Heritage is complex, even for those whose parents share a culture. For me, the daughter of a Catholic father and Jewish mother, I’ve had both the opportunity and burden to dig deep into this complexity.
My parents chose to raise me as a Jew. When I was younger, I did not find any conflict between my Catholic and Jewish heritage. I identified as a Jew, and I practiced as such, but I was also of Catholic heritage, even if I did not believe in the tenets of Catholicism. While I do not practice the Catholic faith, I join my father when he celebrates Christmas and Easter, and I also have spent time researching the history and beliefs of Catholicism.
Having a Catholic father should not make me any less Jewish. In the eyes of halacha, or Jewish law, I am just as Jewish as someone with two Jewish parents. Though Jewish law does not question the validity of my faith, my fellow Jews have.
A few years ago, after a wave of violent antisemitic hate crimes in New York that included the stabbing of a rabbi, our Jewish community held a Jewish unity event. It was meant to create bonds between fellow Jews and uplift our community in this time of fear and darkness. Several prominent members of the community gave impassioned and beautiful speeches about the need for love and unity, and the power of our Jewish community. However, one speaker included a joke in his speech that essentially ridiculed the idea of marrying a non-Jew and subsequently, shamed the existence of Jews from multifaith households. In a moment where unity was deeply needed, a fellow Jew allowed his own prejudices to destroy it. As a Jew with a Catholic parent, I felt so uncomfortable and separated from my own people. I could no longer find any solace in the event.
The Jewish community, clearly, does not need division. We as a people are vulnerable. When we start attacking each other, we lose the community we desperately need.
This shaming of Jews from multifaith households and Jews who marry non-Jews is harmful. If we begin to shame those who do not follow a particular model of Judaism, not only will our numbers dwindle further, we will lose so much more than just numbers.
We as a people come from so many backgrounds, shouldn’t we celebrate this diversity rather than shun it? Someone else’s Judaism is not ours to police.
The harmful idea of a perfect Jew who practices Judaism a certain way does not just affect people who come from multifaith families like mine. When I visit online communities where Jews gather to socialize with each other, there is too often dismissal from more traditional Jews when they realize that I do not follow the Jewish law as rigorously. Maybe, in their eyes, if I became more traditionally observant, I would be able to rectify the issue of my Catholic heritage. Whether it is my non-Jewish parent or the way I practice my Judaism, I find there is often the suggestion that I do not fit into their box of a perfect, or even acceptable, Jew.
I am a Jew. I should not feel forced to ignore any parts of myself, including my Catholic heritage. I am proud of my Judaism, and I am proud of my Catholic heritage. It is possible for me to celebrate both, and that should not be belittled by my fellow Jews. Judaism is a deeply personal experience. It should be acceptable for every Jew to forge their own path within Judaism. We are all striving to be safe and to practice our faith with joy and community, we should not shame those on different Jewish paths. If we as a community want to fight antisemitism, we must not fight each other. That requires casting aside our prejudiced perceptions of other Jews and finding real ways to acknowledge and validate every member of our Jewish community. This can be achieved by attending religious services or events of synagogues of a different denomination. We should all go out of our way to form relationships with people with different practices so we are less likely to fall into stereotyping. It is incredibly important for all Jews, especially those with platforms, to be cognizant of the ways in which their words and actions can either harm or help Jews from across the Jewish spectrum.