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February 29, 2012

I just wanted to say that I’ve been trying to write about this for over a week now. I’ve thought about not posting it because of many factors (the personal nature, it possibly being offensive to some, etc), but ultimately it felt right to share because I think that many people have similar experiences. If this is you, please don’t be afraid to leave a comment.

Growing up in a primarily Jewish neighborhood it was easy to play up my own heritage, after all, my mother was Jewish. I never had any real connection to any faith as a child, all I knew was that my Dad was a non-practicing Catholic, my Mom was a Buddhist who came from a Jewish family, and we celebrated a lot of things.

When you’re a kid you play up anything that makes you more like the other kids, and I had a lot of things working against me. I talked a lot, I had a lot of energy, I occasionally picked my nose under my desk, and I liked weird things. One example: I rented Benny & Joon for my eighth birthday slumber party and let’s just say the other girls didn’t get it. Therefore, it should come to no surprise that when asked by every other Jewish kid in my class if I, also, was Jewish, I answered in the affirmative. I had to explain a bit when I wasn’t Bat Mitzvah-d, but I never lied. My friends knew that my Mom was a Buddhist, but I could get away with the fact that she came from a Jewish family. “If you’re Mom’s Jewish,you’re Jewish!”, was something I heard a lot. It worked. I wasn’t the most popular kid in school but it didn’t matter. Also, it wouldn’t have mattered if I wasn’t Jewish, but I had it to work with, so it kept me in the majority.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because of Birthright. For those of you not familiar, Birthright is a program that provides Jews between 18-26 the opportunity to travel, all expenses paid to Israel for ten days. The trips range from very religious to nature themed. The organization exists to bring foreign Jews to Israel in an effort to strengthen their connection to their homeland and heritage. I applied in 2005 to go with a group of high school girlfriends and not everyone was accepted, so I postponed my acceptance. For the next five years I didn’t apply for a variety of reasons, summer jobs, other travel, laziness, etc. I applied in 2011 and was thisclose to going, but then some things came up and I deferred my acceptance again. Now, it’s 2012 and I’m going to be 26 in June. This was my last chance. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? Where did the time go?

I was going to go this summer, I made the decision, I filled out the entire preliminary form and then I got to this question: “Why do you want to go to Israel on a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip?”. It was then that I realized that I don’t really want to go on a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip. I want to go on a free trip to another country, but I don’t really feel the connection to Judaism at all. This was my last chance to take advantage of this opportunity and I was choosing to blow it off. Not out of laziness or apprehension, but because I of a realization I came to. First off, this is by no means a way for me to convey that I dislike or disagree with any religious ideology or anything like that. Now, let me explain my reasoning:

As I was filling out the application online a few weeks ago, it hit me that I don’t feel Jewish any longer. This was a strange feeling, bizarre and out of nowhere. I always thought that I’d live my life feeling Jew-ish and Christian-ish and Budd-ish, but have no formal ties to any of the former. This isn’t really the case anymore, though. I never really felt Christian, mostly because I never played up my Christianity to fit in. Maybe this is all terrible to admit, that I played up my Jewishness to fit in growing up, but it is true, so terrible or not, it is the reality of my past. The place I am at now is a lot more secure, I know who I am better, I feel more comfortable owning up to my own feelings, my own spirituality and my own reality.

I don’t think I’d be able to relate to the other people on a birthright trip. Of course, I have a slew of friends who have been on birthright, all rave about it, all said it wasn’t very religious, it was a great experience, etc etc. But let me clarify something here, I never went to Hebrew school, I didn’t have a Bat Mitzvah, I’ve been to temple exactly twelve times (nine bar/bat mitzvahs, two funerals and once driving a dessert food truck and parking outside of a Purim festival), and name has the same amount of A’s in it as “An Italian Meatball”. I don’t think I would appreciate it. I might have six years ago when I was less sure about the course of my life, but I know that unless I were to all of a sudden fall madly in love with a deeply religious Jew, I’m not going to be Jewish. I’m not going to start going to temple and I’m not going to raise my children Jewish. I feel exactly the same way about Catholicism, by the way, but there’s no free trip to…uhhh….Israel…hmmm….yeah, for Catholics, so I don’t need to worry about having mixed feelings about it. I will, however, keep Jewish cultural traditions in my life, because they are a part of my heritage. For example, I love Passover seders, I love the idea of getting together and telling an old story and singing and then eating until you have to cut the elastic band on your leggings (let’s be real, no self-respecting Jew wears jeans to a seder, you know better). Also, I love latkes and matzoh balls and Hannukah candles and bagels and the Rugrats Passover episode. I am just pretty sure that I’d be very uncomfortable “pretending” to be Jewish on a ten day trek through the desert.

Is this wrong? Should I be ashamed of myself?

PS: I hope I haven’t offended anyone with this post. I feel very strongly that religious freedom is of the utmost importance and I, in no way, mean to demean, lessen or expose anyone’s strong feelings towards their own religious beliefs. I believe that history, tradition, and family are so very important and for so many people religion is tied in with that and I value all of these things, I am just expressing my own personal discoveries.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 5, 2012 10:02 AM

    This might be a stupid gentile question, but how do you prove your Jewish on the application? Do you have to get a letter from a Rabbi or something?

    I always knew I was Christened in the United Church and that my dad’s family was United and my Mom was Anglican, but we weren’t really anything. I grew up pretty much secular. I’ve grown up and made my own decisions and I really have no need to religion in my life. Aside from the historical parts, I’m really not interested.

    • March 5, 2012 10:33 AM

      Not a stupid question at ALL. I think they do a slight background check. Look at your own history and your parents’ and see if everything looks legit. Birth records, etc. I don’t know for sure, though. They called me and did a phone interview once, too.

      I’m glad you shared, I think a lot of people in our generation rely on other types of support rather than traditional religious values and I find it very interesting.

      • March 6, 2012 1:34 PM

        I don’t think they do any kind of check to see if you’re “legit”. I’m pretty sure they rely entirely on what you say in your interview.

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