“Maybe you should talk to a Rabbi?”
My friend Aimee made the suggestion last November, as we walked my favorite Sherwood Forest streets, soaking up the last bits of a gorgeous autumn afternoon in Detroit. Her idea was a long time coming, but for some reason I had never considered it. I’d always just muddled my way through Judaism, googling terms I heard and feeling surprised when all of a sudden it was time for Passover or Rosh Hashanah again.
My dad was a junkie who found Jesus and raised me inside of that Pentecostal faith. It was intense, and, as a highly sensitive child, I found the church overwhelming; all the talk of fire and brimstone was terrifying. Being an overachiever, I tried to learn the rules of his faith, making myself into the submissive “help-mate” I was supposed to grow up to be. I read the whole Bible (twice) and even faked “speaking in tongues” — when someone is taken over by the Holy Spirit to let God communicate through them.
In spite of all of this, when I was in high school, I began to question the teachings I had been brought up with. The adults I went to with questions dismissed them; the more I asked, the more of an outcast I became.
After graduating high school, I moved to Chicago. During a freshman orientation at Columbia College, as we were introducing ourselves to our new classmates, I said that I was Jewish.
This was not a premeditated lie. It just slipped out before I could stop it. There was no room for all my questions inside of the rigid walls of the church and I could not claim the Pentecostal faith — it didn’t fit anymore. Having grown up in West Bloomfield, the only other religion I knew anything about was Judaism. Perhaps my lie was born out of familiarity.
That first year, every time I claimed Judaism, it felt like a lie. I was constantly worried about being “found out.” So I researched. I wrote the holidays in my school planner so I’d know they were coming up. I would google “common customs” so if friends of mine asked a question I would be able to answer.
That was half a lifetime ago. In the 18 years since, I have never stopped calling myself Jewish, nor have I stopped questioning. I’ve attended Yom Kippur services at Chicago Chabad houses, shared manischewitz at the Passover table with so many welcoming families of friends — and scoured the Target holiday section to create my own collection of Judaica.
I’ve learned that to be a person of faith often involves questions and I have found room for all of that under the beloved tent of the people of Israel. Thanks to my friend Aimee, who introduced me to my Rabbi, this summer I will be making my first mikvah as an official Jewish person.
Turns out that lie I told set me off on the path — however long and winding these past 20 years — to discovering my truth.