It would be so easy, on my Maine island, to stop being Jewish. I am the only one. Nobody holds me accountable for the holidays, and there is no temple within easy reach. My husband isn’t Jewish. My parents and sisters barely practice. At times, being Jewish has given unkind people a way to insult or demean me.
So why do I cling so fiercely to my identity?
Being Jewish led my ancestors to flee the pogroms in the Pale of Settlement. They sacrificed safety and comfort with their fierce clinging, and made perilous journeys to the United States so they could live Jewish lives without fear. They persevered through hardship to preserve their sense of identity, and this makes that identity precious to me.
Being Jewish led them to insist on an excellent education for their children and each subsequent generation. Being Jewish inspired my grandfather to become a lawyer, my father and uncle to become doctors, my mother to become a nurse, each motivated to learn as much as possible and utilize that knowledge for the betterment of the world. Being Jewish motivated my parents to provide my sisters and me with music lessons, and to give us limitless access to a college education.
My sisters and I are all now working for the betterment of the world, in medicine or psychology or education. Our Jewish upbringing—secular and scattered though it may have been—taught us to value tikkun olam (healing the world). We observed our mother volunteering in our school. She helped an elderly man in our community overcome his illiteracy and a recent Somali immigrant learn English. That model inspired me to become a volunteer EMT and to serve on the town Planning Board.
I want to model the same values for my daughter, and as they have their origins in Judaism, I want her to be Jewish as well. She is technically Jewish, no matter her upbringing, because of matrilineal descent, but it is important to me that she understand the preciousness of that identity, how people fought to preserve it, the educational opportunities it inspires, and the service it promotes.
So I wear a hamsa and talk about it with her, bring hamantaschen to school for Purim, invite my non-Jewish friends to enjoy our seder. I’m connecting with a mainland synagogue, and although the boat journey to get there is a daunting obstacle, my ancestors crossed the Atlantic Ocean for the same right. It won’t always make my daughter’s life easier, but I hope that being Jewish brings her education, inspiration, and tikkun olam like it has brought to me.