Thursday, December 8, 2016

Where Did I Come From?

Every few years in elementary or middle school, maybe even high school, some teacher would get the bright idea to want to do some kind of family tree assignment. Sounds harmless, or fun, right? Well, sure, if you know anything about your background. Some people have family crests, their lineage goes back to the Mayflower, and they know all this stuff. My parents seemed to know nothing.

It's not like I had this big, close, family experience. Or like we could really claim a country. Italians, Germans, French- they all seem to know where their ancestors are from. Down to the town. Seinfeldian Jews* like myself, not so much.

Even my friend A, whose family is Russian, but also Jewish, asked me how I identify myself as Jewish, even as an atheist*, when that's a religion, not an ethnicity. I know I've discussed this before somewhere, but I'm not searching my blog for it. What I'll say as succinctly as possible is that in America, Jewish is a culture. Because we don't identify with a country, and Jewish, while a religion, also has it's own food, music, traditions, etc, that don't identify with any one country. My friend, A, is Russian first- she speaks the language, identifies with the culture, knows the food and is Jewish second. If someone asks her, "What are you?", her answer, logically, is Russian. Because her Russian identity is stronger than her Jewish identity.

She asked me if my ancestors are most likely Eastern European, why I wouldn't say that. I told her because I don't identify with anything Eastern European, so if that ethnicity conversation went any further, I wouldn't be able to answer anything. I don't even know anything about Eastern Europe. And if I have Russian or Polish ancestry, there are plenty of Russians & Polish people who aren't Jewish. It's a lot easier to say I'm Jewish. For someone who doesn't even know what country their ancestors come from, we only have "American Jew" to have any kind of culture to associate with. By saying that I'm Jewish, I'm essentially saying that I'm not any kind of Christian and I don't have a country. That I'm most familiar with "New Yawk Jewish culture". Bagels, neuroses, pop culture, liberalism, loud talking, a lot of talking, therapy (psychology related), brisket, (attempted) guilt, kugel, & totally getting Seinfeld.

Just FYI, just because I'm Jewish does not make me Israeli. Most people asking you what you are are looking for some common ground. So saying I'm Eastern European without any knowledge of what that even entails isn't going to form any same-ethnicity bond.

My parents never seemed to have an answer where their grandparents were from. I don't know if they weren't interested, no one talked about it, or what. Not that I could trust Rita's answers anyway*, because she was known to make things up, by her own admission. My father probably wasn't interested or motivated in finding an answer. His parents weren't people I'd just call for information and my mom's parents lived in Florida. I don't remember ever talking about it. No one liked to talk about their childhood, the past, or much of anything. It was very different than B's upbringing where he heard tons of stories about his family's past.

It's weird though, being this forty-something age. I still feel young. I had pink hair not that long ago! I wear purple Uggs. I don't ever want to be called ma'am and I'm annoyed when it happens. Why would someone even think of me as a ma'am? Thank you to Chris, the cable guy, who called me "Miss" all evening the other night. Maybe it's like my bizzaro mirrors that never seem to tell me when I've gotten chubby, until I see a photo and am like, WTF? How did I not see that happening?? I'm seeing gray hairs now, like more than I can pluck, so I have to face that I'm sort of older. E is in second grade and I know he's going to have questions I can't answer. Some questions, I'll never be able to answer.

My mom's whole immediate family is gone. My mom's sister died at forty-four of a rare form of cancer in 1988. My maternal grandmother died when I was in college, in the early 90's. My mom died in 2009 and my maternal grandfather died in 2010. I have no one to ask any questions. It's weird when a whole immediate family is dead. It's like *poof*, no one. All their stories, answers, secrets, went into thin air. I have extended family but we've never been close so I wouldn't even feel comfortable asking questions. Nor do I even really know what I'd be asking. I don't even know if they know anything. Like I said, none of this history ever came up with any family member I've ever spoken with. I had a hard time even remembering last names of extended family I used to know the surnames. Babies steal your brains.

B found out some interesting stuff, this past year, when a family member did one of those Ancestry DNA kits. I saw a coupon for one, so I finally bit the bullet and bought a kit myself. A guy I knew from a class I took with E as a baby told me he did one, because he was adopted, and there were kind of shady circumstances of his adoption. His parents "were not the kind of people you ask questions of that nature" and now it's too late because his dad passed and his mom is not of sound mind. He did a very comprehensive DNA kit when they first came out and found out an amazing wealth of things. Like, his parents were fairly religious, Catholic, while he was growing up. He was an altar boy. But he is genetically Jewish. He was shocked. Then I saw a post on Facebook from a friend who did a kit and she found all kinds of extended relatives who told her stories she'd never heard about her grandparents. It all sounded so cool.

23 and me is way more expensive than Ancestry so I opted for Ancestry. Maybe if I want to go further, I'll try 23 and me. But for now, I think Ancestry will suffice. I'd gone to a Jewish Genealogy seminar that Hadassah put on recently, but I think you had to know more than I know. And to be honest, it seemed like a lot more work, and with my A.D.D coupled with what a condescending a-hole the woman doing the seminar acted like, this spitting in a vial or whatever seems like way more up my alley.

So many people, Jews included, have said :::suspiciously::: over the years- "You don't look Jewish"(whatever that means to them), including the Rabbi that B originally asked to marry us. That just makes me more curious what my DNA heritage is, because if I did all that work for my Bat Mitzvah for nothing, I'm going to be pissed. However, now that hate/antisemitic crimes have gone up since the 2016 presidential election, maybe I'd be better off finding out I'm actually as Irish as my name instead of Jewish....but I digress. I couldn't help myself.

So when I bought my kit, I got a referral coupon for anyone who wants one. It makes a great, unique, gift also for that person who has everything and you don't want to just give a gift card. I think there are so many people that would want to do it but don't feel like they can justify the cost for themselves. Ten percent off a DNA kit. Use my link and we both get a deal-

*All things I've written about before. Use the search function on the main page of the Desktop version.

Mom's side: Rita, Barbara. Me, Edna & Milty

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