“Do you think 9/11 happened because people are mad at Israel?” — A question posed to me by a co-worker after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
“You should go back to Cherry Hill, where you belong.” — Overheard at a school board meeting during a heated discussion about blessing the graduating class in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
These comments, and many others over the years, have attempted to challenge my Jewish identity. Am I an American first or a Jew first? For me, the answer has always been clear.
I was born in this country. I pledge allegiance to the flag. I celebrate Thanksgiving (you’d be surprised how many people ask me this). I love the fireworks display on Independence Day. I’m a baseball fan. A rock music enthusiast. A lover of s’mores and apple pie. I’m a proud American citizen.
And as an American, I’m grateful for the First Amendment, which gives us all freedom of religion. For me, that’s in a synagogue where I recite the Shema (pronounced Sheh-ma). While New Years’ Eve is December 31, it is also on Erev Rosh Hashanah, which comes in the fall. I fast on Yom Kippur and believe in asking the people in my life for forgiveness before I am permitted to ask G-d for his or hers. I light the menorah on Hanukkah and put it in my window to shine a light on the world. And my dining room table is extended into the living room for Passover Seder in the spring.
As a Jew, I’m proud to be a part of the beautiful melting pot that makes up this country. But, many of the decisions I make in my life are based on my values and life experiences. So, without a doubt, I consider myself a Jewish American. And I’m proud of it.
Because my hometown didn’t have a large Jewish population, I was sometimes singled out and bullied for being different. Pennies were thrown at my feet in grade school. As a teenager, I washed swastikas from a synagogue’s walls and sidewalks leading up to the front doors.
But my identity never wavered.
When my sister graduated high school, we had to fight to be recognized as equal members of the community. Instead of wearing us down, it only made our congregation and my faith stronger. After I got married, I vowed to find a place to live where we wouldn’t have to fight, and our children would be accepted. Today, not only do we pass on those traditions and values to our children, but I’m so fortunate to live on a street where many faiths are represented. My kids have been invited to Diwali festivities and Easter egg hunts. We’ve hosted Hanukkah parties and invited everyone to their b’nai mitzvah where they celebrated our simcah with us.
My life will always reflect the pride I have in our country. But, my Judaism will always come first
So, what am I?
I’m an American.
Who am I?