The Middle- My Jewish Identity Crisis

L’Shana Tovah!  It means (simply) Happy New Year, in Hebrew. Tonight at sundown marks the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and for me brings to focus the identity crisis I’ve been in for just over a year. I was not raised a Jew, nor did I convert. However, I have raised three Jewish children and been married to a Jewish man for 25 years this February. I have acted like a Jewish mom, viewed myself as one, and for all intents and purposes, have been Jewish for twenty-one years at the least. However, about this time last year, I began questioning what that really meant and whether I can continue on this road… and if I don’t what does that mean?

Last year I really began to feel some disconnect from Judaism, as it had defined my life for the past twenty-five years. I was not missing the “Christian Mutt” back ground I came from: a bit of Christian Scientist, a bit of Protestant, some Catholicism and tiny bits of other churches I attended as a child. I was not particularly seeking any other faith, I just wasn’t sure I wanted to be pseudo-Jewish anymore either. I had recently learned (after 10 years of membership) that my votes at the Synagogue we belong to were not being counted, as a non-Jew.  Silly me had been voting all this time, and had assumed it counted.  Principessa, who had just begun a year abroad in Israel was telling us that she wanted to convert to Orthodox Judaism. She didn’t intend to live a strictly Orthodox life, but she needed to convert in this manner in order to immigrate to Israel one day. Immigrate! These changes for her, had strong implications for me and my perception of our relationship. As I non-Jew, I could no longer cook foods for her unless I made efforts to have a kosher kitchen. Some of her previous favorites (hello: ribs, Dungeness crab, shrimp pesto, etc) were now permanently forbidden.  I would potentially not even be able to poor wine for her, as a non-Jew. And, more importantly, in explaining some of what she was going through, it became clear that her mother (me) not being Jewish was really at the crux of her dilemmas. Because I am not Jewish she and her brothers are not considered fully Jewish, amongst Israelis and more conservative Jews. Frankly, that translated in my mind to:  all that you have done, all that you sacrificed in your own family, all the Passover meals, the drives back and forth to Hebrew school, the Onegs you’ve hosted, etc, did not really matter, because  your kids are still not Jewish enough!

I tail-spinned into this crisis. No sugar-coating that one. That then tail spinned into other crises, but that’s another post for another day. I wanted to go back and clarify things, do a little more Christmas and little less Hanukkah maybe? I wanted to see all my Jewish family (my husband’s family) finally come to our house for one Christmas. I needed to skip Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, to assert that I was not obligated to attend. And this past summer, when Principessa came home from Israel and set up her 2 burner cook top, in my kitchen and bought a set of kosher dishes/pots and pans, I wanted to put bacon bits on everything. I had pork on the brain for months! It’s fair to say that there was less passive in my passive aggressive than aggressive, for sure.

Now a year later, I am still working much of this out.  It’s been a hard year on so many levels. However, I’ve come a long way baby and I feel things clearing a bit, on this and other horizons. After a hard-fought “battle” our synagogue reversed its policy and is now allowing non-Jewish members a full vote, as family members. I was the poster child for that touchy issue, that involved several congregation meetings (each time leading to me being questioned and asked to represent the non-Jewish nation).  It has been and continues to be painful that for the first time in our life together, my daughter and I have really been at odds… for an extended time, for an important reason. This is not the stuff of dances and whether she can stay up later. That is still brutal, tough stuff of self-identity and faith. Tough on both of us, because we love each other so much but see some things so differently.  She is back at school now and I see her happy and exploring her choices and paths, as I am doing here.  There are bound to be a few more speed bumps in our road, but we’re both slowing down a bit and the bumps may not be as damaging.

Today, I feel as if a New Year is indeed upon me. I am beginning to breathe a little easier and relax a bit about the things that have troubled me. I feel like I’m moving into a new skin, that fits better and allows for growth. Tonight, I will go to our synagogue and celebrate the New Year with others who hope for new starts and positive things. This year when they blow the Shofar (the sound of which is much more powerful inside the Synagogue)  I think I will feel good again about my quasi-Jewish identity.

