My Kosher Quest

By: Jenny Alexander

One day in grade five, I decided to find myself. Most people are not "lost" when they are eleven years old, but in my own naïve, inexperienced world, I needed a change. My teacher was the indirect cause of this awakening. She was Jewish and opened our closed WASP-y minds to a whole new world of Judaism. We explored the Jewish holidays, learned about the Holocaust, and watched Fiddler on the Roof. This brief yet fascinating view into the world of another religion captured my attention and compelled me to investigate further. I hungrily searched for books on Judaism and bombarded my teacher and my two classmates who were half-Jewish with questions. I decided, after careful (or so I thought) deliberations, that I wanted to convert to Judaism. I did not (and still do not) know why Judaism intrigued me so. Perhaps their high degree of suffering as a people seemed romantic to me. On the other hand, maybe it had to do with the fact that my religion (as my more Roman friends are quick to point out) does not seem to have any clear and decisive beliefs. It could have been the fact that Jews do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God and are still waiting for the Messiah to appear, which seemed to be a good reason as to why there was so much wrong with the world. Whatever it was, it drew me in and launched me into a world of discovery and discouragement.

One Day, after my teacher had taken us to Mount Allison to see Fiddler On The Roof, I sat at the supper table and calmly announced my intention to covert to Judaism. I caught the glance that passed between my parents and was perceptive enough to understand what it meant. "Yeah, right." But my parents are supportive and told me that it was my decision and that they had never forced any particular beliefs onto us and they were not going to start now. So I marched to my room and got out the dictionary. Kosher (ko’shc r), adj. 1. Judaism 2. Fit or allowed to be eaten or used, according to the dietary or ceremonial laws.

The next night I went grocery shopping with my father and was excited to see the jar of kosher pickles sitting on the shelf. I do not like pickles and I did not even know why they were kosher, but how could I not take advantage of a wonderful opportunity to prove to my parents that I was serious about converting. The pickles were in our fridge until last year.

The following Sunday presented some problems. How could I attend a church that I now scorned for its weak and erroneous beliefs? However, my mother was adamant that until I had officially converted to Judaism, I had to put up with the common Christian folk. I stood through the customary singing of "Holy, holy, holy" with a feeling of bewilderment. "God in three persons, blessed Trinity", twittered the choir. I unknowingly asked myself the question that has torn nations and families apart for a millennium. Are there three persons, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, or just one, who goes by the unpronounceable name of YWHW? My eleven-year-old mind could not grasp the enormity of this age-old dilemma. I just knew that if I was going to be Jewish I would have to cast aside the beliefs that had been gently pounded into my head ever since I could first garble out the words to the Lord’s Prayer. I deliberately left out that part of the hymn.

Nevertheless, I still did not feel Jewish. My nose was not the right shape, I knew no Yiddish, and I did not even know what circumcision was! I had a hard time associating myself with the people who were taken from their homes and families and were forced to slowly waste away in Auschwitz. I could never relate to the people that were persecuted by the Spanish Inquisition. The menorah and the skullcap meant nothing to me - they were only symbols of a religion that reached farther back and touched more people through the course of history than mine did. I grew discouraged with my attempts to shed myself of my white Anglo-Saxon background. If I was anything, it was Celtic. If I believed anything, it was that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. I realized, at the tender age of eleven, that your heritage and your race could not be easily changed. I could not become Jewish any more than I could become black or Austrian. Being Jewish is more than taking up their customs and beliefs - it something that you are born with. I decided that it would be more worthwhile and rewarding to discover more about my own heritage. I admire the Jewish religion and am still greatly intrigued by it but I learned to admire my own religion and heritage too. I am now content to be whom I was born as, no matter how unworldly and boring I thought it was. My quest, which started in grade five, brought me full circle. In trying to find myself by adopting a new religion, I found out who I really was.

-Jenny wrote this for a class assignment in her grade 12 year, 1999.