Religion & Beliefs

The Half Jew Of Cherry Hill, NJ

Growing up with a Jewish dad and a Catholic mom in a very Jewish part of New Jersey isn’t the easiest gig. Read More

By / November 16, 2011

Whenever anyone refers to themselves as “half Jewish” it usually means that their dad is a Jew. It’s a very winner take all situation if the mom is Jewish.  That means the kid is Jewish, end of story. There’s no reason to qualify or quantify your religious or cultural identity.  When the dad is Jewish, it’s almost like being the wrong half of the horse.  People who share your lineage will tell you you’re not part of the tribe.

If I didn’t grow up in a predominantly Jewish town in South Jersey, I probably wouldn’t care that people who shared a common ancestry and looked like they could be my cousins were telling me that I’m not one of them.  However, in my town, everyone was super vocal about their Jewish identity. If such a thing as a self-hating Jew existed, one certainly couldn’t be found in Cherry Hill, New Jersey in the late 80s.

The fact that Jews don’t proselytize only added to the allure. Because my mom was Catholic, I was raised Catholic, and the whole basis of Christianity was predicated on bring as many people into the fold as possible.  The fact that Jews were so insular only fueled my desire to break into a club that wouldn’t have me as a member.

I was never more jealous of my Jewish classmates when the talk of their bar mitzvah planning began.  In my religious experience, no sacrament was ever celebrated with a make your own ice cream sundae bar and a dance party down at The Woodcrest Country Club. Catholic rites of passage included dressing little girls up in bridal white and having them drink bitter wine and bread meant to represent the body of a dead messiah. Never mind the fact that each Sunday mass took place underneath a graphic life sized statue of a man who had nails drive through his hands and feet.  Sure, Jews make the argument that they get instilled with as much guilt as Catholics, but at least the religion doesn’t have the raw materials to start a creepy, necrophiliac death worshipping cult. Plus, no one is making movies about Catholics being charmingly neurotic intellectuals. Most of the time, we’re just represented as superstitious, rosary bead clutching hysterics whose idealized version of a woman is one who gives birth without ever having sex.

As a kid, I remember remarking to my friend Marissa that I wished I was Jewish like her. She responded with a curt, “You should be happy with what you have, or you won’t have anything at all.” Now that I’ve made some piece with the exclusion from my hometown’s culture, and I’ve mostly recovered from a Catholic upbringing, I can confidently say that I’m quite happy with nothing at all.