Converting to Judaism

The Oys and Joys of Choosing A Jewish Life

Jewish Ethnicity

on September 8, 2015

Today, I was told by a room full of Jews that I could never be a Jew.

Which is fine, really. I only spent years studying and underwent numerous trials and tribulations to be who I am.

No one minds if I belong to the Jewish community. No one minds if I take part in Jewish life. Heck, no one even minds if I call myself Jewish.

The problem lies in being a Jew, which some people define as an ethnicity. You can’t choose your ethnicity, they argue. Just look at Rachel Dolezal and everything she said this summer. You are either born with it (or in this case, born from a woman who was born with it), or you’re not it. Plain and simple.

I try and retaliate and say that a Jew is not defined by a Jewish mother but by the affiliation he has with his religion, the ties she makes to her community. And the argument takes a sharp turn. You can never know what we went through because your family never went through it. You can never understand the Holocaust because your family didn’t die. Your past will always be a part of you and your past is not our past. You can’t tell our jokes or have our babies because you don’t have Jewish blood in your veins.

I think before I attempt to tackle this problem, we have to agree on what ethnicity means. I present you with the dictionary definition of ethnicity.

An ethnic group or ethnicity is a socially defined category of people who identify with each other based on common ancestral, social, cultural or national experience.


If you want to go all the way back, I could begin my argument with Adam and Eve, we all have the same ancestors, that sort of thing. I know that’s not going to work for the majority of you. It’s true- my family is not Jewish. I am not denying that fact. However, if being Jewish to you is nothing more than a pedigree, you have a pretty narrow scope of what it means to be one of the tribe. I share in your Biblical history and relate to the same forefathers that we all aspire to be like. Our roots are the same. You know your Biblical ancestors just as well as I do because we all look at them through the same window- our sacred texts.

Okay, but what about our recent ancestors, our family history? Over the years, I’ve adopted various Jewish families as a sort of foster for the holidays, special occasions, and just general Jewish living. I’m not denying the impact of my own family. I love them, and they will always be my family. But family is more than blood. Family are those who have shaped us into the people we are. Sometimes, that’s not our blood relatives, and I must tell you frankly that my parents did not teach me how to be a good Jew. You might define a family by lineage and genealogy, but I define them by something more meaningful and less tangible.

I think of the adopted family members I have in my life. The happiness that spreads across bubbe’s face when she smiles and exclaims, “You are family!” as she squeezes my hand. My sitting at the head of my friend’s table at Pesach as he holds the matzah high above us. A relative calling, “kinderlach!” as she shuffles down the hallway. The sadness in bubbe’s eyes as she recounts each relative perished in the Shoah and the corresponding ache and heaviness in my heart mixed with anger and a sort of determined pride.

My Jewish family is scattered and diverse and loving and above all, mine. My home is where they are .

Society and Culture.

I’m putting these two together. If I didn’t feel a part of the Jewish culture, I wouldn’t be so active in my Jewish community. Culture encompasses everything that we do that makes us different. The foods we eat, the times we pray, the celebrations we have, the way in which we mark our lives. One’s culture is apparent by his ease and participation in it, and I’ve written countless testaments to my embracing of Jewish culture. Enough said.

National Experience.

The Jews have a homeland, and that homeland is Israel. While I’ve never been there myself, I’ll be going for the first time this January. Even so, I stand with Israel. I don’t agree with everything that everyone there says or does, but it’s my home, albeit the one I have yet to lay eyes on.

To those who say I am not a Jew- there is nothing more hurtful. I’m sorry if I do not conform to your typical expectations or definitions, but I am not sorry for who I am or for the choice that I’ve made. I’d do it a thousand times over if I could. And Abraham, your great patriarchal father from whom you all descend? Just remember that he was a pagan worshipper and a convert.

Like me.


9 responses to “Jewish Ethnicity

  1. sjewindy says:

    The Romans had the best answer to this kind of B.S.

    “Illegitimati non carborundum.”

    You’re one of us.

  2. Adam says:

    When they say that, I simply respond, “And yet if the pogroms come again, they’ll put me in the cattle car right next to you.”

    I’m sick of exclusion by JBBs to JBCs. This has to stop.

    You’re one of the best and most faithful Jews I know, Jenn. Don’t let the idiots get you down.

    • Jenn says:

      I was actually thinking about that today in my Israeli Lit class when we were reading poems about the Holocaust. We’re part of the hatred that existed then and exists now.

  3. Joe says:

    Jenn, I know this discussion also. The great thing is that it isn’t up to them. It’s up to you. We’re a people defined by our religion, not our race. Keep on keepin’ on!

  4. Judaism defines itself as both a religion and a culture (the Jewish concept of peoplehood), and Jewish law concerning conversion is explicit that converts join both the religion and the people. Some Jews reject the religious aspects of Judaism and only define Judaism in terms of peoplehood, and because of this have a hard time understanding how non-Jews can become Jews. The problem is that these Jews, themselves, don’t understand the Jewishly legal definition of a Jew. Which is kind of pathetic. By dint of Jewish law, converts LITERALLY join the Jewish bloodline, so to speak. Exactly how those people told you conversion doesn’t work…is actually exactly how it DOES work. 🙂

    • Jenn says:

      That’s very true. It even says on my certificate of conversion that on this day I cast my lot with the Jewish people and in that sense join the bloodline.

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