Converting to Judaism

The Oys and Joys of Choosing A Jewish Life

Stuck in the Middle

on June 4, 2014

Sometimes, I feel like I don’t belong anywhere.

I’m not sure if it’s my religious situation, my age, or just a feeling that everyone experiences at some point.

However, my straddling both the Catholic and Jewish world at times makes it hard to fit in, and my small town only helps to illustrate the tension. (I’ve always hesitated to call it my hometown- where is home, what does it look like? I’m still trying to find it.)

The ladies from church remember me as a cantor, altar server, Sunday school aide, or all of the above. They accost me at parades and in the store with seemingly harmless smalltalk. What are you studying in school? What do you want to do with your degree? Simple questions meant to be engaging disarm me and signal for a retreat further behind the convenient mask of silence. Coming from a large family who is very active in their church, it’s impossible to go anywhere without being recognized as “oh, you’re the __adjective__ family from St. Jo’s.”

Catholicism is unavoidable when I’m at home. A crucifix in every room, grace before every meal (sometimes a meal consisting of pork sausages), only Christian music in the car. I wrote a draft of this post with a pencil stamped “Diocese of Harrisburg.” I tend to feel like an outsider both in my town and  within the house.

So, you would think I feel at home in the small but tight-knit Jewish community here. However, having grown up in a rural, predominantly Christian town, all of the Jews have known each other since preschool. When I first started to go to the temple here, people either assumed I was 1. not Jewish or 2. not from around here. Once I had been introduced as “David’s girlfriend” by his family, the title and the associations with it stuck.

Maybe it’s all in my head, but I feel like I can never shake the stigmatism that comes with being a shiksa once people know that I am not Jewish. Or rather, I will never be Jewish in their minds, no matter what I believe or feel. Picnics, social gatherings, and other events tend to stress me out because I don’t know anyone and no one bothers with introductions other than “this is David’s girlfriend, Ellie.” How can I ever become anything else if that’s all most people bother to learn? It’s hard to establish yourself where people already have an idea of who they think you are.

Here’s what I do. I blend with the family- head bowed during prayers, properly amused by both retelling of homilies, and familiar with the song lyrics of both hymns and Superchick songs. I go to Jewish services and try to pray without feeling overly self-conscious (which rarely happens) and attend the social events with a smile and a name tag that says “hi, I’m David’s girlfriend and I’m not from here.” There’s a chance it could get better with time. And there’s a chance that I need to get out of here.

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6 responses to “Stuck in the Middle

  1. shocheradam says:

    I hear you. I was also raised Catholic and being a shaygetz in the synagogue is… uncomfortable, to say the least. But you are doing what your soul is calling you to do, nu?

  2. jnbwriter14 says:

    Absolutely! Sounds like you are doing the same thing. Your story on your blog is so rich and interesting, and I wish you the best of luck as you continue on that journey.

  3. Elianna says:

    So glad I found your blog, as I completely understand where you’re coming from – as I’m also in the process of converting. I look forward to reading more posts from you! 🙂

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