Sunday, April 4, 2010

Transitions

Entrance into grad school for me was entrance into complete financial independence, and with it a new found freedom to truly be myself. For the first time I was able to be completely open with my parents and family about the extent to which I was not religious/an atheist, and they couldn't do anything about it! Well, except eventually excommunicate me, which they did. But it didn't matter, cause I didn't depend on them anymore for health insurance or tuition! Over the past few years I've gladly friended my family members on facebook even though my religious status said "Flaming atheist"

Now that I am finishing up grad school and starting a job I see myself drawing inwards and becoming more secretive with my beliefs again in a way I maybe don't like so much. Yesterday I removed my religious status from facebook altogether. I don't know. I just don't want to move to a brand new place and have people judge me and dislike me because I'm a flaming atheist. And to a certain extent I don't think it's appropriate for a professor to have their religious beliefs up on facebook.

I've been thinking lately, what am I going to say to people about being Jewish when I move down south? I've been told that when you move down south you get asked a lot if you have found a church yet. How will I answer that? As the truth- no I'm not christian, I was raised jewish but now I'm an atheist who celebrates some jewish and some christian holidays in a not-very religious way, but doesn't attend a church of any kind? That's just TMI!

But then, do I mention anything about being jewish? When I barely identify as jewish? And it kinda seems nice to be able to move to a new place where no one knows my jewish background, and where I can finally not be known as a jewish person. To truly be able to escape my past. But then I feel like if I don't say I'm jewish, it means I'm ashamed of being jewish, and being secretive about my jewishness, and that doensn't bring up good associations either.

It just seems easier to change the subject. But then I'm back to being secretive again! How do you escape your roots without denying your roots? Or is that just impossible?

56 comments:

  1. You seem to underestimate how many jews do not practice the religion.

    So I think it is completely natural to say: "I am jewish, but I do not practice the religion" or "My parents are jewish, but I'm an atheist" or "I guess I'm jewish, but actually, religionwise, I am an atheist"...

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  2. yeah but do I want to go around telling people I'm Jewish? Why should I identify myself as Jewish if I don't practice the religion? What is the point of that?

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  3. Don't you think that Judaism is an ethnicity as well as a religion, AE? For me it's both, but for some people (e.g. my MIL) it's just the former. I think that people in the South will get that, and I think they will get that since you are a university professor and a Yankee, if anyone can be an atheist, it's you. I think you're right to take your religious beliefs off Facebook, but for people you actually know, acknowledging your Jewish heritage is not a problem, as far as I understand things. I think Shoshi is right about the fact that saying you are Jewish does not imply that you are religious.

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  4. Most Secular Jews identify as... Jewish.

    The overwhelming bulk of Jews in America are either Reform (including the only nominally Reform) or Secular.

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  5. yeah but I'm not a "secular jew" i'm an atheist who happened to grow up jewish.

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  6. and I think identifying as jewish would be a cop out to some extent...like I would be pretending to be religious to fit in kinda.

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  7. i'm an atheist who happened to grow up jewish.

    You just described Secular Jews.

    Seriously. It's a culture and a religion.

    This is why "atheists who happened to grow up Catholic" often refer to themseves as ex-Catholoic or lapsed-Catholic.

    It provides meaningful cultural and background context.

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  8. Don't sweat it. If they ask you what church you go to, simply answer that you don't attend any church and that you are secular. if your background comes up you can answer that you were raised orthodox Jewish but you no longer identify with it or practice it

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  9. It is not a good idea to identify yourself as a Secular Jew to gt along with Orthodox friends or neighbors. Because once they realize you have "Jewish blood"--the kiruv hounds will be let loose!

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  10. It sort of depends on where exactly in the South you will be. I'm from NC, culturally (and by birth) Jewish (and, believe me, I had to fight to preserve that much!) and an atheist (at least on the odd days of the week). My husband is Jewish, from Eastern Europe and what you would call a 'flaming atheist.' The move will be small potatoes. The time that this will *really* become an issue for you is when you have children (if you are planning on having children). You are Jewish, will always be Jewish, and so will your children. Don't make the mistake about being too public about being an atheist. Fine for your academic colleagues, but for the people in the neighborhood, not so much. In the South, the best way out of an awkward situation is to act dumb and friendly. Trust me on that. Let me know in the comments if you are moving to NC. At least you'll have one friend here (me!). After a childhood of changing names on family trees and lying about being Jewish, I'm now proud to be Jewish. Don't throw out the baby with the bath water. Good luck.

