I am Jewish.
It’s not a statement of my religious affiliation, and it doesn’t fully describe my beliefs, spirituality, and life practices.
To me, being Jewish is a piece of me, like being short or incredibly intelligent. It’s similar to my having a lazy left eye or my awesome abundance of charisma.
Being a Jew is just one of the things I am.
Since becoming a man according to the tenets of Judaism, I have attended Shul(1) less than a couple times. That doesn’t make me feel any less Jewish.
I was also Baptized as an infant. Yet, with the exceptions of celebrating the more Pagan traditions of Christmas and Easter, I don’t feel Catholic in quite the same way. Instead, Catholicism seems to be just one of the many aspects of my Italian and Irish heritages.
Inversely, I see myself as a Jew more than I do as Russian or Polish. Those were the lineages from which my Judaism arose.
Rarely will anyone hear me saying Brachas(2). Yet I do light candles on Chanukah. I don’t keep Kosher or cease working on Shabbos(3), but I will recline at a Pesach Sedar(4) and find the Afikoman(5) later.
I haven’t had much cause to read Hebrew since my teenage years, but somehow I can still read it. I do not understand the words I am reading, but honestly I never did.
There was only a brief period when learning the Hebrew language became anything more than a pathway to all my amazing Bar Mitzvah presents. It was the one summer month I spent in Israel during high school. I went on a birthright trip. That summer I actually had to learn some conversational Hebrew to interact with the native Israelis.
Once detached from the Hebrew school and Bar Mitzvah practice, learning the ancient language of the Jews became no different than learning Spanish, Chinese, or HTML.
In reality, being Jewish is just a label I affix to myself. It’s also something I feel deep inside. It’s in my bones and my genes. And if there really is such thing as an everlasting soul, I feel it in there as well.
I was lucky enough to grow up with a Bubbie and a Zaida(6). As they edged closer to the ends of their lives they became more entrenched in their Jewish beliefs and practices. They told me incessantly of the importance of maintaining a connection to my Judaism throughout the rest of my life.
I didn’t understand them then, but now I am beginning to relate with their sentiment.
There’s no chance I will do it anywhere near the way they intended or hoped, but I do feel more of a connection to my Jewish heritage than I ever expected to then.
The words in the Torah(7) and the lessons from my various Hebrew schools were enveloped in ludicrous and outlandish fiction. They included people who lived for hundreds of years. Others had mystical powers and could part seas and call forth plagues.
What was hidden between all the lines within this extraordinary fiction epic were crucial lessons that ingrained themselves into my personal and moral code. Don’t steal, don’t cheat, don’t be envious, and honor thy mother and father, amongst others, all became foundations of the man I would go on to become. At times I have struggled with some of them, but the expectations I held for myself have always remained clear.
Since then I have gotten older, somewhat wiser, and possibly even a bit more mature. My connection to my Judaism seems at home within my mind.
There are so many colorful and fantastic memories I can reflect upon from those days of my Jewish upbringing, and now I have a child to share them with myself.
I believe I turned out to be a decent and kind adult. I strive to do what is right and to always keep improving. I want to instill those values and ethics into my daughter as well. Judaism was an excellent tool in my upbringing. It may have been just some religious programming, but it certainly got the job done.
My daughter will likely never experience her own Bat Mitzvah, but she does give Tzedakah(8) and knows about Mitzvahs(9). And she may never have to suffer through day of fasting at temple during Yom Kippur(10), but somehow I never did either.
Perhaps one day her children will enjoy having a Zaida of their own. Maybe she will even be able to behold the vast history and richness of the so-called holy land in middle east as well.
I am a Jew.
I am Jewish because my mother was, and my Bubbie was before her. Yet, it’s not because the religion sets this as the rule.
Judaism is in my blood. It’s part of my culture. It’s my past and my ancestry. No amount of space or time will ever make it otherwise.
- The Yiddish word for synagogue
- Jewish blessings, usually in Hebrew
- The Sabbath
- The Jewish word for Passover dinner
- A piece of Matzah that is hidden during Passover and exchanged for a prize
- The Yiddish terms for grandmother and grandfather respectively
- The Jewish holy book, also known as the Old Testament
- The Hebrew word literally translated to justice and righteousness, but it means charity
- Mitzvah is the Hebrew word for good deed
- The Jewish high holiday of atonement
Happy Chanukah to all my fellow tribesmen, tribeswomen, and tribesthem. Happy holidays to everyone, regardless of your religious affiliation, cultural background, or choice of holidays celebrated. You all do you, in whatever fashion you choose!
Written by John Andreula
Edited by Kodid Laraque-Two Elk