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.
It’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.
I 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.