I was raised in a conservative Jewish household, with my father being pretty religious and strict about the rules and my mom less so, but willing to go along with his lead. I never questioned god or the rules too much growing up, just content to be part of the group and learn new things. However, the older I got, the less the rules made sense to me and more I questioned what I was studying. I started feeling at odds with myself, not sure if going through the motions without belief was worse or better than not doing it at all. It was only in my late teens, after my parents got divorced and I had the freedom to choose to follow my dad’s or my mom’s model, that I made my choice and gave up Judaism.
Except, I also kind of didn’t. I don’t know where my ancestors were from. It was my great grandma’s generation on both sides of my family that was the one to come to America. However, they never really had cultural ties to the countries they were from. They wrote “Jewish” on their immigration papers under nationality, and they all spoke either Yiddish or Hebrew. Traditions wise, we are all Jewish to the core. We cook Jewish food. We use Yiddish expressions/endearments. We have no other identifiers to go by other than American and, apparently in America, that is not enough to satisfy people. I can only deflect the question “where are you from?” so many times until I just say Jewish. And for some reason, that is enough of an answer to people. And I guess I can see some logic to it because the religion really does come with its own identity and culture. But now I am in the position of really only speaking a half-truth. How can I still be considered Jewish if I don’t believe in or practice the religion? By others and by myself?
I feel defensive of Judaism still, hesitant to fully disown my Jewish roots because they are a huge part of my childhood. I don’t want to deny that. I have been attacked outside of a temple by drunks, been the token Jew in school more times than I can count, and had to bury some of my relatives with those numbered tattoos still on their wrists. I feel that I am doing my family, ancestors, and younger self a disservice by ignoring that part of myself/ history. A huge part of the Jewish tradition is remembering the past, bearing witness to the hurts of our ancestors and paying homage to that. I guess part of me is still loath to turn my back on that.
But I do not believe in a god, I follow none of the Jewish holidays anymore, and I want to be able to express my views on the universe now without feeling hypocritical or ashamed. I’m not looking to belong to any new group religiously, and I am not willing to take up any new labels. I guess I am just wondering if there is any place for my views and history to coexist within myself, and for that to at all translate to others. To dredge through the mislabeling to find a place that I can manage being in.
I'm a bi female undergraduate student majoring in Psychology, with minors in Women and Gender Studies and African American Studies. I am passionate about issues of domestic violence and sexual assault, and intend to get my masters in social work in order to serve those populations.