“I am not my Judaism”

Project Description:

Although my mother is Greek Orthodox and my father is Jewish, my parents decided to raise my my younger brother and I in the Jewish faith. Even though my father had married a woman who isn’t Jewish, he didn’t want to be the broken link in the long chain of Jewish tradition. It was extremely important for him to raise Jewish children who would carry on the faith and heritage of our people. My mother, being the wonderful woman she is, was extremely understanding and supportive but didn’t want to convert herself. When I was born, my parents went to an Orthodox rabbinical court in order to have me converted. At eight days old I underwent a bris (circumcision) for conversion and a few months later I was brought to the mikvah, or ritual bath. I had officially converted to Judaism before I was even able to talk.

Our parents never wanted to confuse my brother and I in terms of faith and identity. We were never told that we were half Christian and half Jewish and we never considered ourselves as such. Throughout our childhood my brother and I were told that we are members of the Jewish People and heirs to the Jewish heritage of our ancestors. My mother feared that we would one day have to face bigotry and anti Semitism. She always told us that we should be proud of who we are and we should be proud of being Jewish. Jewish pride was instilled in me from a very young age. I am, and always have been, an extremely proud Jew.

When it came time for me to prepare for my Bar Mitzvah, my parents enrolled my brother and I in a Conservative Hebrew school on Staten Island. It was at this Hebrew school that I was exposed to and began to learn more about Judaism. I can’t explain it, but something just clicked. I fell in love with Judaism and Jewish customs and traditions. The more I learned, the more observant I became. I stopped eating pork when I was twelve and I began keeping Shabbat when I was sixteen. I wore my tzitzit out in public school and became a regular at weekly Shabbat services.

As time went on I began identifying as an Orthodox Jew. I decided to apply to Yeshiva University, a modern Orthodox university in New York, and learn in an Orthodox yeshiva in Jerusalem. While I was learning in these institutions, I found my Jewish identity being questioned. Many doubted the legitimacy of my conversion. People told me that I’m not really Jewish according to Jewish law. People were tearing my identity away from me, without taking my feelings into consideration. Even if I was able to convince people that I am Jewish, they would label me as a convert.

I can’t express to you how much I hate being considered a convert. It makes my stomach turn every time I think about it. I view my conversion as a small technicality, not a major factor in my life. Unfortunately many other people make a big deal out of me being a “convert.” I just want people to please stop labeling me as a convert. I am the taste of bubbe’s chicken soup, the blast of the shofar, the warmth of the menorah, and the chant of the Torah. I am a proud member of the Jewish People and an heir to our ancient faith and heritage. To paraphrase Daniel Pearl: “My father is Jewish, my mother isn’t Jewish, I am Jewish.”