Never Jewish Enough: Reflections of the neighborhood Shiksa
One of the stark realities of being a convert to the Jewish faith is you are never really Jewish. In spite of having two conversions (through the RCA and through a Chassidic Rav, who felt my RCA conversion might not be universally accepted), I found out again this week, that I am just the Shiksa in the neighborhood.
Last year, the Jewish community of Richmond participated in a program to Israel for Jewish women whose children were under 18. There were no other requirements. The women who were handpicked by our rabbi ran the gamut of the Jewish spectrum. I was not asked to participate even though I met all of the requirements. When I confronted the rabbi, he apologized, told me he made a “big mistake” and that if he “had it to do all over again, you would have been the first person I would have invited.” I told him I expected to be included in the upcoming trip, and his reply was, “you got it!”
This has been an unbelievably difficult school year. Failure rates are up, despite watering down the curriculum. When I was contacted by the school district about teaching summer school because, “we need a really good math teacher who can deal with these kids,” I declined because I would be in Israel during the summer session.
Stupid me. A few weeks ago a member of our community came to me and said, “I thought you were going on “the” trip this summer.” I replied that I was, and they told me that my name was not mentioned (did I mention that the participants are hand-picked?). When my name was brought up not only as a participant, but also as part of the leadership, the rabbi replied, “I have someone else in mind.” It was clear, once the rabbi apologized, and I had accepted his apology, he forgot about the commitment he made to me.
The women who were offered leadership positions have something I will never have, a Jewish mother (my mum is a French Protestant). It did not matter that I have two degrees, speak several languages, have been involved in kiruv or in my former community gave weekly parsha shiurs that grew so large they had to be moved from homes to a shul. It did not matter that I have been published and have given lectures to hundreds of people. The women chosen have never been outside of their cloistered Jewish homes, but it was clear, they are real Jews. I am not.
I don’t mind stepping up to the plate. I work a midnight bingo game to help fund my daughter’s school, a kiruv organization and local food bank. I bring meals to people in the community who are ill, in mourning or have just had a child. I am thrilled to host a family who realizes at 5 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, they will make it to Brooklyn in time for Shabbos. I enjoy working with every kind of Jew from every kind of background because it gives me an opportunity to share that Jews should be inclusive.
This week however, it was made clear to me that our community is exclusive, and I am not a part of it. I am not welcome or wanted. I will not be a part of a community whose rabbi thinks I am their Shiksa.
I went to the summer school director and groveled for a position. After having my head handed back to me, “We really needed you to teach math! We had to find someone else. We count on you….” I received a contract to teach English (I have multiple endorsements). I also signed up to take a class that will be taught entirely in French.
I want to leave, I want to move. I know I will face the same prejudice in any community. When I told my daughters what happened, they cried with me. Of course, they wonder if their mom is not considered Jewish, are they? The Orthodox Jewish world is the only world they have ever known. I hate the thought that their identity as Jews will be questioned. They are really good girls, but I wonder if they ever be anything more than bastards at the family reunion?