This essay is a great reminder that our identities are complicated and the stress on being questioned about who we are is real. Thanks Arianna for this great piece!
My Yearly Jewish Breakdown
Arianna Skibell December 16, 2015
The first time I broke down, I was walking along the Thames in London with my friend David. It was early on in our five-week backpacking trip, and we started debating the authenticity of the Torah. I said that it didn’t matter to me whether God literally gave Moshe the tablets on Mount Sinai — the stories are true because we tell them and live by them. David was unimpressed. “It happened or it didn’t. There’s no in the middle,” he said.
I felt furious but simultaneously jealous of his certainty. And I started to cry. Right in the middle of a busy London street. Which was strange, because as a kid, I felt pretty confident in my Jewishness. We drove to synagogue on Friday and Saturday — which meant running around with my friends until it was time to collect those weird jelly candies they threw at bar mitzvahs. I went to day school and I was already writing Hebrew script.
My troubles began in the third grade, when we moved from Austin to an Orthodox neighborhood in Atlanta. The practices and teachings seemed a good fit for my spirituality-seeking parents. However, I’d gone from playing with the children of freethinking Austinites to navigating the cultural landscape of children raised on a combination of dogma and a good old Southern-seeming repression. I’d always been praised for speaking my mind. But now I felt too loud, too wild, too other.
It got worse. That year, I learned I wasn’t technically Jewish. My mother was raised Irish Catholic, and when I was six, we both had a Conservative conversion, which was not considered valid in our new black-hat community. Now I didn’t just feel other. I was other.
But I’m Jewish, I protested! My whole life I’d known I was Jewish. I’d known that my blood was the blood of Abraham, that my people had wandered in the desert for 40 years, that I’m alive because my great-grandfather escaped the Holocaust. Suddenly, I was being stripped of that identity