I wasn’t sure where to post this, so I’m putting it here. Heck, I don’t even know what category it goes in. This is the only place I feel comfortable sharing this, as I don’t want to write a public blog post. I especially don’t want to be seen as leveraging anything or trying to somehow earn the right to have my name tag say “oppressed minority” on it. But I need to talk about this, so here I am.
My sisters and I have been talking recently about the ways in which we’re trying to come to terms with our cultural heritage. My father’s family is Jewish–genuinely Semitic, not converted. My grandmother was a Cohen, which basically means that my forebears believe they can trace their lineage to the Levites. But my father married a gentile, and by the “rules” we are not Jewish–unless it’s convenient for someone to see us that way. Before I was married, people made a lot of assumptions about me because my birth name is very ethnic. Sometimes, people put me in that box. Other times, it’s more convenient for us to be seen as white (technically, Semites are not white). There are even people who believe my sisters and I should not exist because of our mixed heritage. Some synagogues barred entry even with our father because we were “other.” In church, I was often sort of on display as some kind of “authority” on Judaism, even though I grew up knowing very little about my culture other than celebrating some holidays (primarily Hanukkah and Passover). I fascinated people.
Part of the reason I’m processing this is that now that I’m away from conservative evangelicalism, I’m also away from prying eyes that want to treat my life like an open book. I wouldn’t mind educating people about antisemitism, but the truth is, I feel awkward. I feel sometimes like I’m half in and half out, that I have a claim on a cultural identity but not a religious one–yet they’re bound together, in a way. I don’t know how to be both a Jew and a Gentile, in part because we were never allowed to learn. And it honestly bothers me when people talk about how great Judaism is, partly because of how my people turn their backs on those of us who are mixed (with Gentile mothers) and partly because if anyone were to convert, they would have more claim on my heritage than I do–even if they didn’t actually believe in God. It honestly feels a little like someone learning Mandarin, moving to China, and then saying, “I’m Chinese,” while a child adopted from China into the U.S. may never have much knowledge of her Chinese culture if her adoptive parents choose not to help her learn.
That was longer than I intended. If you made it that far, thanks for reading. I’m still trying to figure this whole thing out.