My Mother Wasn’t Born Jewish

There is something people don’t know about me. Including people who have met me, know me, and support me, people as influential as rosh yeshivas, moguls and billionaires, Jewish leaders in the World Jewish Congress, AJC, WZO, and ADL, chief rabbis, a certain Hasidic rebbe, and others.

I lay tefillin, belong to a Chabad Shul where I have active leadership positions, donate money to Jewish causes, etc, and my mother is not Jewish. She was born to Methodist parents who immigrated from Germany to a state in the south east of the United States. My mother (and my father), because of me, lights Shabbas candles, has mezuzahs, loves and visits Israel, and is very defensive of the Jewish people.

If my haredi Jewish community knew my mother isn’t Jewish and never converted, if the man whose mikveh I use every day, if all the minyans I’ve made knew my mother wasn’t Jewish, I would be treated and viewed differently. If all the reform Jews who I’ve entered into debates with knew my own background, it would be tough. Of all the Shavei yisrael converts I’ve assisted and encouraged and helped move to Israel…. of those who have traveled with me to Sephardic Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Bosnia, and Iraq, as well as Hasidic Poland, Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. Of the missions in Azerbaijan to help Jews begin to lay tefillin and observe kashrut.

I cried the first time I saw an Orthodox service- ordinary, but sincere people pouring forth their hearts in whispered praise and pleas, the way their teachers and teachers’ teachers had for centuries. My father’s side descends from famous Rebs and ravs in Eastern Europe, as well as Lithuania. My ancestry tree is full of amazing frum yidden who led the Jewish people. I will never forget, at 7:00 AM, poring over the daf hayomi, the first time I found mesorah, and to a world of promise and awe- a world in which my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will touch divinity and, with reverence and passion, lovingly kiss their sefarim.

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4 Comments

  1. Steven Green November 27, 2018 at 11:53 am

    WOW! This, in its quiet way, is very, very powerful. Thank you.

    Reply
  2. Jessica November 27, 2018 at 1:22 pm

    I share your experience and your pain. Apparently our ethnoreligion wasn’t always this way. It was switched from patrilineal to matrilineal thousands of years ago. My mother is Irish/ Norwegian. But she left when I was an infant and I was raised by my Jewish father, whom I favor, and a Jewish stepmother. Finding out that I would be considered Jewish at all despite my heritage was a rude shock. Converting like Ivanka Trump feels insulting. And it would take years. And for what? Would I really be accepted as real?

    Reply
  3. CZ November 27, 2018 at 4:38 pm

    My dear friend, there is an old saying that any person who questions the [Jewish] background of a fellow Jew should have their own heritage looked into.

    There’s another old saying: if you think you’re Jewish, you probably are.

    I’m also from the Southeast and the tradition for Southern Jews, not to speak of the thousands of other small Jewish communities throughout the millennium, is EVERYONE BELONGS. We can’t afford to lose a single soul, and clearly your neshma — perhaps even your mother’s — is 100% Jewish. You need only travel back through the ages of Jewish history to understand that we have survived because we adapt. Ours is a tradition of being in a living dialogue with Hashem. Perhaps you would take comfort in a different interpretation of the implications of the Law of Return? Did Ruth go before a rabbinical court? Did she immerse in a mikvah?

    I understand perfectly well why you didn’t convert: how can you convert to what you already are?

    Please don’t fret. Just know that you are part of Jewish history.

    Reply
  4. Sadie November 30, 2018 at 8:31 am

    This resonates so deep within me. I know your struggle, and I feel your pain. I, too, often feel that if people really knew where I came from, I would not be treated the same and given the same respect. The rabbonim I speak with on the daily, the community members, even some of my close friends. It took me so long to feel comfortable divulging this information to anyone, but over time, I’ve learned to understand that my background makes me who I am; I cannot hide it from the world. It is such a taboo in our community because people like ourselves are afraid to speak up about it. The shame is, those righteous, pious people who we are afraid of treating us differently- would they really? If they are so learned and righteous, would they actively go against the Torah and treat a ger differently? Or is it all just in our heads?

    Reply

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