Today I met with Rabbi Justin Goldstein in his study at Congregation Beth Israel. Afternoon light illuminated the space, and a wall of books sat behind me as I faced the Rabbi. His desk, appropriately, was buried by wide, open pages of scripture.
What a complex and beautiful thing, this subject of Jewish identity. My father’s story, my book, the gateway to greater questions about faith, belonging, connection.
“Do you identify as Jewish?”
“How could I not? I am my father’s daughter. His female incarnation, born with a Jewish soul.”
“What does that mean to you?”
“It means that I’m connected to something greater than myself; to my grandparents; to something beyond this life. I can’t start with a clean slate – not in this lifetime at least – for I am inextricably tied to my history, to my people, to my story. …
“But my mother is not Jewish,” I confessed. Quickly adding, “But her father was.” Despite my soul, a link in the chain is broken on my mother’s side.
“Did you know that matrilineal descent began as an act of reclamation?” Rabbi looks at me. “If a Jewish woman was rapped by a Roman soldier, her child would be protected in the eyes of God. Her Jewish son, her Jewish daughter, could never be claimed as a Roman. That’s were it began…”
The moment sat, heavy and kind. There are so many questions. So many wide, open pages that offer no easy answers.
Thank you Rabbi for the kind conversation and invitation to share my story at Congregation Beth Israel on Sunday, June 11th at 5 p.m. I will be reading from my book, A Tangled Tree. Free & open to the public!