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  11. I've been thinking lately, what am I going to say to people about being Jewish when I move down south? I've been told that when you move down south you get asked a lot if you have found a church yet. How will I answer that? As the truth- no I'm not christian, I was raised jewish but now I'm an atheist who celebrates some jewish and some christian holidays in a not-very religious way, but doesn't attend a church of any kind? That's just TMI!

    Just say "Thanks, but I'm not religious" and that's it!

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  12. I think that unless you are asked directly, you should avoid making any reference to your Jewish background. Why saddle yourself (and possible future children)with extra baggage?

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  13. You know what? I've lived in the south my entire life and I don't think more than ten people have asked me what church I go to. And some of those have been complete strangers in the grocery store where you can just say, "Not yours." Or whatever.
    I think it's going to be way more of a non-issue than you think it is. Honestly.
    I just tell people I'm not religious and they say, "Okay." And that's that.

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  14. North/South is not the issue. Nor East/West/Midwest. I say this having lived in all of them.

    The bigger determiner is Urban/Rural. Cities in the South have a lot more in commmon with Cities in the North or West than they do with small towns anywhere.

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  15. wait wait wait....AE..whats wrong with being Jewish? I am not really a "practicing" Jew but I am damn proud to be a Jew in a cultural sense. We stand with wonderful people and to deny yourself who you are is a lie AE. Its ok to be a Jew..be proud of your heritage atleast and never EVER deny who you are. Thats just my opinion.BTW my husband is not Jewish either. I know you have many bad feelings and rightfully so, and if you chose not to believe in a higher power, that is your right..but facts are facts AE..a black person can't deny they are black for obvious reasons..don't deny AE.

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  16. nothings wrong with being jewish, I just don't practice anything having to do with judaism (unless you count eating chicken soup once in a while), and I'm not sure I consider myself jewish, so why should I go around telling people my parents were jewish? I've spent a lot of time trying to escape judaism/the jewish community, so why would I go around labeling myself as such?

    As for judaism being an ethnicity I can never escape...yeah I've heard that argument before. From Hitler. :) (oooh godwined my own thread!).

    I think you can consider judaism an ethnicity, but that doesn't mean you have to go around telling everyone about it. My husband doesn't tell everyone that he's like half Sicilian, or a former catholic. He just says "atheist."

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  17. You'll always be ethnically Jewish even if you don't practice your tribe's religion and taboos and don't speak any of its tribal languages. You might as well say that you're no longer Chinese because you've stopped identifying with Chinese culture, no longer speak Mandarin, etc. It's pretty much the same thing.

    That said, it seems like there are some residual issues with the whole religion thing. There's no reason to put your religion on your Facebook page. That's not information I'd share with the entire world. But identifying as an atheist is hardly going to cause you troubles as a professor unless the university is Bob Jones or Oral Roberts.

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  18. I think whether or not judiasm is an ethnicity is up for debate, and I can help but notice these arguments sound very similar to arguments about how I'll always have a jewish soul or whatever that I got before I got married.

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  19. I identify as a Jewish atheist. It's what I tell proselytizers at my door and it's on my facebook profile.

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  20. ha, I think if there's anything weirder then being a jew in the south, it's probably being a jewish atheist in the south. :)

    Fortunately I'm moving to a somewhat-decent-sized city in the south (it's no NYC, but it's still definitely a city), so I'm hoping the urban vs. rural divide that Dave talks about is right.

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  21. Here's what I do, fwiw.

    I don't list any religious beliefs on facebook. I don't advertise my atheism at work, especially with managers. I don't hide it, either. With friends at work, religion comes up and I'm generally open about it.

    I do bring up the fact that I'm Jewish if it's relevant, often with a "but not religious" following quickly after if it's a more friendly and open relationship. "But I used to be!" if I'm interested in having that conversation. Which people, by and large, seem to be fascinated by.

