“You are Jewish.”
That’s what they said.
When I was born that was decided for me. I got no say. I wasn’t consulted or asked if that was a good idea. I had no clue because, let’s face it, babies never do. I think it’s something to do with them being babies and not being able to talk yet.
So they said I was a Jew. Said I should follow the Torah. Said that was the way. The irony was that it was all talk and no walk, if you get what I mean. But to understand what I’m about to say you need some background on who “they” actually is and what their expectations were of me.
It began with my grandparents. You see, my parents divorced when I was about 3 so even though my dad was, or at least suggested that he was, a devout Jew, I wasn’t near him to glean his feelings on the matter. I was raised by my mom, far and away from my dad and so that was a nonissue.
The only people still around who “practiced” the Jewish faith were my mom’s parents. My grandparents went to synagogue on the Jewish high holidays, donated generously to various Jewish organizations in their area and insisted that their grandson’s be Bar Mitzvahed.
So even though my mom was only Jewish by technicality and not by practice, and even though I had no interest at all in the matter, and (yes another and) even though one of my cousins was given the option and allowed to decline to have one, I was forced to go to Hebrew school.
Hebrew school was awesome! (Wait, what?) yes the time I spent at Hebrew school was great.
“Why was it great Adam?”
I’m glad you asked.
It was great because Hebrew school was preparing my for my Bar Mitzvah. A day when Jewish boys become men. A day that occurs at or around your thirteenth birthday. So as a result of the timing of the event, you begin Hebrew school a few years earlier. That put me at 11 years old. 11 happens to also be right smack dab in the center of my addiction to cocaine, LSD and alcohol.
Now having lied that out on the table, you can imagine how focused I probably was during class time. Especially since they were doing a lot of teaching while speaking Hebrew which, even not intoxicated, sounds a bit odd. No disrespect to the Jewish faith or to the language itself or to anyone who speaks it, but during your preteen years it does sound funny. So I laughed a lot. Sometimes to myself. Sometimes out loud. I also skipped class a lot.
My mom would drop me off and I would walk in, see her drive off, and walk right back out. Do a ton of drugs, make fun of the kids inside, and then walk in just in time to see my mom drive up to pick me up. It was a perfect system. Except that I wasn’t learning anything.
So I got pulled from the school and given a private tutor. Once a week for like 6 months I had to visit this rabbi for an hour and rehears the Bar Mitzvah from beginning to end. Can you spell torture?
The day finally came, and despite my expectation of complete failure, I actually pulled it off. And to really ice the cake, I had only just quit doing drugs by then and was going through withdrawal the entire day. I spent the hour leading up to it vomiting, I spent nearly an hour afterwards vomiting and the time in between while I was presenting my Jewishness in all its illicitly fake glory I was laughing inside at how much of an imposter I was. I disgrace to the faith.
But then again, I didn’t want this faith anyway. I didn’t feel anything for it. Didn’t feel a connection to the God of Moses, the God of Abraham and how Israel. The God that my grandparents loved so much. I had nothing. I felt nothing. So the moment it was finished, I was finished.
My mom never took me to synagogue. Hell we usually decorated for Christmas not Hanukkah. In my house and in my mind being Jewish was a joke and I was the punchline.
That was the day I renounced religion in general and went rogue. I led my life by my own moral code and did, what I would describe as, fine.
Fast forward 18 years and I’m 31, living at rock bottom because I’ve been married, had 3 babies, lost a baby in between the first two and the third, had an affair, run our finances into the ground. It may seem like I’m making light of all that, but I have to otherwise this story will take hours to tell. They have their own times and places to be told. Feel free to find those times in the same place you already are and experience those journeys too.
Rock bottom is a horrible place to be. Vicious, unrelenting sadness. But it has one incredible upside. There isn’t anywhere to go. And more so than that, it is a place where often times you finally realize that God is right there with you.
I’d been Godless for 17 years and, if we are really honest with each other, I’d been Godless since the day I was born. Remember friends, being born into something doesn’t inherently make it part of your heart, only part of your life.
Ok so I told you that story to get back to this story.
At the moment I’m pouring this story from my head and my heart into the pages of this notebook that will then be typed and shared for the world to see, I’ve been a Christian for two and a half months. I found God in my darkest hour and He showed me a way out.
