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How Do You Want to Be Included?

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This story comes to us from Moishe House, an organization that trains, supports and sponsors young Jewish leaders as they create vibrant home-based communities for themselves and their peers. 

This post originally appeared on The Genesis Prize blog, as a response to the prompt, "How do you want to be included?"

By: Moishe House Resident, USA 

I often say that I chose to be Chosen. I consider myself both born a Jew and a convert, a “Jew-by-choice.” I come from an intermarried family: a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother. Thanks to my mother’s large, tightly-knit extended family, my childhood was peppered with baptisms, weddings, funerals, countless holidays and church events in which I was participant. Yet there was never any question of my family’s nuclear Jewishness.

For my entire childhood, we lit candles on Shabbat and Hannukah, we said blessings over Kiddush and challah, and I am still tasked with reciting the four questions at the Seder we have attended since before I was born. For the sake of her Jewish daughters, my mother did everything from finding us the best Hebrew school in the neighborhood to making matzah brei and kasha varnishkes.

Although I have always had a keen sense of being ‘mixed,’ and have a strong ethnic identity from my mother’s side, I have always, unwaveringly, been a Jew.

In spite of our family’s conviction, when I was 8-years-old, the rabbis at our Conservative synagogue recommended that my sister and I undergo a formal conversion. Instead of heading to school one morning, we went to the mikveh and became the Jews we had always been.

As far as my 8-year-old self was concerned, nothing had changed. But as I grew older, I began to appreciate that my background and my conversion shaped the kind of Jew and woman I am today. I began to feel that coming from an intermarried family and having ritually affirmed my place with the Jewish people meant that I could not take my Jewishness for granted. My parents chose to raise me Jewish; we chose, as a family, for my sister and me to convert.

Every time I participate in Jewish observance or communal life, I choose to be a Jew. Not all parts of Jewishness are chosen, of course. But living Jewishly and seeing oneself as part of the Jewish people is a choice, filled with responsibilities, risks, joys, and fulfillment.

Being a Moishe House resident has been one of the most meaningful Jewish choices I have made in my life. Moishe House offers an unparalleled opportunity to build Jewish community from the ground up, on our own terms. I was inspired to live in a Moishe House in part because my own Jewish family is quite small. Even though I had plenty of Jewish friends growing up, I didn’t feel like I had an extended family or community with which to grow as a Jew through study, observance, and celebration.

Both the community we have built at my Moishe House and the larger national and international network I have found through the organization have been fortifying and inspirational for my Jewish journey. Moishe House has helped cement a Jewish identity that will be fundamental to my family when I face the choices my parents did decades ago. My own experiences and observations have taught me that having two Jewish parents does not guarantee Jewish identity in a child; similarly, intermarriage is not a certain end to the Jewish family as some people fear.

Whatever our background, it is important that those of us who belong to the Jewish tradition and people have a home and a community in which to live Jewishly. I am so grateful to my parents, especially my mother, for making a Jewish home and raising Jewish children. I am grateful to Moishe House for giving me the home in which to become a Jewish adult. 

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.