Recently I’ve come across a bit of information about my heritage that has caused me to think a great deal. A few weeks ago I found out that by way of ancestry, I am a Polish Jew. I always knew I was Polish, but the Jewish part is news to me. Apparently, someone from my family, came from Poland before the German occupation. This person settled in the mid-west and later got married. However, at the time, it wasn’t acceptable to be Jewish, and thus, that part of one’s identity was hidden. It was hidden so much in my family that it was unacceptable to talk about and that is why I never knew until just recently. What is even more interesting, is that this person hid their identity so well, that they built a church and became a founding member, without ever being Catholic. I wonder how their life would have been different if identity wasn’t hidden.
Well for starters, this person escaped death. Probability was not on the side of Polish Jews at the time of the German occupation. In the states, this person could conduct life without the Jewish label, and thus, maneuver around the path of discrimination. Yet, this person also missed the opportunity to express their faith and traditions, the way culture had previously dictated.
In my life, I can’t help wonder what life would have been like if I knew I was a Polish Jew in conjunction with and Irish / English Catholic. I wonder what it would have been like to reconcile the two religious and cultural traditions at an early age. Even today, I can’t help but wonder, “am I a Jew now?”
What does it mean to be Jewish? Can one be Jewish in terms of culture and traditions, and not in terms of faith? How does one reconcile the two? The fact is, I know that many are challenged with these questions, and I am not alone. However, it is my personal priority of sorts to make sense of all this, because in a way, I feel like I owe it to my family member who probably struggled a great deal. I know what it’s like to hide a part of yourself to remain undetected through the paths of a discriminatory society. However, at this stage of my life, I do not feel that hiding any part of my identity (Jewish or otherwise) would be a danger to my life. And so maybe, it is my job to investigate and BE!