Last year, I wrote in “Those Jews” about my fascination with—and occasional annoyance at—rabbinical Jews, wherein I noted my Jewish heritage. Well, while I was home in August, I continued my local genealogical research, and I discovered that not only was my father’s mother’s mother Jewish but also that his mother’s father was a Jew. Hence, my father’s mother was fully Jewish ethnically, though her family appears to have been very secular. They were only interred in a Roman Catholic graveyard because of the demands of their granddaughter (I suspect quite uncanonically). Before learning this from the very same granddaughter (my father’s oldest sister), I had assumed that my Jewish great grandmother had married a Roman Catholic. Yet, it seems as if she married another Jew (who was born in the city that Jesse Jackson infamously described as Hymietown—New York City). Their daughter, then, was the one who married into the papist family of my paternal line (which is itself distantly Ashkenazi). Of my father’s siblings, only the aforementioned oldest sister remembers her mother’s parents. So, it is not remarkable, then, that my father knew little of his mother’s father.
What I find curious is that no one in the family, of whom I am aware, maintained a Jewish religious identity. Rather, they all seem to have become Christians or simply nonreligious. In this, I think that the assimilation principle is at work. Unless one struggles to maintain the faith, one’s family will become what everyone else’s family is. Greek Orthodox in America largely resemble Episcopalians, American papists look and act surprisingly like liturgically minded Methodists, and there is no discernible cultural difference between most Reform Jews and W.A.S.P. bred Unitarians.
The implied lesson for rabbinical congregations that applies just as well to Christian parishes is to hold the line and be comfortable being different, or your tradition will cease to exist.
The implied historical outcome is that most future rabbinical Jews, like most future Christians, will be religiously observant ones. Nominal ties to a minority religious group in a secular society are not strong enough to maintain group allegiance or identification.
Anyway, that is my latest Jew news: going from an eighth to a fourth Yid. I used to chuckle when I was described by others as an Aryan and Nordic standard, knowing that I was likely the least Aryan person in the group. I do wonder, however, how jewy one must be before one becomes a target for anti-Semites? Do I, too, finally get to jump on a victim bandwagon? And a Jewish one, at that; those carts have mileage!