Feeling confident as a Jew can be complicated for individuals with one Jewish parent and one non-Jewish parent. For people who have a Jewish mother, Jewish law (halachah) is on your side. No matter how you were raised, if you decide you want to identify as Jewish, the Jewish world accepts you. But it may not be that simple for the individual so viewed. A friend of mine wrote in a recent article about her friend, Rose Black, “According to halacha—Jewish law— Poet Rose Black is Jewish because her mother was a Jew. But Black feels confusion and discomfort when people point this out. ‘Although my mother told me I would always be Jewish,’ she says, ‘I felt I could never be Jewish enough to REALLY be Jewish.’”
As another person with a Jewish mother said to me, “I still don’t know all the secret handshakes.” What are those in-group secrets? Things like, knowing a little Hebrew and Yiddish. Understanding internal Jewish jokes. Knowing the assumptions that are made by practicing Jews. Like any subculture, whether Jewish or African American, Chinese or Cuban, the individuals who have lived this culture for decades, perhaps for a lifetime, have internal, unspoken understandings and behaviors. It can feel awkward while one is just learning them.
For the person with a Jewish father, it is more complicated. Jewish law says that having only a Jewish father is not sufficient to make you Jewish. However, the Reform movement recognizes as Jewish those who have a Jewish father and are raised as a Jew, observing Jewish lifecycle events. But, just to complicate things, this is only true of the Reform movement in the United States, so where you live and where you connect with Jewish community impacts how you are viewed.
Confused much? All this variety leaves a lot of room for opinions and positions of all sorts.
If YOU grew up with one Jewish parent I invite you to share your insights and experiences.
I am currently working with Dr. Bruce Phillips on a study of the experience individuals who grew up in an interfaith family. I would love to include your thoughts in the study.
If you’re willing to be interviewed (interviews take 1 to 1.5 hrs) please call Dawn at 510-845-6420 x11 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please call or email (email@example.com) for details.
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