The Jew Who Wasn’t a Jew Until She Was

This is hard for me to write but less hard for me to make right.

I have recently gotten hooked on long bicycle rides. 20 miles may not be much for a cyclist who wears super cute Lycra clothes that say things like, “Shimano.” For me, 20 miles is as far as my Day-Glo white legs wish to take me. Like many cyclists, I work up a pretty good shvitz.

This past Monday morning before I got ready to bike to work, I chose one of my favorite t-shirts to shvitz in. I have five of the same exact blue t-shirts from the many years I worked for the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA.) As I started to put the shirt on, I thought, “What if someone wants to hit me with their car because I have Hebrew letters on my back?” I am embarrassed to admit that fear for my own physical safety changed my mind and I wore a boring, gray t-shirt instead.JCUA shirt.jpgMy shift in decision also had me recalling the few times my daughters have asked me to be careful with the Jewish items that identify me as a Jew. After a while, I think my kids stopped saying anything because they didn’t want the impending lecture that was sure to come about never being ashamed of identifying as a Jewish woman.

When I was a child, I didn’t see myself as Jewish. I went to a temple, did confirmation class on Sundays and was definitely raised Jewish. Plus, I’d been adopted at birth and told I didn’t have a Jewish nose or I didn’t look Jewish, (whatever THAT is), so, I decided I was French and Catholic. (I also told kids that I had an elephant living in the center of our family room.) Ask my Mom, Lois Klier. She’ll laugh her tuches off as she corroborates (and adds to) my creative stories.

I never saw much wrong with my beliefs. My beliefs were that I really didn’t know what to believe in. I also had a strong perception that because I didn’t know my genetic roots, I had to conjure up something that felt okay to me.

The pretty obvious truth is that I was really lost. Also, I kind of didn’t want to be Jewish, I just wanted to be okay, which I was not.

Eventually, I found myself, but not my Judaism.

When I was in my 30’s, I located the maternal side of my birth family. This is where I learned that even though my birth mother was originally raised Catholic and of Swedish origin, she’d converted to Judaism as a teenager and then, had me. A-HA! I was sort of Catholic and sort of Jewish-ish. I mean, if my birth mother was Jewish at the time of my birth, would all Jews believe I was Jewish?

Through all of my years of questioning WHAT I was long after I already knew WHO I was, I still wasn’t totally sold on being Jewish.

In 2008, at JCUA, I became a Jew. I will be forever indebted to JCUA for providing the space and the education for me to embrace my Judaism fervently.

Where I have been wrong in the past almost decade, is that I have permitted “non-glaring” antisemitic language, conversations, jokes, etc. to be within earshot of me and done nothing about it. I’d either laugh nervously, or just simply let it slide as if nothing happened. When I think of other trauma I have endured, my letting it slide makes a great deal of sense.

BUT

That’s all over now. I will no longer permit any antisemitism to just slide by. This will mean an enormous shift in relationships for me and for some of my friends. My prayer is that they will hear me when I tell them what’s wrong and that it will matter to them.

For many years I have been extremely vocal and active on other racial, religious and gender issues. “Little” Jewish jokes will no longer fly in this world because there is no “little.”

If you love me, please take what I am typing right now as gospel. Beyond this, if you are silent right now, with everything that is happening toward Jews, (and some of you are very silent), I am questioning my ability to connect with you in any meaningful way. This isn’t a threat, this is a hard, sad truth.

So, I am a strong Jewish woman whose connection to Judaism continues to deepen.

I am also a tired Jewish woman who is going to put my JCUA t-shirt on and get some much needed and I hope, peaceful rest so that I can raise funds for my beloved ORT. (THE Jewish organization meeting the world’s educational needs since 1880.)

I pray we wake up caring for and healing each other through action.

The opposite of love is not hate. It’s indifference. — Elie Wiesel

Author: PKW

Writer, Speaker, Facilitator, Trainer, Fundraiser, Strategist, Listener, and Lover of Humans. My love for humans and relationship building are a part of every single thing I do, except for maybe using the bathroom.

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