A boy’s simple question about Gd opens the big questions

” Do you believe in God ? my son asks as I hurriedly drive him to meet the Hebrew school rabbi, after shouting “sweet jesus” to the lovely elder in the left lane driving so slowly it’s like he’s doing a Sunday stroll through the English countryside, and long before thinking about what I should say to my little seraph.

Andrea Chacos

What I say shocks him, not because I turn off the radio and start driving the actual speed limit, but because I gather my thoughts and tell him the truth. “I don’t know,” I said sincerely. I start biting my fingernails worrying that I’ve confused him. As a mother, I guess he thinks of me as all-knowing, that’s usually how I roll.

I don’t regurgitate the science of evolution that easily reinforces an atheist’s logic, nor do I deliver a glorious sermon from my vehicular pulpit, where many of my fist bump conversations happen these days- this. I’m not prepared for that, and it doesn’t seem like that’s what my son is asking to hear either. I seize the moment, stay focused and ask him for his convictions instead.

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What comes out of his mouth next is nothing we casually talk about over tacos on a Tuesday night. “Why do people hate Jews so much?

“What a serious question,” I said simply. “I don’t easily get that answer.” I park there verbally for the moment.

A few weeks later, I sit down with a cup of tea and fine tune what I really want to say. I share the historical facts of the religion, its destination, but also its troublesome Sunday hold on society because I am a real, genuine, modern-day mom, and I want to shop at Hobby Lobby any day of the week, especially after having my nails done on a Sunday afternoon.

However, I have a secret love affair with the soft parts of my own religion, not its strict doctrine; but for his warmth, generosity and unwavering inclusion, especially when I selfishly demand it. I think that’s what believing in Gd feels like to me. I don’t want to think about it too much or sound like some major stoned philosophy in well-worn Birkenstocks ruminating towards the stars, so I keep my thoughts simple and leave it at that.

Knowing that I am having a rare and powerful moment with my son, at the last minute I decide to add current events, in my attempt to tie past and present together in a big red knot like a master teacher does.

I bring our conversation back to Whoopi Goldberg, last month’s lightning rod for race and religion. She had made an erroneous on-air comment on The View. The panel danced around the Tennessee Board of Education’s decision to ban the graphic novel “Maus” for its overly graphic Holocaust material.

Without thinking (I’m giving her unlimited credit here because I’m channeling the bounty of the spirit), Whoopi blurted out, “Let’s be honest about this, because the Holocaust isn’t about race. Then he said, “The minute you turn it into a race, it’s coming down that aisle.”

I’m walking down this alley with my son. I boldly tell him that ignorance of the Holocaust is beyond shame and best left to those who still celebrate statues of white supremacists (I mentally note to pin this conversation for another time ).

I repeat Hitler’s real words from a letter he wrote in 1919 stating “The Jews are definitely a race and not a religious community”, I tell my son about the political manifesto “Mein Kampf”, written by Hitler in 1925, where he speaks of white “Aryans” as the “breed of genius” and Jews as “parasites”. Hitler called the Jews the “racial tuberculosis of peoples”.

My Holocaust history lesson is coming to an end, and I still can’t reconcile Whoopi’s lack of understanding of historical (and factual!) events, nor can I reasonably explain that an investigation published in 2020 revealed that many young adults do not even believe that 6 million Jews were exterminated in concentration camps run by Nazi Germany. Whatever your religious or political doctrine, let’s admit it’s just plain pathetic. Period.

I reason, perhaps haphazardly, that religion is not what your parents or grandparents want you to believe – and one crackles the roof of my mouth to say out loud, no doubt an abomination not too subtle from my grandmother, may she rest in peace in paradise. It’s about learning the facts and then listening to your heart.

I end my table sermon with another bite of pizza and a shared realization that we may never know why Jews are so hated. Then I say what Whoopi did right: “It’s how we treat each other.”

Yes, Whoopi, that’s a good place to start.


Andrea Chacos lives in Carbondale.


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