My mom is Jewish. That’s what I would have told you had you asked me about it even just 2 years ago. This was my attempt to compartmentalize my Jewish identity into nothing more than something my mom passed to me. Like an heirloom I knew was important, but didnt really know what to do with. I put it on the shelf and stared at it for years, wondering what to make of it. Next, I would have vaguely told you that: “we don’t really participate in any organized religion, but we celebrate the holidays.” There’s nothing wrong with that, but I feel quite differently now.
Both of these statements became part of my go to speech around holidays. I grew up in a town that didn’t have many Jewish kids at all, which I have only recently started speaking about. Then I went to a college with a vibrant Jewish student life, which I did not partake in one single bit, as I was focused on: career, marriage, and anything other than my own self awareness. Post-college I opened a yoga studio bordering a town that also had a vibrant Jewish life. None of this was intentional, it was all just part of where life landed me. Me saying, “my mom is Jewish and we don’t partake in religion,” was really my way of saying, “I’m Jewish but I know next to nothing about that, so please don’t ask me questions. Also I don’t want to offend my “real” Jewish clients and colleagues with my ignorance.”
To be clear, I was always Jewish. I was always a “real” Jew; from the moment I was born. How I connect to and reclaim this is not up for evaluation or debate, especially by non Jews. Remember you are here to listen and learn, not to be the authority on my identity.
It is now very clear to me that the main reason I ever felt otherwise was due to my environment. What do I mean by that? I mean that while I don’t think most people in my hometown hated (hate) Jews, I do think many held (and still hold,) antisemitic beliefs. That was never made secret to me growing up. The Jew jokes were regular every day business. Now I see it in their social media posts, in casual conversations, and in actions. I’m so tired of being on edge every time I have to be in a crowd, because I know the chances of someone making a mask or vaccine comparison to the Holocaust is so high. I’m tired of feeling like, “how long until someone here makes a Jew joke and I immediately want to leave?” But I digress. I hope I’ve made my position clear.
Despite my attempts to convince myself that I didn’t need anyone or anything to be “spiritual, “ (and in ways, I still feel this way,) life kept presenting itself to me and proving that my theory may be flawed. Whether it was through the way of heartache, alcohol, motherhood, friendships, yoga teacher trainings, or living during a pandemic, I kept hearing this nagging voice in my head that was becoming increasingly difficult to quiet. This voice that knew I had so much more to learn about the world, and about myself. For a while, I’ve had a recurring dream where I’m in the house I lived in in college, but I’m finding all these rooms and nooks I never knew were there before. Is this dream a coincidence? I just don’t think so. It seems far too parallel to where I am in life right now. Finding all these new doors that have always been available to me, but I’d never opened.
Then March of 2020 happened in America. I slowly but surely started seeing an alarming number of Holocaust comparisons, denial, and historical revisionism with regards to the pandemic. Then May 2021 happened in Israel/Palestine, and in turn, all over social media. This blog post is not to discuss that, but it is to say very clearly that I saw several people I considered friends share blatantly antisemitic sentiments, tropes, and downright lies to their social accounts, and then go about their day. I’m not saying these forms of antisemitism haven’t been permeating our society all along, of course they have. But it had never felt so loud, so close to home, and it had never come from such unexpected parts of my circles.
Being a Jew suddenly felt like something I had to ardently defend. The beautiful part of that, is it also started to feel like something I had to lovingly embrace. I feel immense guilt that this realization came so late in my life, as I know many have felt this way all along. It dawned on me that if I didn’t become aware of my history and my beliefs, others were going to continue to distort them and write false, harmful narratives. As a mother, how could I be okay with that?
I started to read books, look up anything I possibly could online, follow Jewish activists, listen to podcasts, ask tons of questions, and found a wonderful synagogue in my area. Faith is important to me because without it , I would be lost and my spirit and voice would be drowned out by the hate in this world. By those who seek to destroy us.
As I learn more about Jewish values and traditions, I begin to see an unmistakeable correlation in how I was raised. My mother is a strong, free thinking, Jewish woman with an unwavering commitment to justice and making the world a better place. I can say without a doubt that Jewish values were evident every single day of my childhood. My mom often says that she feels bad she didn’t do more to facilitate my interest in all of this. The truth is, I only had interest in boys, pizza, and exercise up until recently. The other truth is, now that I am choosing to learn, I am able to appreciate that while we may have not grown up going to synagogue or learning Hebrew, being Jewish has always been a part of me, just waiting to be reclaimed as the beautiful, peaceful, humble gift that it is.