Published On: Mon, Nov 2nd, 2015

I’m Jewish, I’m Not Jewish, I’m Confused

A humorous and heartening story of how a date night and the former Prime Minister of Israel made one man  question his identity.

Nobel Laureate Israel Umman,   thinking

My wife and I love to try new things and recently we were invited to an event in Los Angeles called the Distinguished Speakers Series of Southern California, which regularly puts on events where famous men and women from around the globe who are paid to come and speak to packed houses of eager listeners.

The speaker on this night was is Ehud Barak, the former prime minister of Israel from 1999-2001. If you have not heard of him, you’re not alone as neither had I until last night, and I remember I am Jewish. Well, I was born Jew–

Let me back up here. My father is Christian and my mother is Jewish. And since I was always told that by Jewish law if your mother is Jewish, then you are Jewish too; by proxy, I guess I’m considered Jewish.

No gray area there since “forever” is a pretty easy to understand time frame.

When I Googled this to double-check, I found this pretty cut and dry sentence on a site which read, “Rabbinical Judaism maintains that a Jew, whether by birth or conversion, is a Jew forever.”

No gray area there since “forever” is a pretty easy to understand time frame.

Still, the overall question for me is, “If you are not a practicing Jew and don’t adhere to any Judaic practices and, religiously speaking don’t consider yourself Jewish, are you Jewish?”

Another way to think of it, “If someone doesn’t consider themselves Jewish, even going so far as denouncing it, are they still Jewish if their mother was?”

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Before I try to answer those questions, let me point out that I have never had a Bar Mitzvah, though I have been to about seventy of them in my lifetime so I know most of the words to those catchy prayers anyway.

As a kid we observed Passover by having Seder, but at the same time we celebrated Christmas, not Chanukah.

To add to my internal conflict, I actually lived in a Buddhist monastery in Thailand for a while in my twenties. Even though I really connected with Buddhism, I must admit, I don’t really feel a super strong bond to that religion either.

When I had a chance to see the Middle East, I chose to go to Jordan, rather than Israel, which is literally next door.

On the religious front, I guess if you had to stamp me with some sort of affiliation it would be “Agnostic”.

Whenever I go to events or meet people for the first time and the topic of religion comes up, I usually let them know that I don’t practice any particular religion, but I was raised by a Christian father and a Jewish mother.

Then, almost like clockwork, “Oh, you’re Jewish then.”  Mind you, even the Non-Jews say this tome so everyone seems to know the “if your mom is Jewish you are too” thing.

I came to the conclusion that despite what I looked like, Hitler would have almost certainly considered me Jewish and had me killed, worked to death, or sent me to the gas chamber. 

This will sound strange, but one odd way I think about the question of me being Jewish or not is through my love of watching World War II movies and TV shows. I am fascinated by World War II and as much as I know and feel Hitler was the worst human to set foot on this earth, I can get enough of him. I am appalled, and fascinated at the same time that anyone ever listened to the man.

Anyway, I sometimes wonder what would happen if I was in Europe in the late 1930s or early 40s and Hitler and his regime came knocking at my door?

That’s because I am tall, blond haired, and blue eyed; exactly what he and his cronies considered the perfect type – an Arian. But my mom is a Schwartz so there’s no Sherlocking around needed to see if she and her family are Jewish.

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I came to the conclusion that despite what I looked like, Hitler would have almost certainly considered me Jewish and had me killed, worked to death, or sent me to the gas chamber.

A strange thought to contemplate and to write, but it’s true.

So as Mr. Barak gave his speech and answered questions up on that stage about his days as an Israeli soldier fighting terrorism and about his conversations with world leaders, my mind raced trying to understand if I was listening as a fellow Jew or not?

Am I Jewish because my mom was and she gave birth to me?

When I got home, I did some online research to help me understand things better and I learned that back in the 1980s, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Jews are, in fact, a race, at least for purposes of certain anti-discrimination laws.

And there’s no question Judaism is a religion so it clearly checks both boxes on those fronts.

Now, I am even more confused.

Then I remembered a moment in my life that that maybe can help me clear up some of my confusion. I was, ironically enough, at my Jewish side of the family’s Christmas party, when one of my cousins and I were talking about this very topic and he said something that stuck with me.

He said, “A rabbi once told me that being Jewish means simply that you believe in God and you are a good person.”

I am not sure if most Hasidic or Orthodox Jews would agree with that statement, but I really liked it. It made sense too.

From the moment I began writing this article, I can honestly say that I wasn’t really sure where it would lead me.  I was looking for some answers and I felt maybe an article would flush some stuff out.

So it is time for me to ask myself, “Kevin, are you any less confused now? And more importantly, are you Jewish?”

The answer … YES, I am Jewish.

Although I am not practicing Jew, with no direct ties to being Jewish except my friends and family, it is inexplicably part of me and where I came from.

I think I realize that being Jewish is more about the connection I feel with other Jewish people in my life, family, friends and with my own mother.

There’s a connection there that I can’t deny and shouldn’t deny. I think the confusion stems from the fact that I am trying to define myself with a word that has so many definitions. So many layers.

I think I realize that being Jewish is more about the connection I feel with other Jewish people in my life, family, friends and with my own mother.

◊♦◊

Maybe this is why they say that if your mother is Jewish, you are too. This bond is there already and you can’t escape it. I know reading this may disappoint my father a bit, but even though I love him very much, I just don’t feel any real connection with Christianity.

Thank you for reading this article and allowing me to have forum to figure some stuff out. Writing can sometimes be good therapy for all of us.

And who knows, next month’s speaker is former Monty Python Actor/Comedian, John Cleese, and if my wife and I decide to go to that event who the heck knows what kind of existential questions will come up and I will want to write about. Stay tuned!

This article was first published at Good Men Project

 

By Kevin Leadingham, a writer and a reality TV producer/director who has produced shows for over 15 years, including shows such as Treehouse Masters and Wife Swap. I live in Los Angeles, CA with his my Amie, who is a master certified relationship coach

 

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