The Tree to Me

August 5, 2010 at 6:34 am | Posted in Family Ties | 7 Comments

Ask me about my background. Seriously. Go ahead. I’ve heard it all before. Italian, Portuguese, Irish. All of it.  Of course, I’m none of the above, but I think it’s fascinating to watch people guess.

The truth is, I’m Jewish. I’ve had this conversation a thousand times “Judaism is a religion, not a culture. Where is your family from?” Truth is, I don’t think I ever got a straight answer from my parents on this.  I’m a third generation American, so we’re really digging pretty far back in my opinion.  My great grandparents are from Poland, Russia, and Austria for sure, but ask me what part of me resembles characteristics from these places? Maybe looks-wise, but as previously stated, I’ve been confused for everything under the sun.

I started Hebrew school at a very young age.  I knew the stories, knew the community, knew the struggles. I knew what it was to be a modern reform Jew.  I was Bat-Mitzvahed and after that, I stopped going to temple regularly though I still observed the high holy days.  The holidays, like most holidays, are really just an excuse to get together with family anyways for the most part. Just throw some traditional holy foods into the mix.

So I struggled with this identity question for most of my life, until I took a course in college on the Jewish people. To my surprise, the class was awful, but I did learn that I’m not alone in defining myself as Jewish.  Because of the Diaspora, Jews don’t have one homeland, I learned, though of course we all know of the constant fighting over the holy land. I learned that even though I’m not religious, I still identify with the Jewish culture.

When I travel to other countries, my answer to this question becomes more real. I am American. But you can’t say that in America.  But how long can we ask the question, “What’s your background?” What kind of connection are 7th-generation Americans going to have to their Homeland?

I’m grateful that I went through Hebrew school. It not only laid the groundwork for morality, but it helped me connect to my rich heritage, a past that I can be proud of.

And to all my friends out there who are wondering why I didn’t say anything about being a wanna-be Italian, well, forgetaboutit!


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  1. It’s a similar struggle here in NZ. You can’t just say ‘I’m a Kiwi’ although some people are fighting to just have “New Zealander” as an option on the census form.

    I don’t think I’m still quite clear on how Judaism works. I get that it’s both culture and religion…which at the same time confuses me.

    • You are definitely not alone in the confusion surrounding Judaism. It’s certainly an anomaly. But people do identify as being Jewish while not being religious.

      I also happen to live in the New York City area, which has a large Jewish population, so it’s easy to find others who feel as I do. What’s the Jewish population like in NZ?

      • Small? Nonexistent?

        I don’t think I’ve ever actually met any Jews.

      • always surprises me to hear that! Well, I’m happy to be your intro to Jew 🙂

  2. You were the first Jewish friend I ever had, and I LOVED it! I’ve met Jewish people before, but you were my favorite :). I loved learning about all your traditions, and even watching your Bat Mitzva video and participating in one of your holiday traditions with traditional holiday food “CHALLAH!!!”

    I totally understand your frustration of being asked your background. At least in the town I grew up in, everyone is Irish. I have a bit of Irish in me, but not a lot. Even italian. But I identify mostly with being German, Spanish and French! Thats because I look more “Gerpaninch” than anything else.

    I’d love to have another holiday dinner with you! Shalom!

    • and Shalom to you! If I ever make it to the Holy land, you are more than welcome to join me. I hear Tel Aviv is a pretty happening place.

  3. […] spoken in the past about my exposure to the Jewish religion — Hebrew school, temple, Bat-Mitzvah, prayers, the […]

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