CW: Judaism negativity, childhood trauma, ancestry, organized religion, mental health, Holocaust mention
So first, a disclaimer: I am speaking entirely about myself and my own feelings here. This post is not intended to reflect anyone else’s relationship with Judaism or other religions.
Okay, so. Background. I grew up Orthodox Jewish, which is a very intense and ancient faith. For those not familiar, think of it like being raised by devout Catholics. Lots of ritual, tradition, lore, and some uncomfortable aspects.
The community I grew up in was populated by older German and Polish Jews, refugees from before and during World War 2. Looking back, I see so many of the scars from that time in my community, though as a child it went over my head.
I say looking back, though I’ll be honest my memory of childhood is very patchy. There’s so many gaps. Though I do remember I was so, so unhappy. I hated myself, hated my world, and hated the faith that was forced on me. My childhood has left so many scars in me, more than I feel comfortable talking about here.
So anyway. I grew up in that environment. We weren’t told much about the other kinds of Jews, the kinds that viewed Judaism as a culture or ethnicity. If they were mentioned, it was with disdain. They weren’t real Jews, just sadly mistaken people that didn’t have faith.
I can go on, but frankly I don’t want to trash talk them. They lived a very different life than the normal American one, and it was a life that didn’t suit me. I’ve gone in the area a few times since, but I haven’t really been a part of the community for years and I’m quite okay with that. And honestly, from what I understand most of that community is gone. I see hipsters and Starbucks in my childhood home, and I am not sure I mourn that piece of the city.
So this brings us to today. We just had Passover happen, and my Facebook is filled with photos of happy friends posting about queer seders, making Jewish jokes, and otherwise celebrating their Jewish heritage.
I feel deeply conflicted about this. I am happy my friends are enjoying themselves, and part of me does connect with what they are speaking about.
But… it’s so, so hard for me to seperate my culture and ethnicity from my religious roots and the trauma associated with it. And seeing this makes me so uncomfortable, bringing up old memories and painful feelings.
At times, I hate my Jewishness. I refused to identify with that part of me for years. I only grudgingly started to feel a connection with it once I travelled Europe a bit, and saw some of the legacy beyond the faith. And also feeling an outsider and sometimes novelty to Europeans.
I have a distinct memory of two years ago at a Danish gaming festival called Fastival. I was on my way to a game about the ancient Masada conflict, and was walking behind a bunch of Danish teenagers talking about how excited they were to “Jew it up”. And in the scenario itself, it was so strange to find people turning to me every time a piece of cultural trivia came up.
It’s not something I experience often, here. Jewish culture is fairly heavily ingrained in New York, and it’s very prevalent among my friends. I guess that’s why I considered it invisible, just a part of everyone’s life.
Now… now I don’t know. I identify as Jewish, grudgingly. I would no longer cut it out of me, but I don’t appreciate it. I don’t revel in my Jewishness like I do my queerness or transness. I don’t make jokes or post memes about it. I politely decline Jewish event invites by well meaning friends.
I wish I could, though. I wish I could attend a queer seder and not feel like crying or screaming. I wish I could fully support my friends in what brings them joy.
I wish I could stop letting the past hurt me.