Grappling with my Identity as Half of Two Religions

In the fall of 2017, when I was filling out my college application, I wasn’t sure which box

to check off under the question that asked which religion I practiced. When I submitted my

Common App, I’d ended up checking the “Other” box, because I didn’t practice--and still

don’t--only one religion. It felt weird to do so, because both religions I practice were listened,

but I couldn’t check both of them.

 

I consider myself to be half-Jewish and half-Christian. My mother was raised

Presbyterian and my father was raised Ashkenazi Conservative Jewish. When I was born, I

didn’t have a baptism or a baby naming. I didn’t have a bat mitzvah when I turned thirteen. I’ve

only been to both a synagogue and a church twice in my entire life, and all four instances were to

attend other people’s events. (I attend Denison’s Hillel on Fridays, and I joke that going to

Shabbat is the most religious I’ve ever been.) I haven’t read the Bible or the Torah, but I have

read the Haggadah, because of the four holidays my family really “does”, Passover is one of

them, along with Hanukkah, Easter, and Christmas.

Technically, I shouldn’t “be” anything Jewish at all, because the religion is passed from

the mother to the child, and my mother was the Christian parent. But since I’ve been practicing

both religions my whole life, I can’t imagine myself without any sort of Jewish identity. My last

name does, after all, have “witz” at the end, which is typical of several traditional Jewish last

names. Before I went college, I learned that one could consider Jewishness not only as a religion,

but also as an ethnicity. I was baffled. I had always considered my ethnicity to be full Caucasian.

Did it make any sense to consider myself half an ethnicity now, too, even if my Jewishness

wasn’t fully valid? Was I now only half Caucasian? What did this mean for how I viewed and

defined myself, and for how others viewed and defined me?

Other subjects have created conflict for me as well. For instance: tattoos. I’ve always

wanted one. However, I’m hesitant to follow through with it, not just because of how my parents

would react, but because of the religious implications. From what I understand, most Jewish

people don’t get tattoos for two reasons: if you have one, the Torah says you can’t be buried in a

 

Jewish cemetery, and there were a large number of Holocaust victims that were tattooed against

their will, their numbers serving as labels for their prisoners and executioners. Thus, I’ve had

think about about whether a tattoo on my body would dishonor my religion, my ancestry, and the

Holocaust victims. But, at the same time, I’m technically not Jewish, which means I wouldn’t be

even be buried in a Jewish cemetary to begin with. Is it still dishonoring the Holocaust victims if

I get a non-numerical tattoo somewhere not on my arm? Who and what do I obey? Where are my

morals supposed to lie with this?

(Semi-accurate representation of me, as she has glasses. That may be the only thing we have in

common, actually, so this is less than semi-accurate. Anyway.)

 

As one can see, practicing two religions has created a lot of questions for me, but I could

also argue it’s given me answers, too. Growing up without a scripture or a house of worship, I

was able to form my own opinions of and connections with God, Jesus, and the like, based on the

extent of my own faith in a higher power and in my own experiences with life and spirituality.

As a result, I have a set of beliefs that are personal to me and that I’m confident in, and I’m

grateful for that.

Of course, the very best part of my upbringing is the holidays. Chosen for their

family-friendliness as opposed to their importance (Yom Kippur is way more important than

Hanukkah, but can my family last a day without food? No), I’ve been able to celebrate particular

holidays in both religions (as mentioned earlier). I can’t look back on my childhood without

fondly remembering the matzah bowl soup at Passover, the gift giving and bingo at Christmas,

easter basket hunting, and singing the Hanukkah prayers as we lit the candles. My childhood

wouldn’t be what it was without those experiences, which means I wouldn’t be who I am now.

So, there you have it. I may not have the easy way out of checking off one box to define

my religion, but my half-Jewishness and my half-Christianity makes me unique and has given

me perspectives I may not have had otherwise on certain questions, issues, and experiences. I

wouldn’t have it any other way.