    E.g., "Are you doing anything for Christmas? Well, I'm Jewish..." "You're getting married on a Sunday? Well, we're Jewish..."

    Sometimes I bring it up so I can play along with the ethnicity conversations. "We're Irish and we got the drinking and fighting genes. I'm an Ashkenazi Jew and we mostly have overeating genes." Obviously not for PC-supersensitive areas.

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  22. It's not a matter of "having a Jewish soul", it's really more a matter of background culture.

    And even that isn't the same; coming from New York and being raised Jewish is different from coming from Georgia and being raised Jewish. Secular Jewish New York is different (at least somewhat) from Reform Jewish New York, and both are very different from Orthodox New York (much less the isolationist parts of Orthodoxy in the New York Region).

    One branch of my family converted to Evangelical Christianity a few generations back. Although that branch is all Halachically Jewish, they are not culturally Jewish, while someone growing up and being raised Reform who is not Halachically Jewish would be.

    I can empathize, because I remember when I didn't self-identify as Jewish. I had been raised that way, but I wasn't religious, and it didn't seem appropriate. Later I came to realize that while I was not (and am not) religious, the cultural background is a meaningful descriptor.

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  23. OK but how much of my 'culture' is even Jewish anyway? My love for chicken matza ball soup? The fact that I'm a loud person? My use of the word "oy vey" and some other various yiddish words (most of which are commonly used in the US anyway)? Occasionally making latkes around December (which I may start making for Christmas eve dinner)? This blog? That's all I can come up with... :)

    I'm more food-jewish than anything else, and I eat less Jewish food than I eat Italian or Mexican or even Greek food...the cultural thing just doesn't seem to apply very much. For the most part I'm just American and am part of American culture. Especially now that I've been out of the Jewish community for almost a decade (including my formative college/ 20something years).

    I don't plan to raise my children culturally Jewish either... unless some stuff unconsciously rubs off on them.

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  24. The answer, I think, is "more than you think".

    (Also, "Oy vey" is largely used in the urban areas with large Jewish populations. It isn't completely unknown outside them, but it isn't nearly as widespread as you think. "Shmuck", now that is pretty much everywhere, even if they don't know what it means.)

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  25. Regarding whether "Jewish" is a religion or ethnicity... it's a religion. Hitler thought it was both, and plenty of people who want to persecute Jews think it's both, and practicing Jews who want to increase their numbers also think its both.

    "But Ginx, Judaism derives from Judea, which is a place, therefore an ethnicity!" Yeah well I was raised "Roman Catholic," and I am for damn sure not identifying as such, even though it denotes a place.

    If someone asks us if we found a church yet, I'll just say, "Are you kidding? You have them on every damn corner down here, how could I NOT find one? By the way, I didn't even realize I was looking. Before you ask, no I haven't found Jesus, either. Are you guys on some sort of religious scavenger hunt down here? Oh, and may I be the first to welcome you to the 21st century."

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  26. You are wrong. Hitler considered Jews a "race." There is nothing wrong with being ethnically Jewish (with, for example, having a taste for bagels and lox rather than pop-tarts). By the way, what holidays do you intend to celebrate? Feh. As a sociologist, you should know better than to assume you can waltz through life without being associated with any groups. I'm at least twice your age and one day you youngsters will come to value community. A computer can't come over, play with your baby, straighten your kitchen, etc, while you take a nap. And if you think your partner (Catholic or not) is going to be sufficient, then you've got a lot to learn. (The hard way, I presume.)

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  27. I've been a Jewish-atheist in the fucking South my whole life. And that's what is on my facebook page. I don't believe in god, don't celebrate x-mas, love all things Jewish (especially the food and the humor) except for Jewish religious fundamentalists, who, in my opinion, are not really Jewish. It's NOT just urban/rural. The South is a peculiar animal.

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  28. I am associated with many groups. Religious groups are not the only groups out there.... I'm associated with an academic group, and a hippie group, and a dog park group, and an OTD group. I already have friends down south through my hippie group, 3 of which will live within an hour of me when I move. :)

    As for holidays: I currently do some sort of celebration for:

    New Years
    Memorial Day (just cause it's always around my birthday)
    July 4th
    Jewish New Years (aka Rosh Hashana)- usually have some sort of apple and honey/challah
    Halloween
    Thanksgiving
    Chanuka- I seem to make latkes around every third year
    Christmas

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  29. You don't have to identify as Jewish, but you might want to. Let me explain--I grew up in a small midwestern town, daughter of a "recovering" Catholic dad and a "culturally Jewish" mom. I went to Unitarian Sunday school, and Passover and Christmas were the big holidays growing up.