It was that defining moment that became a turning point for me. I left all my anxieties at His feet and I began to rebuild my life. Brick by brick, I put it all back together. My kids are more well-rounded and happier with Jesus in their hearts. My wife is more comfortable in her own skin, more driven and more fulfilled with Jesus in her heart. I’m more dedicated, more at peace, more engaged in life, more successful, let’s just say I’m living in a perpetual state of MORE. I’m living my best life. I’m happier than I’ve ever been.
Now I’m finally at the point that I started with 1,095 words ago. My dad and my grandmother are not at all fans my newfound faith in God. They’re upset that I left my Jewish roots.
If you need clarification on my Jewish roots, please reread this entire story and then come back here. I’ll wait.
Ok now that you’re clear on where I stand, I’ll continue. My grandmother is quiet about her dislike. My dad on the other hand, let’s just say he has a few objections
And he expresses them.
that’s what he called me.
He said this because I was a Jew, my mom and dad are both Jewish and therefore I am Jewish. End of story.
Again if this is confusing start over and rejoin me here. If you aren’t confused, or even if you are, you’re very much like where my best friends are in the matter.
The reality is, I was never Jewish. And to be an imposter, by definition, you have to be one thing acting as though you’re another. So with me now extremely active in our Church, I’m told I’m an imposter. A Jew pretending to believe in and pretending to love Christ.
“I don’t identify as Jewish”. That’s how I began my defense. I’m sad to say I didn’t stay as calm as I wanted to in that moment.
He called me foolish. He called me immature. He called me a hypocrite. And as at peace as I am, as grounded as I am in my beliefs, I lost it.
I played the comparison game. I got sarcastic. And so did he.
Here’s the thing. We both married Christians. We both celebrate Christmas and we both fill our homes with decorations that revere the birth of the Son of God for a good month at the end of each year.
Sidebar, do you know why the Jewish faith rejects Jesus and is still waiting for the messiah? Because Jesus came for everyone, not just for the Jews. So He isn’t “their” messiah because He is also everyone else’s too.
It made zero sense to me that he was upset. Zero sense that I was accused of rejecting my “faith” I mean. If we are talking about living a truly proper Jewish life, neither of us was succeeding. At least I was committed to something. Committed to leading a proper Christian life. Yet there I was, arguing that I can be whatever I want. Arguing that no one was there for me as a child to truly lead me to God. Arguing that I’m allowed to follow whatever I want to follow and live by whatever code I prefer to. Trying to justify my belief.
I eventually apologized for my brashness in defending myself. Apologized and accepted blame for saying hurtful things, things that I knew would instigate him. He, in his own way, apologized too. And though we still talk weekly, he still hasn’t accepted it, hasn’t begun try and understand it, and hasn’t become good at hiding his feelings about it. So needless to say our conversations are always tinted with a film of negativity.
And he wasn’t the only one being open about their rejection. So don’t me wrong this story is absolutely not about me fighting with my dad. We lost friends who don’t like our new lifestyle. Members of our family on both sides are no longer speaking to us. Saying things like “I don’t get it” and “why now?”
We’ve tried to reach out, with love, to invite people in our family who “are” Christian and don’t attend church to invite them to our church. To give them a gift of a place to belong that for so long in life they longed for. The response was an aggressive and resounding “no”. They called church a cash grab. Called it a waste. Called it unnecessary. As if we’d just asked them to come listen to a seminary about signing up for a timeshare vacation package and join a cult.
Why is it that when you finally find happiness, finally stop playing the game for everyone else and instead allow yourself to be truly happy, do people turn their backs? We actually offended people by choosing to be happy. We aren’t hurting anyone. Just loving ourselves and getting back to loving life. And now we have to defend against all of these negative words and actions?
A single word comes to mind.
And that’s the moral of my story here. Never feel bad, ashamed, embarrassed, meek or nervous; never feel intimidated by people questioning you. Your faith isn’t for others. Your faith isn’t to be used to fit in with. Your faith isn’t a hole to hide in. It’s a part of you. A big part. An important part. Know yourself and love yourself and have faith in God, or whatever you have faith in, and tell all of those other people to go f**k themselves.