Lost Deep Within My Kishkes

…when kids asked me if I was Jewish, I usually told them I was French and Catholic…

In the 50+ years I’ve been alive, I’ve kept my own internal turmoil over my Jewish journey, pretty close to the vest. It was buried deep within my kishkes for a long time.

I was adopted at birth from the Jewish Children’s Bureau (JCB, now known as JCFS.) Even though I was adopted by Jewish parents from a Jewish organization and attended Jewish preschool, I had this idea that I wasn’t really Jewish.

As a little girl, when kids asked me if I was Jewish, I often told them I was French and Catholic. (Just for a frame of reference, I also told them I had an elephant living in our family room.)

It’s not that I didn’t want to be Jewish or was ashamed of being Jewish, I just didn’t believe I was Jewish. At the tender age of five, when my parents told me I was adopted, it hadn’t occurred to me that it didn’t matter if I was Jewish via my bloodline or not.

Like so many adopted kids, I felt really confused.

disclaimer: My parents did an excellent job of telling me I was adopted. I felt loved, special and taken care of... and also, confused.

As I grew, I didn’t believe I could simply choose to be Jewish. My parents were obviously raising me Jewish, in a Reform temple that I went to for what seemed like an eternity. (I was confirmed at 16.) Why in the hell didn’t I think I was Jewish? I wanted to tell my mom I didn’t feel Jewish. I thought about telling my rabbi I didn’t feel Jewish. I was so ashamed of not feeling Jewish. So, I just kept “acting” like I felt Jewish.

My temple, Temple Judea Mizpah in Skokie.
Photo credit: Svitlana Varacuta

I grew up in Skokie just north of Chicago. Skokie was once coined, “The World’s Largest Village.” Back in the 1970’s when I was a kid, Skokie was home to approximately 7000, Holocaust Survivors. I vividly remember the incident that made Skokie famous. I was there and they even made a movie about it… — Neo-Nazis wanted to have a rally and march in my village.

A large group of anti-Nazi demonstrators chant at a park in the predominantly Jewish Chicago suburb of Skokie, Illinois, July 4, 1977, protesting a possible future march in Skokie by Nazis.
Photo credit: Charles Knoblock/AP

I was terrified; worried for my family, friends and all of the Jews who lived peaceful lives in my little, “big” village. By now, antisemitism, racism and other inequities infuriated me. I remember yelling when The Phil Donohue show had Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen on his show…ON HIS SHOW!!! I screamed at the TV at the top of my lungs at how wrong it all was. (I imagine my mom still remembers this. I was 12.)

Between the Skokie Nazi rally fiasco and that “Donahue” show, I quickly learned that injustice mattered to me and that it was my obligation to do all I could to fight injustice, racism and antisemitism. I had no idea how “Jewish” that was at the time.

Over the years, I rarely dated Jewish boys. It just didn’t seem that important as long as I was in love! (insert eye roll.) Ultimately, I went on to meet the non-Jewish man I would eventually marry and after two kids, divorce.

Before I got married, I made a decision to hire a private investigator to find my birth family. We didn’t have much information and I wasn’t very hopeful I’d get any answers to health history, who I looked like, and….. was I Jewish?

Three days after I hired the private investigator, my birth mother and family were found. “WOW!” followed by, “EEEEK!”

I was fortunate to meet my wonderful birth mom and from her, I learned that she’d converted to Judaism from Catholicism when she was pregnant with me.

So technically and according to Jewish law,

JEWISH! I was JEWISH!

I embraced and celebrated my Jewish-ness except, I still didn’t know if I had any Jewish BLOOD in me. Why this mattered, I will never understand.

Maybe you have to be adopted to totally get this, but not knowing what other blood relatives can know so easily, was hard! And, even though I knew my birth mother, I didn’t know anything about the other half of my bloodline. No one else in my birth mother’s family was Jewish and by the time I met my birth mother, she wasn’t Jewish.

Was my birth father Jewish? For reasons, I won’t get into here, I do not know who my birth father is and probably never will.

So, this past year, once and for all, I decided to take a DNA test to find out more about my ancestry. When my results arrived, I glanced at my surprising and unique genetic combo…

18.8% Ashkenazi Jewish!!!!

18.8% Ashkenazi Jewish!

As a reader, you might be thinking, “Why in the hell does this even matter to her?” I can’t explain it. When I saw that I had genetic Jewish roots, I cried tears of joy. To this day, I can’t explain why it mattered so much, but it mattered to me and that’s all that matters.

I know in the deepest core of my kishkes, I was born Jewish, have always been Jewish and will always be Jewish. For much of my life, I didn’t know I had Jewish genetics or a converted Jewish birth mother. As I obsessed about “not feeling Jewish,” through all of my questioning, I lived Jewishly and still live Jewishly today.

And like most Jews, I have personally experienced both blatant and “subtle” antisemitism; not just from strangers, but from friends and family who could really benefit from a commitment to education on what is simply NOT kosher to say or do.

When I worked in Jewish social justice, in accordance with the organization’s mission and values, I was loud and proud about working to fight racism, poverty and antisemitism in Chicago. I loved this work and the organization, (JCUA,) and still do.