    ANYWAYS in this small town there was a lot of ignorance and anti-Semitism. I learned about Hell when I was five and a fellow kindergardener told me I was going there. I had to hear things like "don't be such a Jew" and "don't Jew me down." If you hear things like that--I imagine you might want to speak out. And in the process you might want to identify yourself as someone with Jewish roots/family/connections. At the very least in solidarity for those in your midst who might identify as Jews.

    In my hometown, I knew of a few other kids who had one Jewish parent but they never spoke of this and cringed if I would bring it up. They were "in the closet" because they didn't want to be considered cheap or different in any way. In that context "passing" for a non-Jewish just did not sit well. Even though to much of the world, my christmas tree loving ham-eating agnostic family members and I were very, very bad Jews.

    I hope your experience is different, but other folks with Jewish backgrounds that I know of who have lived outside of major metropolitan areas have had similar experiences.

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  30. AE
    The issue of community is not the three friends you have down south. It's who happens to be in the neighborhood or town you settle and and start having kids in. This is not a matter hippie tours anymore. Your hippie tour friends aren't going to be able to help you with a kid emergency at 3 am. This is grown up married life.

    There are countless members of Reform shuls, Unitarian churches, Reconstructionist chavurot who are atheists. You are far from the first Jewish atheist. Why would dyed in the wool atheists belong to a religious organization? For the community. It's a handy way to meet people with a similar background. And because they recognize how important a close-knit community is when you have kids.

    For a sociology professor you have a very myopic view of culture. Food and cliches wrap it up for you? Believe me, you have many more Jewish sensibilities than you think.

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  31. AE..I think most of us are in agreement here about being jewish. Its cultural..a Jew can always tell a jew, don't you agree? The first thing we think when our children bring home the one they love is "is he Jewish? ..we say that to ourselves even though EVEN THOUGH we have NOTHING to do with the jewish religion whatsoever. We are part of a bigger picture AE..we can believe what we wish to believe. I am spiritual..I believe NOT in man made religions..I am from a mixed religion family..my husband is 'catholic'..totally non practicing..but we have certain traditions. I do hope that my children will and do believe in God..funny thing..my daughter who has never been involved really in anything jewish is having her first baby..due may 5..all of a sudden it means something to her.her religion..who she is and where she comes from. She lives in a southern town where there are NO jews..they think the chai she wears around her neck is a horse..and she says nothing about it. But AE..i am 52 years old and I will say that things do change..never say never..you are much to smart for that. You were raised in an extreme environment so it is not unusual that you have taken on extreme thoughts. There is a middle ground but never deny who you are and where you come from..we died..our ancestors died just because we happen to be born to jewish parents..this is what I tell my children...Be proud because you are smart and successful and come from good stock..your parents have and are making very big mistakes that have nothing to do with God or religion and everything to do with their embarassment in the society they live in..you are the victim..but things can change just as fast AE. I have read you for a long time and I have cried constantly because I relate to so much that you are going through and will go through...and i cry because i feel your sadness..but you have come a long way on this journey and you still have a lot to learn...thats what this blog is all about..Seeems many many people care about you! all i can say "as a fellow deadhead" HAVE A GRATEFUL DAY!

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  32. Abbi-

    First of all, I don't have any kids, and am not planning on it any time soon, so this whole conversation seems theoretical and stupid at this point.

    Second of all, you know nothing about my hippie friends, and you apparently believe hippies are all a bunch of children who go on tour, which is completely not the case. My hippie friends (many of whom are older than me, all are responsible adults with jobs, and most of whom have families, and therefore know stuff like how to take care of families) have helped me plan and pull off my wedding, have been there for me when my 'real' family turned away from me, and have helped me in numerous ways- and I WOULD count on them for a 3am emergency.

