Search This Blog

Custom Search

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The "Jewish Thing"

Since sharing the discovery of half of my ancestry via DNA testing, I'm surprised at the overwhelming interest in the "Jewish thing."  A number of friends, some Jewish, want to know how I feel about the "Jewish thing." Other's ask, "does your Mom know about the "Jewish thing?" Which yes, she does and oh boy that's a fun story for a later post. Still others shake their heads in understanding as if something has been explained or finally makes sense ....saying, "you know the 'Jewish thing' explains a lot."

It's all made me wonder A- what is the "Jewish thing" and B- how does it explain anything at all? It's as if the religious heritage of my distant cousins is a tangible carnival item sitting in the room when we speak. Typically I'm excited and share the vast information about ancestors from Russia, Lithuania and the Ukraine. When I offhandedly mention that these ancestors were Jewish there is a pause for a moment like I've taken out the "Jewish thing" and put it on the table.  I imagine it to be some kind of intricately decorated blue vase or something like that.....they are suddenly interested.....their eyes the "Jewish thing."

I'm not disappointed about this new religious heritage, I just don't get the fascination with this very small piece of my very complex identity. Maybe it's just that I'm less surprised than my friends. Let's be honest here. My mother was inseminated in NYC by an intern at Lenox Hill Hospital on the Upper East Side. She requested a Polish donor with brown hair and eyes. yeah......there was a very high likelihood the gentleman was Jewish. Let's get real, I would be surprised if he was not Jewish.

Having grown up in NYC, I have many, many Jewish friends from childhood up through college to present and I've never heard of the the "Jewish thing." The closest thing I came across to the "Jewish thing" was when a good girlfriend of mine started dating a Protestant guy and other mutual friends would say, "well it won't last long, there is the Jewish thing." Suddenly, Judaism was a focus, an elephant in the room.

As a kid I can remember countless times I wished to be Jewish.  Most of the Jewish kids I knew were incredibly gifted with highly educated, very successful families. I assumed that was part of being Jewish. I fully acknowledge I was stereotyping but children are simplistic and this was a positive stereotype (so cut me a little slack before sending me hate mail.) I found Judaism far more mystical and exciting than the Catholicism in which I was raised (again here.... a child's viewpoint.... not an incentive to send me an email asking "why I hate Catholicism") I'll never forget the time when at about six, I nearly gave my VERY Catholic Grandmother a heart attack, reciting a Jewish prayer in Hebrew a friend had taught me at the park.

But back to the greater issue here. It's not that I'm not excited about this new world to explore. I just don't get the intense fascination with it or the assumption that I'm now magically Jewish.
Being Jewish, at least to me, is not about DNA. Being Jewish is about beautiful religious traditions, culture and a vast, trying history you learn and discover as you are raised.  You can't get the "Jewish thing" just by being born, it has to be given to you. When my biological father released sperm from his body into a cup and detached from it (and me) he took away the Jewish thing. That is unfortunate.

This leads me to believe that the fascination with the "Jewish thing" has more to do with the "sperm donor thing." What I'm trying, successfully or unsuccessfully, to get at here is that the parcels of  inheritance are very blurry when it comes to anonymous sperm donation. What the sperm donor does and does not bestow upon you is highly debatable. The letters and patterns of my DNA genome spread across the table cannot describe the shape of my ancestors faces, they cannot tell me the stories of the women before me that made their way across an ocean and they definitely cannot communicate the essence of what it means to be Jewish.

So that leads me to ask you, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, what do you think about the Jewish thing?


  1. haha, that reminds me ot my 'gypsy thing'.

    about 15 years ago i was alerted to the fact that my mother was roma (gypsy) and i too became completely absorbed.... with the 'gypsy thing'. i tnink it lasted for about 7 years or so before i got used to it and started to take it in my stride. or, more to the point, intergrated it into my being and who and what i was. then a few years ago my mother told me her grandmothers surename was benjamin and was therefore, probably, jewish. but since i'd already done the gypsy thing, my first and only reaction was 'yeah right' - i'm not doing that again. and while, in these times of taking our jewishness very seriously, a jewish friend urged me to address the jewish thing, i've declined. i feel i have exrted more than enough energy into exploring the gypsy thing without going through it all over again with the jewish thing.

    but i say go where your heart takes you. as a writer you obviously have an awesome imagination and the jewish thing will offer you plenty of wonderful creative juices to build your own story around your stolen identity.

  2. Hi Anonymous - Gypsy, wow, I would definitely be interested in the "gypsy thing."

    The more I hear from readers, it seems like everyone has a "thing." Maybe what defines a "thing" is the vary lack of a definition. As human beings we are always interested in the undefined...the mysterious. If an idea, or in this case piece of heritage, isn't black and white or cut and dry we have more difficulty processing. We are then drawn to it in an effort to understand.

    For me lack of definition is a big, big part of the donor-conceived experience. You just come to except that some very key things will remain unknown forever.

    Thanks for the great insight.


  3. Hello, I've found your blog to be a very good and informative but difficult read for me. After 8 years of talking and research (including meeting with one of the UK's leading psychologists and a woman who has done the longest ever research project into the health and wellbeing of the children of donors and same-sex couples - ie this has been a very well researched decision!) a year ago my partner and I went to a clinic in London in order to attempt to have a baby with a sperm donor. My partner then left me just before our first attempt and a year on I am ready to have another go. My partner and I were very welcoming of the change in UK law to rule out anonymous sperm donors (although obviously it has meant a vast reduction in the number of available donors). I just wondered what your thoughts were on this issue. I also wondered what your thoughts were on the amount of information that should/shouldn't be given to prospective parents. As an individual I find the range of choice overwhelming but as the hopeful parent of a future child I'm persuaded to think that the more information the better until that child is old enough to decide whether or not they want to seek contact with the donor (and then the clinic would pass on the contact information)?

    I admire and respect the way you have articulated your thoughts and feelings in this blog and would be really interested to know your thoughts.

  4. Hi There - I answered this great comment in a full blog post called "What Would I Have Wanted to Tell My Mother Before She Conceived? --

    Girl Conceived

  5. although i am not donor conceived i grew up family hungry (and still am) because i migrated four times before i was 9 (thank my restless mother). we settled in a counrty far far away from my relatives. just myself, my parents and my brother. i am seriously curious about my family all the time and get really excited about similarities etc. i think my family hunger helps me to at least empathise with your situation. gypsy sounds pretty exciting but in my day to day life its fairly mediocre and doesnt really serve me, in fact ive actually stopped telling people. lol side of my family overseas are nicely settled and my cousins appear fairly settled, stable, educated and middle class. not very gypsy at all. yawn.......

  6. Hi Anonymous - You make a good point. Half the fun of not knowing your roots is fantasizing about them. Last night at dinner my boyfriend and I were discussing what it would be like to discover my sperm donor was less than outstanding or a flat out loser, though I doubt it because I'm a pretty nice person :)...Maybe it's better not to know.

    Thanks for the comment!

    Girl Conceived

  7. LOL! My uncle emigrated to NY from the UK 20 years ago, met a nice Jewish girl, converted from Catholicism and married her. They have two lovely adult children. Last time I saw him I asked him how 'the Jewish thing' was going, which made him laugh.

    It is hard to ask about something potentially very significant to someone's identity without feeling like you are prying or being too deep for social chit-chat. Plus it gives someone the chance to give a superficial answer if they aren't in the mood for a deep and meaningful discussion. (The answer I got was detailed and interesting btw.)

    Still, you can't imagine someone talking about 'the black thing' or 'the gay thing'.


Please let me know what you think. I appreciate feedback of every kind.

You Might Also Like:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...