Saturday, December 11, 2010

Judaism and me

Being a Jew in the South isn’t easy. I’ll admit I’m not a Jew by the standard description. It’s more of a heritage thing for me rather than a religious identity. My mother is an extremely devout Catholic, my father is a relatively non-observant Jew, his mother was a Jew but her parents were not accepted in the community due one being Sephardim and the other Ashkenazi. In Russia at that time, and to this day, there is a division between the two. 

Recently my mother found out, much to her initial shock, that she is 1/64th Jewish due to a female ancestor in the 1700’s who was from a Hungarian Jewish family that lived in New England. In my immediate family, most people seem to either completely deny or take just a grudging acceptance of our ancestry. However, for me, my grandmother Miriam was probably the greatest influence in my life when I was a child and I never forgot her words of advice. In fact, I have her name tattooed on my right arm with the words “My eternal gratitude” because of how much what she taught me still sticks with me today. I'm sure she would not be pleased with the tattooing as she was very much opposed to the practice according to my cousin who used to be a tattoo artist.

Here in the South, there is not a strong Jewish identity or community outside of the Miami area where rich New York Jews go to retire. In the absence of that influence and seeking something to replace the rigid Catholic upbringing I suffered under, I guess you could say I created my own personalized view of Judaism and what it meant to me. I don’t keep kosher and I have never observed Shabbat, mostly because of the lack of community in my area as well as my wariness of any organized religious event. Keeping kosher might have been attainable had I grown up in an area like Brooklyn or another Jewish neighborhood but living south of the Mason-Dixon line, surrounded by a Protestant culture, one becomes accustomed to the diet. There is some kosher food which is good but like many Reform Jews (the branch of Judaism I identify with the most), I eat just about whatever is put in front of me. Pork BBQ or shrimp and cheese grits could probably be considered the most un-kosher dishes possible but I really love them. I’m not about to give up some of the most delicious food around in order to keep with an outdated dietary law which made sense long before refrigeration and modern medicine.

I never really completely fit in anywhere, whether it is politically, socially or religiously and I’m ok with that. Perhaps I’ve taken the best practices of different beliefs and ideas and used them to make my own coat of many colors. After all, isn’t that what being yourself is really all about?

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