Not long after one of my grandfather’s was in Israel during its establishment, my other grandfather was drafted into the Egyptian army against Israel. My mother was born in Egypt to a Muslim father and German-Catholic mother and converted to Judaism after she met my father. The diasporic “Jewish Bubble” of insularity that many of my Jewish peers grew up in before attending university, was not something I had experienced.
My Opa (Grandfather), 1956My diverse background meant that I would celebrate Christmas with one half of my family while lighting the Hanukkah candles with the other. It meant that I would grow up learning both Arabic and Yiddish phrases. But it also meant that when my grandfather exclaimed that Egypt deteriorated because “the Jews came in and took everyone’s money,” we would have to become educators at the dinner table. (This event was followed by my Mother buying my grandfather a Kippah and immersing him further into our Jewish traditions).
It would also lead to me being told by a fellow kindergarten classmate at my orthodox school that since I celebrated Christmas, I could not be Jewish. I remember going home and crying to my mother about what had occurred. She told me that I should use this incident as an opportunity to educate others about myself and my family, which has set the tone for my whole life; foreshadowing my interests and leadership positions within my Jewish community. I learned to embrace every part of my Judaism in relation to my Muslim and Catholic heritage and teach others about it.
Today in the year 2020, I look at our diasporic Jewish bubbles through a critical lens. I listen as some of my Jewish classmates laugh about how their parents would disapprove of them being associated with a Muslim. I watch their judgement as I tell them I’m spending the holidays with my non-Jewish family. I observe them having little interest in making conversation with people who did not attend their Jewish high school.
This is not something that will help us.
What Jewish youth desperately need today is diverse representation and to amplify those voices within our bubbles, as we continue to be challenged and faced with adversity. We need to hear from other children of converts and why they are proud of their heritage. We need to hear from Jews who do not come from North America and hold different traditions. These individuals should feel encouraged to share their stories with each other and find unity within a multi-faceted faith. Once we learn how to challenge our perspectives within our close quarters, we will become stronger, more unified, and more proud to be representing our faith as Jewish youth.