Today, I am still that same girl who was yelling at Phil Donahue on the TV in 1978. We must continuously fight poverty, racism and antisemitism, together. If you’re not doing anything on Monday, April 4th at 5:00PM CDT, I urge you to attend, ORT in Conversation – Combating Antisemitism Through Education: A Global and Local Perspective. (It’s being held on Zoom and is a free event. Once you register, I will personally send you the link.) I want you to be there and ORT wants you to be there. If you think this is an invitation for Jews only or Jews in St. Louis, think again. More than anyone who makes it into this virtual event, I want my non-Jewish readers to join. It’s only by working together, through our differences, that we can chip away at antisemitism, racism, poverty and really, all societal inequities.

Okay, okay…Yeah… I’m Jewish.

Shabbat Shalom.

Lost Deep Within My Kishkes

What’s New Pussy Hat? NO, NO, NO – O

This is where I’m at. Pink pussyhat galore, if you will. I just won’t be joining you in head fashion. Here’s where my head’s at:

I love marches. I love community organizing. I not only believe it’s been proven essential in making meaningful, systemic change, but also, I love it. It makes me feel all deliciously fiery inside, but well beyond the “me” in it, it is just so obviously necessary. Continue reading “What’s New Pussy Hat? NO, NO, NO – O”

TERRORIST.

This morning, some media outlets reported, “No known connection to terrorism or terror groups…”

Stop it. Name it. Today, it’s likely WHITE, MALE, CHRISTIAN, NRA/GUN LOVING TERRORIST with a “President” and accompanying government that is failing its people with such enormity, I don’t yet know a word appropriate for their action, inaction and crimes against humankind. Continue reading “TERRORIST.”

The Shadows & Shame & Stigma of Sex

DISCLAIMER: I am angry, and this will likely be a rant. If this post offends you, I urge you to examine your own views of sex, how you use or don’t use it, your own comfort level and how you communicate and/or act in your day to day life.

If I had a penny for every woman and girl who felt some shame about sex and her own sexuality, I could retire immediately. Even women, like myself, who feel very comfortable in their own skin and embrace their sexuality, carry some semblance of shame. Continue reading “The Shadows & Shame & Stigma of Sex”

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. Continue reading “The Jew Who Wasn’t a Jew Until She Was”

The Mother Load

Lately, I’ve been extra depleted physically, mentally and emotionally. This is not a complaint, but is provided as a frame of reference for the possible drivel I’m about to write.

While in this diminished state, I considered writing 100 things I love about my Mother, but the truth is, 100 isn’t nearly enough. I have way more than 100 things I love about my amazing Mom.

Instead, I thought I’d fantasize about 100 Mother’s Day gifts and/or events I’d absolutely love. Some are real, and some are imagined. Most are imagined, but I hope they’re real someday. Continue reading “The Mother Load”

Brad: A Walking Inspiration

Brad is the best example of WHY I love nonprofit work and philanthropy.

The following essay was written and submitted by my longtime friend, Brad Kolar. He is an inspiration to me and to so many others, I simply HAD to post it on my blog.

Enjoy.

Why I choose to be an “ORT man”

Written and submitted by Brad Kolar

My mom was an “ORT lady.” For those who didn’t grow up in an ORT household, that probably doesn’t mean a lot. However, for those of us who did, that was a big deal.

Continue reading “Brad: A Walking Inspiration”

The Midlife NON-Crisis: Trumps Anger

This post is not going to focus 100% on what EVERYONE is talking about almost 100% of the time these days. Sure, I have my thoughts, opinions and feelings on the subject, but I have been and continue to be relatively quiet and very focused on what is right in front of me in the here and now.

For many years, I worked in Jewish social justice and I loved it. This was a life-changing experience where I learned the real strength that comes from praying with my feet.feet While I was there, I worked shoulder to shoulder with some of the most talented, passionate and effective community organizers in Chicago and beyond. I will forever consider these individuals role models and heroes of mine.

As I learned about community organizing, the most knowledgeable facilitators would often emphasize the power that comes from staying angry; leading with anger. Continue reading “The Midlife NON-Crisis: Trumps Anger”

Philanthropy is Phly: not Phancy

Every so often, I see myself as a Jewish version of Ann Romano from the 70’s sitcom, One Day at a Time, only, I’m without a Schneider. While this periodic thought gives me (and sometimes others) a good chuckle, it’s pretty spot on.

My daughters and I could really benefit from a Schneider, and sometimes, I daydream about having a Schneider-type nearby, only he doesn’t look like the actor, Pat Harrington, not that there was anything wrong with Pat Harrington’s looks. My fix-it guy is more like Schneider Jackman. He fixes everything, sings, dances, has a fine Australian dialect and is a philanthropist.

Continue reading “Philanthropy is Phly: not Phancy”

Labor Day & the Workaholic

DISCAIMER: This is a long ass post. I sure hope it’s worth the read. Writer (me), cannot be held responsible for winces, sighs, eye rolls or chocolate eating while reading said long ass post, unless reader (you), shares chocolate with writer (me.)

I can’t be 100% certain, but I don’t think I’ve actually written much, if anything, about my propensity toward workaholism. I am already loving the delicacy (slight touch o’bullshit) of this post, as I just mentioned having a “propensity” toward workaholism. Historically, it’s been far more than a propensity, slight leaning or minor tendency. It has been a…headfirst into any brick wall, full-speed ahead, balls out, whole mind, body and spirit, life-sucking activity. Continue reading “Labor Day & the Workaholic”

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