Social Issues, Theology

I am both/and

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Every time I hear about an act of anti-semitism, I can’t help feeling a conflict of loyalties. Do I mourn as a Christian, or as a Jew? Can I grieve as both? Is that possible?

In college, some well-intentioned friends quoted Galatians 3:28 to me when I expressed uncertainty about where I belonged: “There is no Greek or Jew, neither slave nor free, nor male or female, for all are one in Christ Jesus.” My understanding of that verse is that one’s background should not prohibit them from being able to find a seat at Jesus’ table.

But our backgrounds are still part of us; they help shape our worldview and our character. Mine certainly does.

As a child, my Jewish identity spoke for me in ways I could not control: through my name, through my stereotypical Ashkenazi features. Today I can add my Hebrew “life” tattoo to that list of outward identifiers. Beliefs change, but cultural and ethnic identity are forever.

When asked about our level of devotion, my parents would often say, tongue firmly in cheek, “We aren’t very religious, but we’re Jewish enough for Hitler.” There is something about being Jewish that goes deeper than theology. The Catholic nun Edith Stein was a convert from Judaism. Nazis showed up at her convent to arrest her and haul her to Auschwitz, where she died in the gas chambers. Even cloaked in a habit, she was still Jewish enough to be targeted.

The same still applies to me (albeit without the nun’s clothes). Jews and anti-semites are both in agreement on one thing: where you came from matters more than belief. That is how atheists from Jewish families are still considered Jews, and that is how people like me who joined the Episcopal church as adults are still, technically, considered Jews.

I’m far from the only one to have two families. Children of divorced parents who later remarry understand what it’s like. Ideally, you shouldn’t have to choose between them; they’re both permanent fixtures in your life, shaping and molding you as you become who you are. The transition can be awkward at times, but if you’re lucky, both families will make space for you.

I’m not either/or; I am both/and.

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