Note:  I know this wasn’t as short as “Middles” should be, but it’s what came out.

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About Dawn Quyle Landau

Mother, Writer, treasure hunter, aging red head, and sushi lover. This is my view on life, "Straight up, with a twist––" because life is too short to be subtle! Featured blogger for Huffington Post, and followed on Twitter by LeBron James– for reasons beyond my comprehension.
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17 Responses to The Middle- My Jewish Identity Crisis

  1. Good job putting it all together. I haven’t had the time/inspiration/motivation to do this yet.. but for sure it’s a book, not a blog. I think I’ve mentioned how my sons became orthodox- it has become quite a journey. Added benefit: early marriages and 3 grandchildren under 2 years old. The cooking, dishes, clothing, so many “rules”– very tough at times.
    That said, L’shana tova.


    • I had forgotten that cyclinghgrandma! Puts my stuff in perspective for sure! I’m not really sure how you did it, as I keep hoping I wont really have to follow through on this whole ride. :-/ Thanks for reading again and sharing your thoughts. I’m always happy to hear what you have to say.


  2. Rita Russell says:

    Wow – that’s pretty heavy duty stuff. I don’t envy you, but I do admire you! I can only imagine the number of sacrifices and special efforts and looks the other way over all the years. As a family we’ve been very non-religious. Not something I’m especially proud of, but when the kids were young it was too challenging (weak I know) and when they got older, it was too late.(they were both baptised in the Presbyterian church though) Plus, Vancouver is not a very religious place – we have our churches, cathedrals and synagogues, but they are not well attended. I grew up In Ontario (central Canada) and the Christian faiths were very strong during the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s but not so much now.


    • It has been a long road indeed Rita! There was a lot of driving (particularly for Bar/Bat Mitzvah trainining-2x per week for a year, + weekend services), meal preps and overall adjusting to a religion I didn’t know or share until my twenties. I’m glad I did it, for the most part, but would maybe do a few things differently with my dazzling 20/20 glasses. Thanks for reading and taking the time to share your thoughts.


  3. katenasci says:

    change comes from within


  4. katenasci says:

    Also, do you even want to be a ‘Jew’ or are you doing it for your daughter. This has to be a tough one for you I am sure. I occasionally read your blog as I like your title. I’m not a mother so not always up with you there but sometimes people connect over the strangest of thing. Religion can be such a cause for destruction …. why can all people not see this and work with it ….


    • Thanks for reading the blog katenasci. Whatever gets you hear, glad to have the readers! 🙂 No, I do not want to be a Jew, entirely, but that’s why I didn’t convert. I chose not to be committed to this or any faith. However, I have been VERY involved and tied to the faith and do feel a powerful connection. At this stage, I have moved toward sticking with my original decision to not convert. It has been an important link to my kids and that is where the dynamics get more interesting. Yes, faith can be a very divisive thing, or a very uniting one. Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts!


  5. katenasci says:

    and now I feel rude and you don’t even know me. No rudeness or disrespect just a little bluntness on my behalf and good luck with all your endeavours.
    Always be honest.


  6. ignoranceisbliss says:

    The name, Yisrael, means “to struggle/wrestle with G-d”. Jacob got this name after his dream of wrestling with the angel by the river.
    The honor of being a ben or bat Yisrael, a daughter or son of Yisrael, is to also struggle with G-d.
    (in a good way 🙂

    Your daughter sounds like she’s decided to take a harder road in life… just like her mother. It’s a brave and holy thing to do.


  7. Brian says:

    Oh, leaving replies or comments to religious topics…makes me all verklempt. Your daughter seems to be taking the extreme approach to it all. If you two put on the gloves to decide where the demarcation line gets drawn in the kitchen, do oblige us with a live webcast.


  8. Thanks for the inspiration- posted today about my own journey and the boys’ “return.”
    Check it out!



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