Never judge a believer by her jewelry

I spent many years believing that being Jewish was an accident of birth: a decision made for me by nature that I had no say in. But because I did not choose it, it’s a fixture in my life that just is: it follows me wherever I go. Unlike Christianity, it’s an aspect of identity that I do not have to work to maintain. My lineage does not get a memo whenever my beliefs change.

After trying for years to merge my two faiths together, without success, I retired my cross and Star of David pendants. At one point, I wore them both on the same chain, but realized this was a rather in-your-face attempt at justifying myself to other people. While the opinions of others shouldn’t have a factor in determining the kind of person I want to be, I would hate to hinder any possibility of discussion because someone is offended at my flagrantly mixing the equivalent of ice cream and ketchup.

1307353065_Grafted_In_Deep-650It’s also for this reason that I do not wear the Messianic Seal charm I purchased on my last trip to Israel. I still have it, but I know how I would have reacted to it back when I feared missionaries like the plague.

Is it necessary to wear my faith on a silver chain? No, of course not. But for me, a pendant of religious significance is a lot like wearing a purity ring. The ring itself doesn’t do anything, but it’s a reminder of what’s important to you, particularly when temptation knocks.

I was out shopping one day and happened upon an independent gift shop in Fort Collins, where I spotted a silver tree necklace that instantly made me think of roots – as in, family history roots. That said more about my faith’s current state than any existing religious symbol. True, the image of being “grafted in” a Jewish family tree is found in Christian Scripture, but for me, it’s in reverse: my roots are Jewish, but the leaves at the top – my beliefs – are my own.

Not long after that purchase, I wandered into another independent gift shop in my hometown of Hudson, Ohio. My discovery there was a real surprise: a tear-drop pendant with a six-pointed star etched into it, with the word “faith” printed underneath. This struck me as unusual because, let’s face it: in the world of jewelry, words like “faith,” “love,” or “hope” have unofficially been copyrighted by Christianity.

size-osI can’t count the number of times in my teen years I’ve put down cute heartsy jewelry with  imprints of crosses or Ichthus fish. It was hurtful, really, for these jewelry companies to assume that no other religion prioritized love or any other touchy-feely sentiment. But if I’m truly honest with myself, I know why this is: there is hardly a big enough market for Jewish jewelry with words like “faith” or “love” on them. Those items might be found in uniquely Judaic shops, yet I happened upon one of the few that found a home in a shop primarily frequented by mainline Protestants.

Impulsively, I bought that charm, if for no other reason than to remember it exists. At any rate, it’s a far more tasteful representation of my unique brand of faith than a Messianic Seal or, as I’ve seen elsewhere, a Star of David with a cross inside. But if I’ve learned anything over the years, part of not judging people by their outer appearance also means not making assumptions about their beliefs based on their jewelry.

As a naive teenager, I was the Certain One: certain of my true identity. Certain of God’s plan for my life. I hate having unanswerable questions and a perpetual identity crisis, but being a grownup sometimes means embracing the story we don’t want or expect. That we did not choose it does not make it any less ours.


6 thoughts on “Never judge a believer by her jewelry

  1. Pingback: Permission to be myself | Sarahbeth Caplin | Author, Blogger, and Editor

  2. I think that you are correct about some false assumptions – that faith, hope, and charity are Christian virtues, for example. However, I think that these days – and I say this as an ordained minister who self-identifies as interfaith – people are selecting symbols which are meaningful to them – not based on prayerbooks or the Bible of Eat, Pray, Love, but on their OWN heart-level affinity. Mala beads? yes, if you use them. Rosary? if it means something to you, say, that grandma always sat with a rosary in her hands. Star of David? If it needs to be against your own heart. I don’t know what’s in anyone else’s heart, and I LOVE your tree of life nudge – which means a great deal to me as a descendant of Mediterranean olive growers. Peace! @LatelaMary or


      • Interfaith. I believe that each person has an option to belong to a religion or not, to have a spiritual practice or not. I also see that I have been strongly influenced by my early learning about Christianity, and particularly Roman Catholicism. Study and interaction with others – Jews, Protestants, Muslims, Hindus, Atheist, etc. – convinces me that much of what I understand about religion is based on an agenda. In Christianity, there is the Bible and there are many interpretations of the Bible. More dangerously, what I was taught was an upper layer of doctrine – teachings, rules, traditions which do not mesh with what I see as the basis for religious/spiritual life – practice of compassion, courage, openness to differences, acceptance of all others who are honestly seeking the truth – for example. In my family, there are followers of Judaism – I celebrate them; there are Roman Catholics – I celebrate them; there are wounded people staying away from anything religious or spiritual – I honor them, too. I believe that if there is a purpose for our all being here, it is to tend the garden which God gave to us, to work together, to be grateful, to help one another. I honor all faiths; I have participated in and been thoroughly moved by interfaith services as well as social action programs. Ask me anything else, Beth. Peace! Mary Ellen Latela (@LatelaMary), (“We Didn’t Start the Fire.”


  3. I have worn a cross pendant since I was a teenager, even when I was still searching, not yet calling myself a Christian. It was a bit weird because there weren’t that many people wearing a cross although I was in a Catholic school. I have crosses of many different kinds and origins (from regular ones to Kopt Ethiopian, to Orthodox ones). Sometimes I wore more than one cross, because they reminded me of how I am interested in Christianism generally speaking and can’t really fit in one branch (though I’m not comfortable using the term “non denominational Christian” either). These days I mostly wear my small Orthodox cross, because it also makes me feel closer to my Ukrainian roots, a side of the family I have barely ever known.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Forgot to mention the Joan of Arc pendant I purchased in France! Add some assumptions of Catholicism to the mix 😉 But really, she’s my favorite saint and a reminder of true courage, so that’s why I have it. I’ve never prayed to her 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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