also refuse to give up my Jewish identity, and I call myself a Jew, so I call myself a small "o" objectivist, in that I know that orthodox Objectivists--and yes, some of them seem as pious about Rand and Haredi are about G-d--would draw a narrower box than I choose to inhabit about my philosophy.

    Can one be an objectivist and a Jew? I suspect the Objectivists will say no, and since I am also a registered Libertarian voter, I am outside the Pale on that count as well.
    How very like a Jew, I suppose, that I cannot conform to the orthodoxy of Objectivism.

    But I do enjoy thinking about it, and reading about it, and conversing with Objectivists. You are some of the only people that I read and talk to that really take ideas seriously. It is a rare thing, and much appreciated.

  4. Jenn and Amy: Thanks, it's fun to get the encouragement for posts :)
    Elisheva: Thank you for sharing about your experiences and journey!

  5. Wow Rachel! Somehow I didn't catch this post the first time around. Very powerful story! It's a difficult thing to face tragedy and evil without the coping mechanisms were raised with, and I think it was particularly brave of you to question that raising while dealing with such awful and deeply moving scenes.

  6. Kelly: Thanks for the note! I re-read your top of 2011 post too and was again struck by your efforts to deal objectively with a difficult time. These tough experiences, like we both chose, can really spur self learning, but... not a gentle process. Can't wait to see you in person this year!