When we were young, my brother and I had a habit of breaking ourselves down into fractions. We were: one-half Jewish, one-half Catholic, one-quarter Irish, one-half Russian, one-quarter Czech…if we were bored enough the list could go on and on. Not particularly bothered by the fact that our math didn’t add up, we loved mining our families background and asserting just how unique we were.
By high school I eschewed the game, and was no longer willing to entertain the possibility that when it came to Judaism, at least, being “half” was even an option. You were either in or out. As for me? I was definitely in. When I met people who didn’t know my family, they were astonished to learn that I had a parent who was raised Catholic. “You?” They would say incredulously, “but you’re SO Jewish!”
By the time I had committed myself to a career as a Jewish educator my family’s Jewish journey supported key building blocks in my thinking about the intersections between Jewish learning and Jewish living. Jewish learning that takes place in an open and non-judgmental atmosphere has the potential to impact the way that people would live their lives. Jewish rituals, texts, and community have the power to strengthen and support families. I bring these truths to my teaching with confidence, because I saw them in action in my own family.
When I introduce myself to students, I don’t generally talk much about my personal history, but it does tend to come up over the course of our time learning together. Adults and kids alike often remain surprised to hear that I was raised with a non-Jewish parent (I tend to say: my parents were an inter-faith couple; I was raised in a Jewish home) and more surprised still to hear my memories of Christmas trees and Easter egg hunts.
My hope is that my sharing creates space for everyone to feel at home in our community – it isn’t about having the right pedigree (I don’t even know what that would mean!) or the right kind of holiday observance. What matters is showing up, coming together to learn and share, to celebrate and console. Where we come from matters. But where we choose to go, and how we choose to get there is what really counts.email print