Anat Ghelber
Anat Ghelber

I wish I were a more religious Jew, but I can’t be

When I was a little girl, I was jealous of girls with long skirts, the girls who kept Shabbat.

I was really, really jealous of the religious girls.

But not the type of jealousy you might think of.

I guess…envious would be a better word.

What I’m trying to say is that, when I was a little girl, I really wanted to be religious.

For example, I remember when I used to live in Kadima, there were religious girls who lived on a street called Bialik.

When we hung out, they would tell me beautiful stories from the Torah, and the deep meaning of keeping Shabbat and the holidays and what it means to be religious.

The religious girls seemed to be more gentle.

They were more my type.

What can I say?

I’m prone to be religious but happen to be secular.

I remember in school, my favorite subject was Torah class.

It was extremely interesting and fascinating to me.

It was the only subject where I didn’t daydream.

As you can guess, I knew just about everything about Judaism that every other secular girl knew.

And, of course, I knew that I’m Jewish, that my mother was Jewish, that my father was Jewish, that that every person in my family was a Jew.

And that’s who I was.

But at 13 something happened which changed how I saw myself.

My family and I moved to Texas, and I was taken from a secular Zionist school where everyone was Jewish to a public school in Texas where most kids weren’t Jewish.

Many of them were Anti-Semitic, and didn’t like Jews at all.

So, while I didn’t have Torah class anymore, obviously, I did learn more about Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I learned why we wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, and why as sad as it sounds, I had to learn to hide my Jewish identity.

And while I was hiding it, I was also, without wanting to, forgetting it.

For lunch at school, they would serve us cheeseburger and pork.

And if I wanted something else, meaning something Kosher, they would accuse me of “wanting special treatment.”

I went from a girl who ate only Kosher to a girl who ate what everyone else was eating.

Instead of standing up on Israeli Memorial Day or Holocaust Day (and knowing full well that I was here because of them) I stood up every day facing the American flag, while saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

I didn’t want to say the Pledge of Allegiance, and certainly didn’t want to say it to a flag.

But how was I going to explain this to my teachers, who could care less about a Jew and her culture?

They wanted me to stand up for the American flag, supposedly the greatest country in the world.

The country that allows everyone to be who they are except, I guess, a Jew who lives in Texas.

My Neshama was dying to be around Jews again.

I really started to forget who I was.

I started to forget my Jewish identity.

I remember how, if I would notice a Jew once in a blue moon in school, I would notice them either because they would be wearing a shirt with a Hebrew letter or they were brave enough to wear a Kippah.

I felt deep excitement that can’t really be explained.

It was this excitement that, I guess, meant I wasn’t the only Jew in the world.

Kids at school would call me a “stinking Jew.”

It was as if Jews had hurt them or something, as if being Jewish was a huge crime.

So, I stopped telling people I was Jewish, even though everyone kind of knew anyway.

This is why, when I came to New York, I felt at home again.

I felt a sense of relief to be around Jewish people once more.

It was nice not having to hide my identity.

But seeing other religious people, even non-religious Jews, who knew a lot more about Judaism than me, made me wonder, “Am I really Jewish?”

I mean just because my whole family is Jewish, including my mother and my father, it really doesn’t make me Jewish, does it?

I would constantly start asking my father, “Aba, am I Jewish?”

He would respond, “Yes, Anat, you are 100% Jewish, we don’t have non-Jews in our family.”

When I would ask my mother, she would tell me how she was discriminated against for being Jewish.

When I would ask my grandmother, she would get offended, and say, “Anat, I was in the Holocaust, and they killed my father and lot of people in our family because they were Jewish, how can you even ask this type of question?”

So, to convince myself that I was Jewish, I took a DNA test.

The results came back stating that I’m mostly from Ashkenazi Jewish descent, and a small percentage of Sephardic.

It traces all the way back to Israel.

On the the DNA results it states, “West Middle East.”

But, while I’ve obviously been proven ethnically Jewish, there is something in my Neshama that is missing.

I wish I knew how to pray from a Siddur.

I wish I knew all the Brachot.

And I wish I knew the correct way to keep Shabbat, and the correct way to keep all the holidays.

For example, I know only to eat Kosher, and for the most part to try not to work on Shabbat.

And while I do use electricity on Shabbat I don’t light any fire.

But, I ask myself, why can’t we use electricity on Shabbat?

And I just don’t have the answer.

They say, “If someone is religious in your family, the Torah never truly dies.”

My whole family was religious, up until my parents decided to be Secular.

But, I want to be religious so badly.

It’s my dream.

I wish I was more devout, then I could just study Judaism all day long.

But really, how can I make up for all the knowledge that I missed in Israeli education while living in Texas?

I simply can’t.

No-one would be patient enough to teach me so much.

Therefore, while, my DNA results came back as Jewish, I will never be as religiously Jewish as I want to be, because I really don’t know enough about Judaism.

My Neshama is aching for more knowledge, but how can I learn everything?

I simply don’t have the time.

So, here is a confession:

I wish I were religious, but I can’t be.

It’s heartbreaking.

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