Growing Up Jewish in America

From generation to generation, does being Jewish mean being Othered?

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My daughter’s first Hanukkah. Photo by my husband Charles Reeder.

Anti-Semitism on the rise

The recent shooting at Tree of Life synagogue has me reflecting on my own experience growing up Jewish in America.

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Railing detail in Tsfat, Israel. Photo Credit: Author.

“I am a Jew because…”

I’m 26 years old, on a rooftop in Tel Aviv, on my free 10-day Birthright trip. Because I’m sympathetic to both Palestinians and Israelis, I’ve chosen a pluralistic trip option (with tour stops like this), and I’m surrounded by new friends who also skew secular and have room for nuance.

“What should my grandma name be?”

When my husband and I found out we were pregnant, we waited just one day before we called my parents to share the happy news. They were appropriately ecstatic. We hung up the phone, started to discuss who to call next, when my mom called back:

She is Jewish because I am Jewish because my mom is Jewish.

Many Jews, rather than using the would-Hitler-kill-you test, say Judaism flows through the mom. (If you have a Jewish dad but not a mom, you can do an easy conversion ceremony if you want.)

My husband took this video of my then-2-year-old daughter singing the Hanukkah blessings with me.

There’s a hunger inside me…

My dad was supportive too, though he never learned Hebrew past an awkward recitation of the Shabbat wine blessing.

Will we ever be safe?

Here’s something I jotted down last year, when the tiki-torch-toting white supremacists showed themselves in Charlottesville:

Am I a person of color?

The day before the Tree of Life synagogue shooting, I saw a conversation in a yoga Facebook group where someone called someone else out on being anti-Semitic. The offender said it wasn’t anti-Semitic, and a white ally commented that people of color could say for themselves what was/wasn’t racist. The offender replied that, Whatever, Jewish people aren’t people of color. It’s just a religion.

It all hit at once when I was 8.

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My third-grade school photo.

“You’re going to hell, you fucking Jew.”

And this is the year I made a video with two blonde friends for a class project. My teacher videotaped us in the classroom, as one of the blonde girls and I sat in our bathing suits on beach towels.

The day I “became a woman”

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Invitation to my Bat Mitzvah

Caught between privilege and racism

I don’t talk or write about any of this much, because I know I have so much privilege. I know that other minorities have it so much worse. While I understand that privilege and racism aren’t all-or-nothing, I sometimes feel shame when I talk about myself as a victim, because while Jews deal with plenty of micro-aggressions and conspiracy theory-based anger, we are free of some of the worst systemic racism that affects other people of color.

Written by

Empathy for the win! Published in Gen, Human Parts, Heated, Tenderly —Feminism, Sexuality, Veganism, Anti-Racism, Parenting. She/They

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