Thursday, April 17, 2014

Funny You Don't Look Jewish!

Many of my Christian friends and family members will be celebrating Easter this coming Sunday. Once I think about it, it has been ten years since I last celebrated Easter.

You see, I identify as a Jew and was officially adopted into the Jewish community eight years ago. My husband comes from a Jewish family. Raising our son as a Jew was a no-brainer. I am currently a Board of Directors Co-Chair for a local Jewish non-profit organization. I feel no different from any other Jew. I have never really looked back. If anything, I feel more authentic.

Except when Jewish geography inevitably comes up. I get puzzled looks when I explain I was born and raised in Wisconsin where I never saw one day of Jewish day school or Hebrew school.

Other times, people say once finding out that I am Jewish:

"Funny you don't look Jewish!"

But what does Jewish look like anyways?

Over the years, I met Jews of every possible color-even Jews of African descent with corresponding dark complexion and kinky curly hair. As far as I could see, there was not a single Jewish phenotype-only stereotypes.

My response has always been the same.

"You mean that I do not look like I am of Eastern European ancestry?

At that point, most people smile sheepishly. They know I am right.

It even led to confusion with my midwife. On my medical documents, I had the box for Jewish under religious preference checked off. When I was pregnant with Teddy, my midwife insisted that I get tested for Jewish genetic diseases. I then had to explain why such genetic tests would be unnecessary.

There was a period in my life where I wanted to pretend that the first eighteen years of my life never happened. There would be less explaining to do that way. And I also didn't want to feel like I needed to justify my Jewish choice to some people who wanted further explanation to help them understand better how someone of a Christian upbringing could become Jewish. It was just the frequent explaining that got rather tiring over time.

But then my appearance would give me away. I simply could not pass for a stereotypical Eastern European Jew. What does that make me then? An Old Black Witch?

I was attending religious services one Shabbat morning when an adorable blond-haired girl of four years approached everyone with the same question:

"Are you Jewish?"

The answer was always the same.


She asked me the same question.

I nodded my head affirmatively.

She ran to get what I could see was a photo book and plopped on the seat next to me. The girl looked at me and said, "You are exactly like me. Did you know that I have two birthdays? One is the day I was born and then the second was the day I became Jewish."

She was adopted from Russia by the cantor and his wife after they couldn't have children.

The girl showed me series of pictures from the day she took dips in the mikveh. "Now that is how I became Jewish!" she exclaimed, grinning.

Then I came to realize that there are Jews with a wide variety of religious backgrounds and upbringing. I am simply a part of that diversity. Since then, I became more open about my childhood years. I still visit my family for Christmas, even though it is not really "my" holiday. It is more about getting together.

Even though I have religious and philosophical differences with Christianity in general, I still wish people nothing but good things for Christian religious holidays.

Happy Easter!

And Happy Passover!

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