So this is something I’ve never really talked about. At least not to this extent.
Lately I’ve been starting to admit to myself that I am not very comfortable with my Jewishness. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to analyze exactly why that is, as opposed to just ignoring the nagging feeling like I usually do. And as I’ve started to open up this inner dialogue, I think life has been throwing me more food for thought.
Today in my Asian Religions class we get our review sheets for our exam next week. As I settle into my seat, the woman next to me taps my arm. “I’ll do this half and you do the other and we’ll email each other the answers and we will help each other study.” I’m a bit taken aback, because this woman has never spoken to me before. But I won’t turn down a study buddy. We split up the questions a bit more evenly, so that we’re both answering an equal amount about Hinduism and Buddhism. She taps on her notebook for me to write down my email address, and as I do, her eyes widen.”
“You’re Jewish?” Her tone has a hint of surprise and her facial expression is one I can’t quite place.
”Well, sort of…emphasis on the ‘ish’…” I stare at my own handwriting.
“You must be,” she says decisively. “‘Man’ last names are always Jewish.”
“Well my last name is actually Austrian,” I begin, and let out a small breath. Next comes the usual explanation. “My family is partly Jewish, but also Russian Orthodox Christian. More Jewish culturally speaking. But we practice some of both.”
“Ah!” She nods in satisfaction. “Orthodox is closer to Islam.”
I turn my head back to the whiteboard, onto which our prof is desperately trying to project a film from an ancient VHS.
This is not an unusual scenario for me. Yet somehow whenever someone assumes my religious upbringing has been Jewish, I always have to correct them in the same way. Clarify that I’m only partly Jewish, almost as if I’m excusing myself. That growing up I went to church. That despite my “incriminating” last name, I’ve been baptized in the Russian Orthodox faith. I have this weird, knee-jerk denial of my Jewishness. And I think a lot of it stems from how I’ve always felt torn between two communities and never fully accepted by either.