    The fact that you honestly think I would start attending a synagogue/temple ever again makes me think that you haven't been reading this blog. Let me break it down for you: I do not want to be part of the jewish community. The end. I find it hilarious that people keep trying to convince me that I do want to be part of the jewish community, but the fact is- I do not. Plenty of people- like, all the non-jewish people- are not part of a jewish community, and they all seem to be getting along fine. Even the ones who aren't part of any religious community seem to get along fine. There are tons of middle class adults that live no where near their family and are not part of a religious community, and they all get along fine. This emphasis on how important a jewish community is a bunch of bullshit propaganda.

    Something I do know from sociological studies is that working class/poor/lower middle class families are very dependent on their community/family to help with childcare, while middle-upper middle class/upper class families tend to rely on paid services to replace that community/family. Mostly because they tend to move around to get better jobs, and therefore are a lot less likely to live near their family of origin. Hmm, that sounds familiar...moving around to get a better job and therefore not being near my family...wow that's something my parents did, and my husband's parents did a LOT, as does pretty much every other academic I know. HOW WILL I EVER MANAGE??? Um, probably the way all the rest of families like that manage- by just doing it, and paying for services, and seeing my family (and by family I mean my husband's side of the family) on holidays.

    Rachel- if something like you describe came up I would definitely give people a talking to and say that I grew up jewish, but I don't see why it would be necessary in any other case.

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  33. um and rachel- I am moving to a major metropolitan area, turns out they have them in the south too. :)

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  34. oh and I've been thinking about this more and I wanted to add- I do not disagree that there are many benefits to being part of a religious community. From a sociological perspective, those benefits are the entire reason religions exist and persist at all. However, for me, the benefits of membership in a religious community are outweighed by the drawbacks.

    When I first moved to grad school, as I stated just in my previous post, I was a member of the jewish community here- which was not an orthodox community (mix of some MO, but mostly conservative/reform/traditional/etc.) After a couple of years of that I decided that was not for me either. I just have absolutely no interest in being part of that community, and even going to barely-religious friday night dinners seemed like a chore to me at that time, one that didn't want to do. And I still have no desire to do anything of the sort.

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  35. Self-identification and being part of a religious community are quite capable of being entirely disjoint.

    There are quite a few (I suspect if I look I'd find the number in the 7 figures) of self-identified Jews in America who are not part of any Jewish religious community at all.

    You are also a New Yorker. This does not mean, however, that you are expected to join an association of expatriated New Yorkers who sit around and complain that they can't get good pizza or Chinese takeout. That part is optional.

    However, identification as both Jewish and as a New Yorker provides meaningful information. From the former, they can expect that you are unlikely to want to join their Church, from the latter that you are likely to talk louder and faster than they are used to.

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  36. As far as I understood, you have a "typically jewish" first name and also a "typically jewish maiden name".

    So if you want to get the "jew" thing out of the picture, it will seem really, really weird. Like a person who tries to deny they are jewish because they are afraid of antisemitism. And this might be really, really weird, when it is so obvious you are jewish.

    Like this old joke, dating back to Europe at the beginning of the century: Mr. Cohen goes for a vacation to Marienbad. In the hotel, he befriends a man with a hunchback. Right before the and of the vacation, Mr. Cohen confides to his new friend: "I have to tell you a secret: I'm jewish"
    The new friend ansers: "Let me tell you a secret too: I have a hunchback".

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  37. 1. I'm not a New Yorker, I grew up in New Jersey. :)

    2. I don't have a typically Jewish name- I have a first name that is popular among Jewish people but that is also fairly popular among non-Jewish people, and a very rare last name (which is not my "Maiden name" because I didn't change my name when I got married) which is actually often mistaken for a German last name (probably because it's yiddish and yiddish is a germanic langauge, and my particular last name is a very german-y part of yiddish).

    Actually when I was at the airport leaving the interview for my new job, the security guy who was checking my ID asked if my last name was Deutsch (German). I think there are a lot of people in that area who came to the US from Germany during the big German immigration of the 1700s (and this dude was probably part of that group).

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  38. @aidel:

    You are wrong. Hitler considered Jews a "race." There is nothing wrong with being ethnically Jewish (with, for example, having a taste for bagels and lox rather than pop-tarts).

