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On Holocaust Remembrance Day, What Being Jewish Means to Me

The way I grew up experiencing it, Judaism felt far more akin to a culture than a religion. My mother was raised Catholic and my father Jewish, but neither entered their marriage with any particularly strong attachments to religious scripture or services. As a family, we always celebrated both Christmas and Hanukkah, my parents finding that each of the two holidays could be employed to elucidate the importance of certain values—gratitude, empathy, and selflessness, to name a few.

However, despite being no more exposed to Judaism than I was to Christianity growing up, I’ve found that I tend to self-identify as Jewish rather than Christian, largely because I feel greater cultural affinity with the former religion. This likely has something to do with the fact that my family only practiced Christianity in the most general sense, never going so far as to affiliate ourselves with one denomination over another. While the term “Christian” obviously represents an incredibly populous, diverse community, the Jewish faith has far fewer adherents, and given that my father’s family actively aligns itself with the Reform tradition, has endowed me with a greater sense of belonging to a collective of like-minded individuals.

That being said, I am admittedly very unfamiliar with the specifics of Jewish doctrine, having instead gleaned what I know about Judaism from the impression given to me by my father and his relatives. And as my father himself will be the first to admit, he may identify as Jewish, but he also has qualms with organized religion altogether—his Jewishness finds its roots in a certain conception of Jewish culture, passed down from his own father. To my family, the key tenets of Judaism are tolerance, the pursuit of knowledge, recognition of the validity of other belief systems, and, perhaps most importantly, the primacy of one’s duty to advocate on behalf of disenfranchised populaces.

Ellie is a Political Science and Policy Studies double major at Rice University, with a minor in Politics, Law and Social Thought. She spent the spring of 2017 studying/interning in London, and hopes to return to England for grad school. Academically, Ellie's passion lies in evaluating policies that further the causes of gender equality, LGBT rights, and access to satisfactory healthcare, specifically as it pertains to women's health and mental health. She also loves feminist memoirs, eighteenth-century history, old bookstores, and new places. She's continuously inspired by the many strong females in her life, and is an unequivocal proponent of women supporting women.
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