Wednesday, April 23, 2008

So I'm Jewish, Apparently

My wife is well along in the process of converting to Judaism. I was raised Presbyterian, she was raised Catholic; I've been a devout atheist since I was about 10, and she's agnostic. But she likes the traditions of Judaism, its questioning nature, the community and history around it. So she's taking conversion classes.

About a month ago, she tells my brother about it, and he says, "Oh, yeah -- you know, we're a quarter Jewish."

We're what again?

Turns out, eight or ten years back, he went to my grandmother's funeral. My grandfather's relatives were all there, and since many of them seemed to have stereotypically New York Jewish accents and mannerisms, he asked about it.

This is the story. My grandfather was born in the Bronx to a family of Russian (by way of England) Jews. He grew up and fell in love with my grandmother, but his mother insisted he couldn't marry a shiksa. He converted to Christianity, married her anyway, and nobody bothered to mention any of this for more than 30 years. (And my brother didn't mention it to me for another decade after he found out. I asked him, "Are we anything else I should know about? Were we raised by wolves until we were ten?")

So I'm Jewish, apparently -- a quarter Jewish, at least. But in a funny way. I'm not Jewish in the right way for Jews to consider me Jewish (because my mother wasn't Jewish, because her mother wasn't), yet I'm Jewish enough for the Nazis to have killed me. Perfect.

I have zero emotional attachment to the religion and culture, since it wasn't part of my world growing up. I consider the superstitious aspect of Judaism silly, same as any other religion. Yet there are aspects of Judaism I respect and relate to -- its emphasis on trying to be a good person, on learning, on questioning, on doing good in the world, on freedom and human rights -- and I suspect that's because these were family values, though never explicitly connected to Judaism.

So I'm a little Jewish, maybe. But not very.

And I'm sorry, but I love, love, love bacon.

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