    Ethnicity and race are identical, and are based solely on genetics. The word you're searching for is "culture." Ethnicity has nothing to do with food. My Italian mother made tacos all the time. That doesn't mean she might be part Hispanic.

    I'm at least twice your age and one day you youngsters will come to value community.

    And I'm twice as smart as you, but sadly you will never come to match me because you've long left the period of learning and entered your period of forgetting. No one here is impressed with how long you've managed to continue feeding yourself bagels and lox, because that's all living is. You've clearly not spent much time expanding your knowledge, so why should I be impressed? If wisdom comes with age like wine, you mind turned to vinegar long ago.

    And if you think your partner (Catholic or not) is going to be sufficient, then you've got a lot to learn. (The hard way, I presume.)

    I would act insulted, but I can't even bring myself to pretend I care about the opinion of someone who thinks diet equates to genetics.

    I don't believe in god, don't celebrate x-mas, love all things Jewish (especially the food and the humor) except for Jewish religious fundamentalists, who, in my opinion, are not really Jewish.

    I don't even know where to begin on this. For starters, I never met a funny Jew. I guess they are all on TV and too famous for me to know, because most Jews I've met are just normal people without any ethnically discernible personality traits. Regarding your claim that fundamentalist practicioners of Judaism aren't "really Jewish" may explain your complete ignorance on this whole matter. What makes you Jewish is deciding to identify as such, nothing more and nothing less. Choosing to actually practice the religion just makes you a practicing Jew. Choosing to ignore the bulk of the religion but self-identify makes you a "secular Jew" (see also: fool) and when you realize religion is worthless, then you're just atheist or humanist or whichever labal you decide sutis you.

    I'm not trying to equate you to Hitler, because that would be ridiculous, but it seems kind of Nazi to demand someone self-apply the Jewish label, like you're trying to force Jews to wear a star of David on their jacket. If that sounds kind of Nazi, that isn't my fault.

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  39. This is not a matter hippie tours anymore. Your hippie tour friends aren't going to be able to help you with a kid emergency at 3 am. This is grown up married life.

    I want one concrete example of a 3 am emergency when knowing a bunch of Jews helps. What kind of disaster could possibly require a bunch of ham-avoidant prayer-droners in the wee hours of the night?

    Your bullshit scare tactics and attempt to belittle my wife's decision to avoid the psychotic ramblings of a bunch of desert-bred bigots is about the closest thing to a joke that I've heard in a while that was made a Jew not on TV.

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  40. If asked about church, I'd think a reasonable first response would be to say you're not looking for one. Especially in an academic setting, I wouldn't think this would raise eyebrows.

    If pressed, you might consider something like, "I was raised Jewish, but I'm not religious anymore." This would, I think, be pretty comprehensible to most Chirstians (who are familiar with people leaving the fold and generally don't consider them Christian once they stop believing), but at the same time would allow you to (i) avoid taking a position on whether you're "Jewish," while (ii) not feeling like you're concealing your background.

    One important thing to keep in mind - in real life, as opposed to in these comments, social norms dictate that people are much more likely to accept whatever you say and move on, rather than press you to defend and explain yourself.

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  41. 'Jewish' is neither a race, culture, or religion. But it's a little bit of all three. Religion and culture can be easily (well not always so easily) dropped. Race on the other hand, can't be dropped so easily, since it's part of your DNA, but it can be ignored and intermarriage is the best way to do this. I don't think there is anything wrong with ignoring it. But to say that it doesn't exist at all, I think, is not factual. They have done tests on Jewish priests (cohanim) from around the world and they have found distinct DNA markers which connect them to a common ancestor. You can read about the study here. I also read that Jews in general have more similar DNA than the non-Jewish population that they were among. the reason for this is that Jews have always clung to the idea of being a separate nation/tribe, unlike the Christians who were interested in gaining members by conversion.

    Finally, Hitler wasn't evil because he identified Jews as a separate race. he was evil because he had irrational hatred and went about trying to commit genocide

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  42. @ gamzoo: My wife is probably as Turkish as she is Jewish.

    I'm not saying Hitler was evil because he thought Jews were a race. I think we're all in agreement as to why he was a bad person. Jews intermarried going back to Moses, and they are not some pure bloodline. Millenia in diaspora really varied their gene pool, as there are two large genetically distinct Jewish populations (though I would imagine they are still linked to some degree).

