Am I a Jew?
Despite my attempts to the contrary, I suppose that I am a Jew. I am one of a long line of Jewish individuals, many of whom suffered and/or were killed at the hands of non-Jews. I have been told that I look Jewish and that my name sounds Jewish. I have also been informed that even though I do not possess a Jewish-looking nose (could there be more stereotypes informing what it means to be a Jew?), I have a Jewish sense of humor and can mimick a Jewish accent along with the best of them. I have been known to make many Jewish jokes and to be unable to stop myself from telling me about the great bargains I find. I also have a particular affinity for music written in a minor key.
I can recall many childhood visits to my mom’s side of the family in Detroit, Michigan. When I was 14, I firmly believed that my boyfriend and I were destined to spend our lives together, so of course I told my relatives about him. The first response came from a cousin, who immediately asked me, Is he Jewish?
No, I said.
Well, that’s ok. It’s not like you are going to marry him or anything.
I’m not? I remember thinking.
I was defiant and wanted to shake my fist and demand to be taken seriously! How could my own family wave off my destiny so readily. I can admit today that he and I were not really a match made in heaven, should such a place exist, though it was not due to our deriving from different religious origins. Of course, it is my understanding that there is no heaven for Jews, so the appropriate verbage would be to say that we were not a match made in limbo.
Most of my life, I have felt a conflict between feeling a simultaneous deep connection and revulsion for my heritage. There was a time when a tempestuous teenage version of me screamed at my mother I do not have to be Jewish if I did not want to be, to which she responded, You are Jewish because I am Jewish. Etc. etc. My sibling has reminded me of my rebellious actions at Orthodox family weddings. The men and woman would be separated by a rope or curtain. Apparently, I found this rule as one of many to be broken, so I would stand directly over the rope with one foot on either side in protest. While my feelings about Judaism have softened somewhat over the years, I still feel deeply saddened at the way so many of my people are quick to spurn and dispel non-Jews from what they believe to be their promised land alone.
This post was inspired by a set of questions a coworker taking a Jewish Studies course recently asked if I would answer. I have shared both questions and my answers below.
Am I a Jew?
By Marieke Slovin
On this, the day 10th day of April, 2015
- Do you consider yourself to be religious, secular, or both? In what ways?
I tend to respond that I am more of the “ish” part of Jewish. I was raised in a Jewish family. It was very important to my mom and my grandfather that I went to temple. It was my own choice to attend Hebrew School because we had just moved to a new town and it was what all the kids were doing. At least, that is my memory. I was often bored in class, so I would tuck a book of my own choice that was non-Hebrew School related inside my textbook.
I cannot recall if I ever felt strongly about a God or questioned the existence of such a deity. What I do remember quite vividly was the moment I became disenchanted with the Jewish religion. I was attending a Passover Seder with my family at a friend’s home. Food was being passed around from person-to-person, and there was lively banter. A story came up about a boy who attended one of the temples in town. He had wanted to sign up for a trip with other kids but had been refused because he was not considered to be legitimately Jewish since his mother was not Jewish. I remember being horrified by this story and equally, if not more, disturbed by the fact that no one else seems to take offense at this ridiculous, hurtful action.
That was the beginning of the end for me. The more I have learned about Judaism, including the incredibly sexist traditions, women as property, and the orthodox propensity for homophobia and supporting attacks on Palestinians, the more I feel ashamed to be Jewish.
I find it disturbing that a people who have been unjustly treated since time immemorial would turn toward similar behavior to people who are different than they are.
I am thus a conflicted Jewish soul. I feel a strong sense of honor and gratitude for the people in my family who came before me, but I have no desire to spend time in a temple and even less desire to pledge myself to any kind of god.
- What holidays do you remember from childhood? What were they like?
My family celebrated the traditional Jewish holidays throughout the year. Our gatherings were more about community than adhering strictly to the religious texts for any given holiday. I remember food, laughter, sitting at the designated kids’ table, playing games, and singing songs. I did not like fasting on Yom Kippur, so I often refused.
- Was the Sabbath observed when you were a child? What does it mean to you today?
I think my family observed the Sabbath was when I was very little. I have a vague memory of my mom saying prayers over bread. But, this memory could also be from seeing family photos. My grandfather used to observe the Sabbath. I recall periodically going to temple on Saturday mornings, but that may have been a requirement for Hebrew School rather than a family tradition.
Today, the Sabbath holds no meaning for me.
- How is your Jewishness different from your parents?
My mother considers herself to me Jewish. My father is an atheist. I consider myself of Jewish descent.
- What would you like for me to know about being Jewish?
You can learn everything you need to know by watching Woody Allen films. We are all plagued by guilt and conflicted about what it means to be Jewish.