Reconciling Religion: Isabelle Rebecca Katz by Maya Barr

Above, Isabelle looks thoughtfully at the sky.

Isabelle Katz is whip-smart. One of four girls in her AP Computer Science class, she’s first to finish assignments and barely takes notes during lectures--she intrinsically gets it. And she’s always been like that.

When she was a ten-year-old learning Hebrew at Temple Beth El, she read with fluency and chanted circles above everyone else--myself included. But, she told me last week as I probed her on the subject, “I don’t think what they taught in Hebrew School really affected me.”

See, Isabelle’s relationship with Judaism is just that, a relationship. It’s unique to her and g-d. “Yes,” she says, “I believe in g-d.” No pretense.

Knowing Isabelle for as long as I have, her sureness strikes me as strange because she’s a gruff, hard science type. “Well,” she qualifies, “my beliefs are based in science.” But there’s room for g-d and spirituality in her X-Files-filled head.

Having disrupted her high school experience by spending her junior year at the North Carolina School of Science and Math, Isabelle is used to an ever-changing social and physical environment in which she finds g-d’s presence a comfort. “I think He just listens,” she explains. “Sometimes when I’m horseback riding and I’m like ‘wow, this is so beautiful!’ I think ‘thank you, g-d.’”

Other times, she explains, she thinks of g-d as someone with manipulative power “like when I have a presentation, I’m like ‘please, g-d, please help me.’ Or when I’m in a lot of pain--which happens pretty often--I’ll be like ‘oh why, g-d?’”

Yet the plea is rhetorical because Isabelle doesn’t believe in divine intervention. “I rely on g-d as support,” she delineates, “but not to fix everything. I think that’s the point of being alive--to try to fix things for yourself. And that’s what free will is.”

Photo: Isabelle looks up from the Torah.

She laughs as she eats a peanut butter ball, which she’s considerately made with sunflower butter instead of peanut butter because of my allergy. Isabelle’s accommodated for me for as long as we’ve been friends--at her bat mitzvah, she ixnayed all candies with nuts because she wanted me to feel included.

Her innate sense of welcoming is one of the reasons she’s drawn to Judaism. A smile comes across her face as she says “everyone wants to be part of a culture and they want to fit in. I mean, that’s the whole point of religion--for people to find somewhere they fit in and to share similar beliefs. I mean, or else people would just build their own little temples.”

Photo: Isabelle rejoices with her peanut butter ball.

“It’s kind of a comfort to know I have this community--the Jewish community--that will look out for me,” she looks away, embarrassed at her uncharacteristic desire for support.

This admittance is precious because Isabelle presents herself as a self-contained, independent-as-all-hell type who spurns help and social convention. (On a recent daunting AP Environmental Science project, she elected to work by herself because “I’d do all the work anyway, and I’ll probably get the same grade just by myself.” “Yeah,” she admits, “that makes me sound like a bitch, but it’s true.”)

Isabelle’s forceful personality rears its head again when we shift to talking about being Jewish in the South. “I don’t think it’s correct of people to go around telling other that their religion is wrong because a lot of people look to it for support and telling them that that’s wrong is just dumb and not appropriate. Mind your own business!”

A believer in individual freedoms, she fingers a piece of her jewfro. “I think Judaism is the best [religion] because I think it allows you to form your own opinions, and it allows you to take what you want out of the religion. "Like,” she explains, “I think of the Torah less as a strict law and more as an outline for morality and how you should behave.”

Photo: Isabelle explains her beliefs

One thing Isabelle’s taken from religion is her hope in the afterlife, despite the lack of evidence. When I ask her, she grins widely and looks up as if I’ve hit on something she’s dwelt on. “Well this freaks me out because, as a scientist, I think your cells just die, and it’s just nothing. But, as a person, I really want to go live on and party hard in heaven.”

Isabelle finishes the last nutless peanut butter ball and itches for the next activity--the conversation is over.

This profile was written by Maya Barr, a close friend of Isabelle. She has made the decision to use the spelling “g-d” for religious reasons.

Made with Adobe Slate

Make your words and images move.

Get Slate

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.