They’re More Jewish Than We Are, Mommy ~ by Jay

Just a few days before Julie wrote her elegy in search of community, Sam and I took Eve to Target to buy some jeans. You know that thing kids do when all of sudden everything they’re wearing is too small? Saturday afternoon, after dance class and lunch, we headed off to the shopping center. We drove up our street and passed a family walking home from the Orthodox shul.

Mommy, where are they going? They’re wearing kipot. Are they Jewish?

Yes, they are. They’re going home for lunch after services.

How come they’re walking? It’s cold out.

Some people don’t drive their cars on Shabbat.

We drive our car.

Yes, we do. Every family and every community makes their own decision about how to observe Shabbat.

So they’re more Jewish than we are.

No, they’re not. We’re all Jewish, and we’re just as Jewish as anybody else.

And I pray that she believes me. I don’t want her to feel what I felt. I don’t want her to stand on the fringes of Judaism, feeling inauthentic, fraudulent, uneducated. Between the English lit degree and the years of singing choral music, I found myself at 35 more comfortable in a church service – almost any Protestant service in the US – than in a synagogue that didn’t use the Union Prayer Book of my youth. I tell Eve that everyone who is Jewish counts the same, but I sure didn’t feel that way.

My parents never seemed to question their authenticity as Jews. My mother had to stop competing in figure skating because Jews weren’t allowed in the state finals. My father was admitted to an Ivy League school in the days of an overt Jewish quota, and his father went to medical school because Jews weren’t admitted to the PhD program in biology at Johns Hopkins. If that didn’t make you authentic, well, what did?

I needed more, and I found it. I learned to read Hebrew and lead services. I started using the lit crit skills I’d developed to swim in Torah. I replaced the Missa Solemnis in my head with four different tunes to Mah Tovu. I want to save my daughter from the sense of inauthenticity that set my feet on that path, but I know that it is the journey – for I am still traveling – that makes my life deeper and richer. I have claimed my own Judaism. If I had learned as a child everything I feel I missed, I would still have had to dive into something unknown to make it mine. That is who I am.

Eve will have to claim hers. I don’t know yet what it will look like; neither does she. She will have the education I lacked, but she doesn’t have a biological connection to Judaism. She tells us now that she will become Christian (it’s all one religion to her) when she’s a grownup, so she can have Christmas trees and Easter candy, and perhaps she will. All I can do is hold my belief that she is Jewish; she is authentically Jewish; we are all diferent, but we are all really Jews.


5 Responses

  1. Thank you for this — what a lovely and important post.

  2. I will tell my kids the same when they ask about Jews who are keeping Shabbat differently. We are all Jews.

  3. I also really enjoyed this, and found it very timely since we were just discussing that on Friday in relation to the parashah on esh zara, foreign fire, and its use in policing Jewish identity.

    This is the first time I’ve done this by phone! Technology is awesome.

  4. As a convert it’s been a 30-year adventure deciding how to practice Judaism.

    And I only know two tunes for Mah Tovu!

  5. What a fine post. Thank you. I spent many years wondering if I were “really Jewish” so I totally get what you’re writing about. I think the important thing to take away from our experiences is that there are as many ways to be Jewish as there are Jews.

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