The other day I went to a brand new doctor to renew a prescription. If you’ve ever moved out of your home state, you know what a royal pain it is to find brand new doctors, and having to fill out family history forms all over again. I’m sure these questionnaires are more or less the same at most doctor’s offices, but this one had one question I wasn’t expecting, and have rarely seen before:
Does your family have any Ashkenazi Jewish background?
I hesitated, but I’m not sure why; my beliefs are irrelevant as far as family history is concerned, and I’m already aware that the Jewish community is more at risk for certain cancers and other medical conditions than others. So I checked ‘yes.’
Funny how I was there to discuss a completely unrelated medication, yet for most of the visit, I sat at the mercy of the doctor who handed me pamphlet after pamphlet about genetic testing, and seemed horrified that I had never been tested for these cancer genes before. I tried to laugh it off by saying, “Well, I didn’t see a point if I’m not having kids, I’m fine with having cats as kids for now,” but he failed to understand or acknowledge my humor. What I really felt like saying was, Yes doctor, I am already aware that my family is genetically fucked. The mood continued to go south when the doctor asked about the deaths of my paternal grandparents – both from cancer – and then about my father’s health. As you can imagine, I tensed up rather quickly before responding, “He died of cancer too.”
All that just to renew my birth control. Geez Louise. Should have inquired about Xanax while I was at it.
What is the point of writing about this? Because it all started by checking off “Jewish” on the medical intake form, reminding me that regardless of what I believe spiritually, one cannot take the biological Judaism out of a person.
I always found it strange that my family religion has both spiritual and ethnic components, and most Jews (in America, at least) identify with Judaism on more of a cultural level. I’d say that’s definitely true in my case – cultural Judaism remains a strong and critical part of my identity as a person, if not my spiritual identity. Jewish-isms were the language of my mother and maternal grandmother growing up, and it always makes my heart sink a little when I have to explain the meaning of “chutzpah” or “schlepping” to a gentile, or why my “Jewish Penicillin” soup bowl is so funny.
But more than that, it’s telling how I had to embark on this roundabout journey through Christianity in order to understand that the things that bothered me most about Judaism are the same things I miss most about it today. It used to frustrate me that Judaism couldn’t seem to make up its mind on issues such as whether there’s an afterlife (and who gets to go where), and even social issues such as abortion and premarital sex. The continuum of liberal and conservative Judaism is quite long and diverse; there are, quite frankly, as many answers to those questions as there are Jews.
But it’s hard not to respect a faith that has learned to embrace mystery and uncertainty. You would be hard-pressed to find people like that in evangelical Christianity, and if they are out there, they are likely in the closet for fear of being outed as heretics.
I’ll come out and say it for added emphasis: I miss Judaism. I miss being Jewish. I don’t know what this means for me, though, as I doubt I’ll ever walk away from Jesus, even if I walk away from church and other Christians. The people I know who identify as “both” are from interfaith families whose parents compromised by having a Christmas tree and a menorah coexist in the same living room. The other “both” group is Messianic Judaism, a movement that simply isn’t for me. Spiritually speaking, it is impossible for one to be “both,” as these two religions teach very different things. But as far as the culture is concerned; the history, the medical aspects…those are my last and only straws.
I don’t mean to imply that Judaism is a back-up plan if Christianity doesn’t work out. Still, it is comforting to know that while I may feel like a spiritual orphan at times, I’ll never be spiritually homeless. I will always belong somewhere.