Article Discussion: Mixed Blessings: A Religious Journey That Has Led Nowhere

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April 10, 2009 at 4:14 pm #1433


Click here to read the article: Mixed Blessings: A Religious Journey That Has Led Nowhere

July 28, 2009 at 5:25 pm #3473


What parallel lives we’ve led. My situation is so similar, the only difference is that my mother is from Kentucky and I was born in 1981. On the other hand, as an adult, I identify most closely with the Jewish faith, and only in a peripheral way with Christianity. Maybe my practice of Buddhist meditation allows the two to coexist :).

August 11, 2009 at 5:28 pm #3543


Try going to a Unitarian Church! You will find lots of people like you there.

September 3, 2009 at 8:53 am #3700


Jennifer: I identify very strongly with you, although I’m of your parents’ generation.

My brother and I were raised hearing that we were both Christian and Jewish — half and half, our parents used to say — and that we could make our minds up when we got older. In my brother’s and my case, both our grandmothers were Jewish, so we are considered Jewish according to Jewish law. (The person who told you you aren’t Jewish was expressing how most Jews would feel, because this has been Jewish teaching for centuries. Some of the liberal movements of modern Judaism have changed this — most notably, the Reform movement — however, you must be raised Jewish in order to be considered Jewish by them.)

I feel that my parents (and yours) shirked their responsibility as parents, and left a huge hole where their childrens’ self-identity should be. Like you, my brother and I have no formal religious education, no Hebrew training, and no communal history to fall back on. We feel like we’re stuck in the middle.

In my experience, this is not something that can be decided as an adult. Children need to understand who they are. We are not breeds of dogs who can be considered half this and half that; we’re whole human beings who need to understand ourselves as wholly something.

I think it’s a total cop-out for parents of different faiths to duck the hard task of deciding on one faith in which to raise their children. It lets them go along as though this isn’t a conflict, while leaving it to their children to sort out, if they ever can.

I don’t think that going Unitarian solves this question, either, if neither parent is a Unitarian to begin with. And, let’s be clear, Unitarian church is *church*. It does not have Jewish cultural roots and will not help Jewish children feel rooted and secure in an environment that is frequently (if subtly) hostile to Jews. I’ve seen friends make this choice and have been deeply saddened by it.

“Celebrating” both Hanukkah and Christmas in the home is not an answer, either. Despite recent attempts to invent “Chrismukkah” for so-called “half Jews” (no such thing), it’s saddling the children with a legacy of rootlessness while letting the parents go along priding themselves on their liberal outlook. I’m politically liberal, but in my opinion it is simply immature and irresponsible parenting.

According to one Roman Catholic friend, it is tantamount to child abuse. I’m afraid my experience has shown this to be true.

September 3, 2009 at 9:02 am #3701


(By the same person as previous comment.)

I also think it’s important to point out that one is not born Christian, but one is born Jewish. That is, you are born into the extended Jewish family. This is not about “Jewish blood,” which doesn’t exist; it’s about being considered part of a people, not just an adherent of a religion. This complicates the question of identity, because often (and I’ve had first-hand experience of this), Jews who become Christians are not considered by other Christians to be just like them. Contrary to what they claim, you are still a Jewish Christian or a Christian Jew. You are often treated differently — sometimes as “special” in ways you never asked for and don’t want.

So, contrary to what our parents wanted to think, it’s not as simple as just deciding what you want to be. The issues of identity go a lot deeper than that.

September 4, 2009 at 9:05 pm #3714

Sara Davies

I agree with the person who says raising children as “both” is irresponsible. It’s a mistake – a recipe for disaster. Maybe even worse than raising a kid as “neither.” Some parents will not like hearing it, but I believe it is best for people with Jewish ancestry to be raised as Jews. We need the support of the minority community – a dual identity is not workable. So I’m calling my group a “half-Jewish” group because I think that’s how a lot of us experience ourselves. I don’t know quite what else to call it that would convey the whole ball of wax more succinctly to the people for whom the group is intended. I know the Jewish community is quick to point out that “half-Jewish” people don’t exist, but if that’s the reality we’re navigating, it would be nice to have the label respected as an honest expression of our experience.