    Personally, I would love to dye myself green or blue or something... although people would think I was some sort of eco nut or really into Avatar. But my true motivation would just be to divest myself of my color, which I find to be pointless. The trouble is, I have no interest in standing out... and I imagine a blue or green man would garner stares in the grocery store. So, until they come up with invisible paint, I'm stuck looking like the white guy I am. I'm so white I'm almost transparant, so it's close enough.

    Why identify with frivolous labels? What does being Jewish mean? What does being white mean? Are Jewish people white? [Depends on which white person you ask...] I find it unwise to engage in group identification. That whole behavior rarely has a happy ending. It's not about hiding your background, it's about abandoning the unspoken game of exclusionary group dynamics.

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  43. Ginx,

    I think the problem you run into with race is when you consider it based on some metaphysical or spiritual unchanging substance. This was probably what Hitler believed in and I think it's nonsense and may lead to bad outcomes.

    But the concept of race as a way of denoting a similar gene pool or history that evolves over time is not really problematic and it does have its uses. For example, Ashkanzai Jews have a higher rate of certain genetic diseases such as Ty Sachs and should take blood tests before they get married to each other to make sure it wouldn't be passed on to their children.

    Regarding your wife, she is free to identify with what ever group she wants. It doesn't matter to me. But I don't see how she can completely escape from her past. What will she say when people, in a friendly way, inquire about it? She doesn't have to embrace her past, but it's almost impossible to ignore it

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  44. Ginx,

    I last thing. Group dynamics for the foreseeable future is here to stay, like it or not. It's how the human species evolved. millions years of evolution is not an easy thing to shake off. Can humans evolve past it? Maybe. but it won't be easy and it would probably take a long time

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  45. oh and if you prefer the label 'people' or 'ethnicity' instead of 'race', that works too. It has less bad connotations, i think

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  46. Why would anyone ever want to go around telling people they're Jewish if they would rather not? The right to determine your own identity is fundamental--ironically, because Jews made it so--and if you have a passing fancy or a lifelong wish to pass for one of the majority, no one can stop you.

    You might be interested in some books about marrano identity, the right to deny/divest oneself of one or more religious identities, and the birth of secular society. In the Shadow of History by Jose Faur is the classic, but The Other Within: The Marranos: Split Identity and Emerging Modernity by Yirmiyahu Yovel goes into much more detail.

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  47. "I don't have a typically Jewish name"

    Well, then the situation in the US is completely different than here in the German-speaking countries...

    Here, your first and last name and the combination of both would be identified as jewish...

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  48. maybe cause they actually know when a name is not German in German-speaking countries? :) (although my family actually went through Ellis Island, where their names were all changed, so my last name might not even be the same as my family's last name in Europe- and it's only off from a German name by one letter).

    My officemate is from Germany, and he recently was telling me the translation of my name in German.. :)

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  49. i think it will probably depend on what kind of conversation it is -
    casual, 'where do you go to church?' or deeper, where you are both getting into your backgrounds, etc. and you feel it is relevant to the conversation or something that you feel like sharing for whatever reason.

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  50. AE: You say, "Ethnicity and race are identical, and are based solely on genetics." This is an entirely false statement. "Race" is a social construction, a concept invented by humans to categorize, differentiate, and especially discriminate. Ethnicity is more like tribe, people, culture, your peeps. Folks who have been hanging around each other (and reproducing) for so long that they have come to resemble each other genetically, that's geneotypically, not always phenotypically, although usually recognizable to each other.

    I started reading your blog with a great deal of sympathy and support, but I leave shaking my head at your foolishness and youth.

    You are nothing but a convert. Nothing more, nothing less. A convert to atheism (which, for people raised to see the world in black and white, is it's own sort of fundamentalism). Congratulations and BIG FUCKING DEAL. Some of us are born with honest parents, do not have to unlearn religion, and therefore feel no need to write blogs about it, congratulate ourselves on our mental acuity, not to mention keen grasp of the obvious, and proclaim (endlessly) with a great deal of passion and zeal how right we are, how stupid everybody else is, as if you, personally, have scientifically proven that there is no god. Welcome to the 21st century. If you feel the need to blog about this, maybe you should be talking to a therapist instead. And by the way, you are not the first (or only) person to get a PhD (I finished mine before you were even born, at a time when not many women did such things). Get over that, too.

