Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Only Jewish Kid in the Valley

After I was adopted, I guess you could say I quasi-transitioned from being a Catholic child to a Jewish kid since my adoptive parents were Jewish, I felt that instilled in me a slight shame in being Jewish.  As I grew up, I realized that some of this came from what I observed from my parents.  However discreet they were with their own discomfort about their Jewish history, it permeated almost every interaction they had with me when it came to religious activities.  They were proud to be Jewish, and yet, there was some feeling that they had from their upbringing that they were in some way shunned.  And I sensed this. 

Much of my mother’s side of her family on her father’s generation was killed in the Holocaust.  Her stories of who got across to the US and who was left behind are tragic and miraculous at the same time.  I could always hear in her voice and sadness and anger when she told stories of those times.

But for me, so disconnected from any of this, it felt like I was being burdened with a history I didn’t own.  I'd say that when I was about ten years old is when I felt this the strongest.  An event such as lighting the menorah was solemn, and Rosh Hosanna and other Jewish holidays had the same flavor of raw sensitivity for my parents that made me uncomfortable with having been brought into Judaism.

I even convinced myself that not only was being Jewish a handy-cap of some sort, but that I was the only Jewish kid in the San Fernando Valley.  From the time that I was in about fifth grade in elementary school, through about middle of high school, I thought that all of the good-looking, popular kids were other than Jewish.  This, with these kids having surnames such as Friedman, Goldring and Tannenbaum.  I just didn't know.  It only occurred to me in tenth grade that almost all of those kids were sons and daughters of successful Jewish people in the entertainment industry and such.

But I think with the difficulty of having been adopted, and then my parents’ discomfort with their own heritage, I felt like a black sheep for a long time.  Looking back on it, I can see that it was all ultimately self-imposed, rather than instilled in any way.  My parents bent over backwards to make me feel a part of everything.  But I was young and ignorant then. 

Nowadays,  I have pride in the fact that I was raised Jewish, and that my first five years were Catholic.  I tell people that I can use all the help that I can get, and that I have enough guilt from those two sources to last me a lifetime.  I love hearing stories about old Jewish families' experiences, and I so enjoy visiting Catholic missions around California. But more seriously, I am not a religious person by nature.  I love God and I try to live my life the 'humanly' best that I can.