I knew my life would change after I became a Christian — but I was also surprised by how much remained the same.
I thought I was giving up Judaism…but Judaism, the religion, and being Jewish are two different things.
Somehow, I never stopped believing that Jewish spaces suddenly ceased to be my spaces. My family history and experiences were not wiped clean the moment my belief system changed.
I’ve met gentile Christians who insist that they “feel Jewish” because they’ve studied ancient Judaism in order to feel closer to Jesus. While this is well and good, there are certain aspects of the Jewish experience that one can’t understand unless they’ve “lived the life” for themselves. For me, being Jewish wasn’t simply a matter of belief, but something deep within me, as permanent and intrinsic as my blood type.
I’ve had run-ins with so-called “completed Jews” before, and have always wanted to say to them,
If you’ve never felt lonely on Christmas…
If you’ve never had to explain to your professor or boss after asking for an excused absence why you’re observing the New Year in October,
If you’ve never had your doctor talk to you about all the diseases you’re at risk for because you checked off “Ashkenazi” on your patient intake form,
If you’ve never been targeted by anti-semites, lit candles on Shabbat, suffered through mandatory Hebrew school, or been trusted with recipes that no one wrote down because they were constantly on the move to avoid the pogroms…well, what is “being Jewish” to you, exactly? That Jesus was Jewish isn’t enough. Jesus was many things that we are not.
That’s hardly an exhaustive list of Jewish experiences, of course. But they are a few of mine. And they didn’t disappear from memory when I chose the Anglican church.
While the world debates the meaning of a “true Jew” after Vice President Mike Pence had a Messianic rabbi deliver a prayer in honor of the Tree of Life shooting victims, I just want to remind people that being Jewish is not solely about what you believe. Being Jewish is just as much about where you come from, what you’ve experienced, and how you’ve lived as it is a set of doctrines (which Jews through the ages have never unanimously agreed upon anyway). Most Jews I’ve known put greater emphasis on lifestyle and character than belief.
I have never had anyone turn me away when I’ve showed up to a service for Shabbat or some other holiday at my campus Hillel (as I do from time to time) when I explain, “This is what I grew up doing, and sometimes I just miss it.”
It’s still ingrained in who I am. Though I sometimes wish my story were less complicated, nonetheless my Jewish history is one of the defining characteristics of my life, and can’t ever be taken from me.
See also: Why I’m Not a Messianic Jew