When I am asked, “Are you Jewish?” I usually say, “I am culturally Jewish.” I come from a household that is half Jewish, half Christian, and mostly Atheist. I grew up celebrating both Jewish and Christian holidays, and for the first several years of my life I didn’t quite understand the difference between Judaism and Christianity. One famous Chanukah, I asked my parents if I could say the blessing as we lit the candles on the Menorah and promptly thanked God for the Baby Jesus.
Since then, I’ve managed to get the two straight and my Jewish heritage has become quite important to me. Perhaps it is a way for me to connect to my grandfather who died when I was quite young. Perhaps it is because I spent a lot of time living in places where I was the closest my friends and classmates came to a “real” Jew... whatever the reason, I tend to find myself called upon to be “Jewish” at least one or two days out of the year, generally around Passover.
This year, the Day of Jewishness was Tuesday, April 19th, the first day of Passover (the night of the 18th was the first night). On that day, I participated in a Seder and a half (the half was a presentation I gave in a class), told a story about Chelm, and danced the horah. I said blessings and sang songs in hebrew. I even cooked a potato kugel from scratch (in spite of the 95 degree weather). I always feel slightly uncomfortable, slightly guilty, wondering perhaps if I am appropriating a religion to which I have no right. But then I find myself surrounded by first-timers singing Dayenu IN HARMONY and something inside me rejoices.
There is something beautiful about Passover that calls me to be Jewish for a day. After all, the service starts with the words, “Let all who are hungry come and eat.” Every year I find myself at this table. And every year I find myself wondering if I am disgracing my ancestors by only claiming “Jewishness” a few short days out of the year. Probably so. And yet I cannot quench the desire I feel year after year to return to that hope of Passover: Next year in Jerusalem. Next year may all be free.