    You are a foolish child and you deserve every bit of shame and loneliness that is (I PROMISE) coming your way. It's called growing up and I wish you the best of luck.

    BTW, your blog is boring, unsustainable for very long, and very unwelcoming. Fatal errors, every one.

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  51. "AE: You say, "Ethnicity and race are identical, and are based solely on genetics."

    uhh, I'm going to stop you right there, cause I didn't say that, Ginx said it.

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  52. Also, thanks for all the ad hominum attacks based on your inability to read who is posting what comment, I really appreciate those too. I especially love the little childish temper tantrum you seem to have just had in that comment, it really lends credence to your ability to determine what is or is not mature. :)

    If you think my blog is so boring, you are free to not to visit it. In fact, I really prefer that you don't. Goodbye.

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  53. @aidel

    Why would anyone be impressed with someone who earned a Ph.D so long ago that everything you learned is obsolete? That's assuming your senility hasn't caused you to lose the greater portion of it. Clearly your reading comprehension and rhetoric is gone.

    You're contagious mental illness is making you lash out like a rabid dog in the hopes of infecting one more. What you fail to realize is that the mere sight of reality is a vaccination to your nonsense. Judaism is just a religion, you can't win this one. If anything, someone in that situation is Hebrew.

    You’re going to saggily sit there and disrespect us for our age? A decrepit spinster with antiquated notions of how one "must" live? I’d tell you to hobble yourself to a library and read something printed in this century, but I wouldn’t want you to break a hip.

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  54. Okay, can everyone, as my students would say, chill just a little bit.

    As an an academic myself, let me inform the non-academic AE readers that academia itself, particularly amongst the tenured and tenure-track, is a community on its own. If AE and B/Ginx need some one at 3AM next fall or at a far future date when they have kids, AE will have several colleagues who might even feel hurt if she didn't think to call them first.

    Academia, like any community, has its own rituals and rights of passage. AE is about to, or perhaps already has, pass through a an important rite of passage: the dissertation defense, and she has already passed through an even more harrowing test: the successful job search. Let's be supportive here.

    Honestly, I don't think many of your academic colleagues will care that you "abandoned" your parents' faith. They probably did the same themselves. Your students might be another story depending on the demographics of your new institution. However, you didn't "abandon" Christianity, which will most likely be the faith of origin of most of the students. On the plus side, some of your students might find your story inspiring.

    By the way, I never friend my undergrads on Facebook. I also don't belong to my institution's Facebook group so I'm harder to find. I don't put my religious and political views on Facebook, but they might be implicit from the articles/websites I recommend. I actually was kind of creeped out when both my mom and my dissertation adviser (I've graduated) joined Facebook the same week. Perhaps, this feeling was only frustration b/c I couldn't make any snarky remarks about this incident in my status updates. I did make a few jokes to my freshmen seminar, and they felt my pain, telling me about grandparents who joined Facebook.

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  55. I'm really not concerned with offending some old fart who earned a Ph.D in phrenology, homeopathy, eugenics, animal husbandry or whatever "science" was back when aidel was still spry. I'm perfectly calm about it, as well. I can call her a know-nothing dipshit without my pulse quickening in the slightest. I suggest she do something worth blogging about and maybe accumulate a couple dozen people before she goes judging someone else as being "boring." Must be so exciting to live the life of snidely commenting on how people victimized by religion ought to feel towards the bigots who perpetuate the ignorance for generations.

    Someday synagoguges be museums, and the world will be a better place for it.

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  56. Ginx: "Someday synagoguges be museums, and the world will be a better place for it."

    As an orthodox jewish woman, currently writing her dissertation for her PhD (so you know my credentials...), who has never made a snide or offensive remark toward your wife or any other Jewish person who is no longer practicing or identifies themselves as Jewish, I find this remark extremely offensive.

    Some may decide to practice the religion of Judaism and there is no reason why they should be attacked by saying synagogues should become museums.

    Each to their own. Please be respectful of that.

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