Maybe I’m Jewish…
It all started when I worked as an after school counselor at the JCC in Manhattan, my fascination for everything Jewish. I loved the culture, the holidays, the tradition, the history. I loved that there is an incredible sense of community and that under Judaism there’s a spectrum– from Hasidic to Reform and Reconstructionist…. I loved the fact that women could be rabbis, and rabbis could get married. But my favorite thing of all (aside from matzah ball soup) is Shabbat.
After a while I started wondering if my fascination meant something more… because the connection felt very real to me. It wasn’t only that I found it to be beautiful, it was more than that. Like when I found out that my birthday is the day of the liberation of Auschwitz…and the incredible sorrow I felt reading the names during Yom HaShoah, or the way I am filled with joy when I hear the song, Hevenu Shalom Aleichem. Then there were the small instances in my life where I just happened to meet Jews, like when I went to live to the South of France and my roommate happened to be Jewish (really, what are the odds when it’s like 3 percent of the French population?!) And the time I had appendicitis… when all I could think about was signing “Hine Ma tov” over and over again amid my uncontrollable pain– and the lady next to me at the hospital who claimed to be psychic who asked me, “excuse me, are you Jewish?”
So after a while it was always in the back of my mind… and then when I became engaged I learned that my husband’s great-grandfather was a Greek Jew… what are the odds of my French husband having Jewish background?!
I started poking around the family tree, or at least trying to. I asked my mom questions… I told her “You know your grandma’s name was Raquel, that’s a Jewish name.” I even did a few Google searches but nothing concrete came out of them.
Until last week…
When Spain announced it would consider giving citizenship to descendants of Jewish families expelled more than 500 years ago. We’re talking 1492 people. During that time, Spain gave Jews two options, convert to Christianity or get the hell out. So many Jews did convert, and many did leave. Out of the ones that did leave, many hid their Jewish roots for fear of persecution.
Here’s what I know: my mom’s family (on both sides) emigrated to Ecuador at some point from Spain… but we don’t know when exactly. So I’ve always known that we have some Spaniard ancestry… but last week’s announcement was accompanied by a list (albeit unofficial) of “Sephardic” names that could be considered for citizenship. It turns out my mother’s last name is on the list…
Reading the list my heart probably skipped a beat– I had always asked for a sign, if I am Jewish, I want to know! Maybe this is the sign?!
So I’m starting to think it is time to delve deeper into this… but where to start? Ancestry.com? Archives somewhere? a DNA test? OY VEY.
If anyone has any ideas, send them my way… has anyone tried ancestry.com for this type of stuff? Is it worth it? Are there records I can access? Is there an archive?
Did you look up your family’s Jewish heritage? What did you do? How did you get more information?