There’s an interesting set of personal essays in a recent issue of the online magazine, “Alef.” Interesting not just because of the content itself but also its source. Alef is the voice of Birthright Israel NEXT, the follow-up program to the 10-day free Israel trip that has sent over 200,000 young Jews to Israel, including tens of thousands of young-adult children of intermarriage. It makes sense than an issue of the magazine would reflect the full diversity of Jews in that age cohort.
One particularly powerful essay is called “Half-and-half” by Meredith Druss, about what it means to have a half-Asian ethnicity but be fully Jewish, and yet still have to face potential challenges to her authenticity because her mom’s conversion was by a Conservative rabbi.
Though she doesn’t specifically point it out, it did strike me as absurd that regardless of the conversion’s auspices, it happened before Meredith herself was even born! She was raised from birth in a Jewish community, received a Jewish education, and believes both her parents are fully Jewish. That there are people who would deny her identity in the name of a more “authentic” Judaism is, to me, totally antithetical to the point of Judaism itself. What would be gained by denying her identify? What about Judaism would be “protected”?
How absurd it must seem to an outside observer that someone who wants to belong to a particular religion, and who has lived her whole life in the same way as countless other fully-accepted adherents of that same religion do, would be excluded on a technicality. And that exclusion would somehow represent a triumph for someone among the same religion’s people—who by the way are also a tiny and historically persecuted group. When the full story of the Jews is told, that ridiculousness will have to be included.
Thankfully, it is clear from her feisty essay that nobody has a chance at taking Meredith’s Jewish identity away from her, and I applaud her for that. Unfortunately, for each Meredith who has pushed through it, there are others who have walked away from Judaism because they were so turned off by those who would deny their Jewish identity in the name of “protecting authenticity.”
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