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by on May 22, 2011

Like many Jews of modern times I come from a mixed family.  I have, perhaps more than other people I know, a distinctly odd situation.  My mother is Jewish, which according to Jewish law makes me Jewish, as indeed I am by choice and by culture.  My father is not Jewish, which is to say he never went through the process of converting to Judaism – a very good thing, too, based on the converts I know.  He is nominally Jewish, however.

It becomes more complicated.  My Jewish mother has two brothers, both of whom have been Bar Mitzvahed, and at least one of whom has ‘left the faith,’ to put it lightly, and the other of which is derogatory of Judaism and every other religion.  With a brother and three cousins on my Jewish (i.e. maternal) side of the family, I was the only one to have a Bar/Bat Mitzvah (and I am the youngest of these cousins).  Some cousins have become more interested in their Jewish heritage as the years have progressed.

Let’s observe the paternal side of my family.  Clearly, since my father is only nominally Jewish, the family religion is something else.  My grandmother attends the Episcopalian Church; her children are all rather non-religious.  On this non-Jewish side of my family, I have two (three?) cousins who have been Bar Mitzvahed, one of whom is in the Israeli army.  I have several other cousins on this side of the family with a decidedly Jewish heritage, though varied in displays of cultural Judaism.  I did say it is an odd situation.

I’ve had a Bar Mitzvah, and I call myself Jewish, but I’m far from a practicing Jew.  I show up to services for Passover (sometimes) and haven’t been to Rosh Hashanah (new year) or Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) for several years.  However, as I mentioned, I have a grandmother who attends church.  It was my contribution – one I was glad to make – to drive my grandma to church early on a Sunday morning.  Nonetheless, it is distinctly odd sitting in church.  As a Jew, I sat there in the second row, wondering, ‘do they know I’m Jewish?’ ‘is it obvious I have no idea what I’m doing?’ – that much was clear, I’m sure.

Generally communal prayer involves some parts where the congregation responds to promptings.  I’ve always felt odd doing this – it is a mainstay of education as well to have a reading with a response – but it is decidedly odd doing this for a religion with which you are unfamiliar and don’t quite believe.  I’m not very good at lines such as “Jesus is the Lord our God.”  Mostly, or completely, these are private worries; nobody commented.  Nobody commented that I didn’t take the wine and cracker which is supposed to be blood and body.

It was, as far as necessities go, necessary that somebody take my grandma to church.  It is good to get up in the morning and not always be in the house.  I can’t complain that I did what somebody was supposed to do – and it might as well have been me – and drive to church.  It is much less an act of religion than it is of habit, custom, and socializing.  The only thing I’m missing, and I hope I remedy this, is that I should also connect to the religion with which I am familiar.  It would feel far less odd.

From → Religion

  1. The World Ghost permalink

    Ahhh….looks like I had missed a couple. 🙂
    As someone with almost NO personal religious background this was an interesting read.

    Prompting: one of the quickest ways to memorize the phrases which you are supposed to be familiar with, then quickly lose familiarity with the meaning those phrases are supposed to convey…

  2. As a person with a similarly odd religious background (a mirror image of yours in many respects)- I have to agree that religion plays a perplexing role in my life. While I am not officially Jewish in any way- I am not Bat-Mitvahed and my mother is not Jewish- I feel culturally Jewish as I grew up going to a reform temple, attending Hebrew school for a few year, and growing up amid a Jewish-ish family. I’d call it social Judaism.

    On the three or four occasions when I have attended church in my life- including mass with my sister’s Catholic great-aunt- I felt incredibly out of place- uncomfortable with the doctrine and the delivery. On the other hand, when I went to a shabbat gathering in college at the local temple, I felt instantly at home in the music and people. More recently, I have been dunked back into Judaism as my significant other, Mike, is from a family who attend a Conservative temple
    and keep Kosher out of respect for a late grandmother. At times I get the sense that I am an imposter in this environment- my Yiddish is nearly non-existant, as is my Hebrew. When I gathered with the family to sit shiva night after night, I was lost except for a few short snatches of the Kiddush that I remembered from my youth. While the others read aloud in Hebrew, my eyes wandered to the English translation, and while the musical quality of the prayers was comforting, I felt false proclaiming the blessedness of God, exalting his greatness. I thought to myself how ironic it was that I was comforted more by the sound of the words than the meaning.

    Yet Mike’s mother, who keeps Kosher and is heavily active in the temple, proclaims a disbelief in God. I suppose community plays a larger part than belief for many people, and in that way, I am among my people.

    I don’t speak Hebrew because I got pulled out of Hebrew school too early due to family politics- none of which had anything to do with religion- but I still want to learn.

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