September 8, 2009 at 3:34 am #3727


Despite what those of a religious bent may insist, there really is a cultural and even ethnic/ancestral* component to Judaism that has no direct parallel in Christianity. Consequently, I think that the terms “half-Jewish,” “quarter-Jewish,” etc. when referring to ancestry rather than religion are reasonable.  For the record, I am fully Jewish by ancestry but neither observant nor a believer.

*This open-access article from Genome Biology provides data to back up my assertion:
Interestingly, this article and a few subsequent unpublished abstracts to be presented next month at the 2009 annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) provide strong evidence of ancient admixture among some Jewish populations (e.g. Ashkenazim), putatively with Southern Europeans during the late Roman Empire when Judaism was still a proselytising religion.  This data comes from whole genome studies of hundreds of thousands of genetic loci and gives a different picture than earlier studies limited to Y-chromosomes that show a stronger connection with the Middle East.

October 11, 2009 at 4:53 pm #3848


I think my fellow “half-jews” are too harsh on their parents. Our parents inherited a world filled with multiple and, as in the case of religions, conflicting identities. I think the strict categories obscure our common humanity. Personally I struggle with similar issues, but am glad that I don’t have the luxury of pretending to know myself from an abstract category of religion. If I care to figure out my place in the world, I am instead forced to think critically, with my emotions, about what if any religious activities I choose to participate in. Religious identity, like nationality, is constructed by those who claim it. I like many ritual aspects of modern Judaism but dislike the ethnic-pretensions, which I see as inherited from racist modes of thought.

October 13, 2009 at 5:44 pm #3853


That’s an interesting take on it…which makes me think.

Whatever resentment I have toward my family has to do with encountering attitudes of exclusivity from the Jewish community and anti-Jewish bigotry from society at large. Part of me believes I could have been spared half of that grief if I had been raised as a Jew. Part of me believes my life might have been easier if I’d learned Jewish values when I was young enough not to wreck half my life – that I wouldn’t have been so late to discover what’s important. But that may not be true, and in any case, there is nothing I can do about it now.

I agree strict categories obscure our common humanity, which is one of the biggest challenges to participation in Jewish life as an adult – the ongoing debate and discussion of “Who is a Jew?” creates what I feel are unnecessary barriers – rather than just getting down to what living a spiritual life means, what it looks like, what it feels like, what it demands of us. Those things are probably common to all people in all cultures. I’ve done enough comparative religion to gather we all value pretty much the same things, whether we learn from Confucius, Buddha, Jesus, or some other prophet. I don’t like the “ethnic pretensions” either. I don’t like the concept of being uniquely “chosen” – unless interpreted as a spiritual message along the lines of “if you hear the voice of God, it’s your responsibility to listen to it.”

To me, religious identity is about choosing a specific path to God. The path is a collection of time-tested methods. If they work for me, I believe they are worth doing, preserving, and passing on. That doesn’t mean other paths don’t work or are less valuable. If blending is your thing and it works for you, far be it from me to tell you not to do it that way. If I claim a Jewish identity that means I’m making a public commitment to Jewish values and principles (to the best of my current ability and level of knowledge.) It also means I recognize a historic link to The Jewish People through my ancestry – I share in the collective fate of Jews everywhere whether I want to or not, due to accidents of history – that is simply unavoidable. I feel an instinctive connection to the path they came from, and it makes sense to choose a path from my heritage instead of a path from another culture. But that’s just me. Choosing Judaism doesn’t mean I think I’m better than anyone else, or that I want to be part of an exclusive club, or like that type of atmosphere (I actually hate it.) What it does mean is that I want to become a human being. It means I want God in my life. Judaism offers a language, philosophy, & methodology for growing in my awareness of God – it helps me stay in touch with healthier, more positive, more constructive, kinder, more loving, more generous attitudes and perspectives. I want those ideals to be my compass. That’s all it means.

As for my family, their generation faced enormous pressures to assimilate and merge into the melting pot of the U.S., especially during and in the wake of the Holocaust, and while fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe at the turn of the century – there are good reasons why they ended up where they did. I am really in no position to judge them, besides which it is simply not useful.

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