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But You Don't Look Jewish...

March 2004

It was the fifth day of Passover and we were gathered around the table to start lunch. My nana, who was an amazing cook, grabbed my plate and piled on the lasagna. I tensed up, knowing that she would once again be confused.

"Nana," I replied gently. "It's Passover. You know I can't have bread."

She smiled. "I remembered. That's why no garlic bread for you and only lasagna, right?"    

I didn't know what to say. After the million times we had been through this, it was the same thing ever year. I pretended to take the plate and passed it over to my father when she was not looking.

Growing up in an interfaith family has its inconveniences. My father, who never converted to Judaism, still obviously eats bread on Passover, goes to work on Yom Kippur, and doesn't quite understand the point of Sukkot. His family has been excellent in trying to adhere to our differing customs and traditions, but sometimes they just do not comprehend the meaning. Although the fact that my father is Catholic is inconvenient, and possibly even frustrating, I would not change it for anything in the world.

Although there is no "typical" Jewish-looking person, many people still make assumptions. Because my hair is blonde, my eyes are blue, and my last name is overtly Italian, I have rarely been taken for Jewish. Even people who know me sometimes claim, "Well, you are not really Jewish. Your dad is Catholic. You even look Italian." But they are wrong.

When my Catholic father talks to people of our family situation, he states simply, "I live with three Jews." And he is right. Although I have been exposed to certain aspects of Christianity, I am not any less Jewish than a Hassidic man living in Israel. My parents raised me Jewish, and I think I'm quite fortunate.

My mother is one of the most open-mined people I have ever met. She knows everyone in our town and something as simple as going food shopping can take two hours because she literally has to stop and talk with every person. Her genuine kindness to people of all backgrounds may be why she was more open to dating non-Jews. When I was young, this mentality made me more open to befriending children who grew up in different backgrounds than I did.

Ideally when I get married I would like the man to be Jewish. But the wonderful thing is I don't feel pressure from my parents; it is simply my own decision. I've seen situations where people get married to non-Jews and their grandparents refuse to attend the wedding. I know that for me, my parents will understand my decisions no matter what.

I don't feel as if I have had a disadvantage growing up in an interfaith home. From my more religious friends, I have received some scrutiny over "how Jewish" I actually am. In my heart, I know it is a ridiculous mindset. On my wedding day, I know my Catholic father will be by my side, wearing a kippah, head covering, because he knows it will be important to me. And that's all that matters.

 

Hebrew for "Day of Atonement," the final of ten Days of Awe that begin with Rosh Hashanah. Occurs during the fall and is marked by a 24-hour fast. One of the most important Jewish holidays. The spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The Hebrew name is "Pesach." Hebrew for "skullcap," also known in Yiddish as a "yarmulke," the small, circular headcovering worn by male Jews in most synagogues, and female Jews in more liberal congregations. Traditional Jews were kippot (plural of kippah) all the time. Hebrew for "Booths," it's a fall holiday marking the harvest, like a Jewish Thanksgiving, complete with opportunities for dining and sleeping under the stars.

Dana Baldelli, a pseudonym, currently lives in New York City.

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