I am a Jew. I was born a Jew; I will die a Jew. I am now, and forever, a Jew. I am a Christian. I was born a Christian; I will die a Christian. I am now, and forever, a Christian.
I come from an interfaith family. Interfaith: having more than one religion, whether by practice and/or through family. My father, Howard, was born into a family of Reform Jews, as the middle child of three boys; his father, Carl (or B.B. as he's called), stems from a Russian and Polish heritage. His wife, Ruth, was born in the southern regions of Prussia (now Poland) who immigrated from what would become Nazi Germany to Shanghai in 1938, then to Louisville approximately a decade later. My mother, Tina, was born into a Baptist family as the youngest of five girls. Both her parents, Warren and Irene, came from Southern Kentucky, the Christian Mecca of the Bluegrass State. My mother and father married in 1995. In their mid-thirties, both had already been through the terrible throws of divorce. Mom spent four years with an attention seeking, man-boy "artist", whilst Dad's first wife would ultimately become an alcoholic. I don't know the whereabouts of my mom's first husband, but I do know Dad's first wife eventually got sober and now has a family of her own - I don't know what their religious affiliation is, I have boundaries too. By the time my parents first encountered those failed marriages had ended years ago. I was born in April of 1998, with my brother, Brandon, following in January of 2001.
From birth to the age of 12, I never gave much thought to the circumstances I live in. It has always been perfectly normal to break Matzo one day then sit by a bedazzled fake pine tree the next. Even when going to preschool -- at a Jewish Temple -- it hardly crossed my mind (most kids there weren't Jewish anyways, nor were we necessarily taught much about Jewish traditions, or at least from what I recall). But as I grew closer to the dreaded teenage years my awareness changed.
I've been very outspoken about being half Jewish/half Christian for most of my life -- now more than ever, really -- in the same way many of my peers are about being Catholic or Protestant... or gay -- it's actually fascinating the level of the LGBTQ presence in my school, but that's another topic for another day. Every now and then I'd receive the gawk of the head or the shrivel of the lips, whilst I stare back cheekily. "How can you be both, what about Jesus?" "Do you believe in Jesus?" "I don't believe you. How?" "That's not even possible... is it?" It's been way over a decade, yet I continuously get these questions from the same group of people I've known since Primary School. "My dad is Jewish and my mom is Christian. They got married and neither of them converted." "Oh," they'd reply, befuddled still, "okay... I guess that makes sense."
The entirety is much simpler actually, and that's because neither of my parents are particularly religious in that they feel the need to wake up early Saturday and/or Sunday, dress up all nice and whatnot, and sit for an hour or two with another hundred people who also have that need. My mother believes in God, but my dad, I'm not so sure -- never talked to him about it -- which frankly is quite normal being, statistically speaking, the United States is becoming more and more secular by the year... you just wouldn't really know that right off the bat with the intense "Christianity is being attacked" rhetoric politicians and the media alike are getting all butt-hurt about it, even though that's actually not a thing, they're just being ridiculous... I could further expand, but that's not what this is about.
There was a point in time -- maybe at 13 or 14 years old -- where those questions I rattled off earlier irked me. In my mind it's not too difficult to process. It was like riding a bike (though I didn't learn how to ride a bike until I was 11... however, that's not my point). But honestly, how could you not wrap your head around it three times over and cuddle it like a child? The only difference between Christianity and Judaism, at the core, is the whole messiah complex, the demarcation of the new world: was Jesus the son of God? Was he real? Was he actually white? Was the wine more bitter and oaky, or was it sweet like Manischewitz? If anything, Christianity is Judaism's younger brother who idolizes the long-haired parable rock star, accompanied by a twelve-man entourage. Jesus was like Keith Richards in the 1970s, except less of a drug addict or alcoholic... but I digress.
Whether I call the Christian prophet Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus Christ isn't of personal relevance. I do identify with both religious constructs -- to an extent -- yet, it is not God I'm concerned with, per se ( for Jesus is considered an incarnate of the Abrahamic Father), rather the moral ethics exercised. To make it all the more provoking, if not irritating, I've too recently adopted ideals o Buddhism, a religion that has no particular god, but rather deities and Bodhisattvas in which the world is ultimately ruled by a greater force. The question then, I suppose, is whether I'm actually apart of the three theologies of if I'm simply a person of ethics. In terms of God I'm very much agnostic, but the scripture(s) in which God is mentioned, and said to have written vicariously through the many prophets and scribes, fascinate me to the extent that I attempt embodiment of the moral practices ascribed.
The idea alone, focusing on ethics over God, boggles the mind at times, especially for those part of the Abrahamic Trifecta. Traditional Judaism aims to live by the Holy Covenant; Christians strive for the salvation of God; the first Islamic Pillar, Shahaadah, is one's formal surrender and declaration of faith to Allah (Arabic for "God"). Which makes my scenario all the more conflicting.
I will sat though, Christianity and Judaism isn't too confliction when you think about it. Rabbi Stanley Miles of the Louisville Reform Temple (to whom I met earlier this year) has expressed much appreciation of Jesus and his work as a Jewish Rabbi in living by God's covenant from beginning to end. Buddhism is even less conflicting in that it's a religion geared toward spirituality above anything else. There have been, and continue to be, waves of Christians and Jews alike who adopt Buddhist practice in order to feel closer to God. How 'bout them apples?
By 15, my mode of thinking took a 180. Rather than being annoyed by those who didn't seem to understand what, in reality, is quite perplexing. I took it upon myself to internalize the concept of interfaith and exceed basic knowledge of what it exactly means. Interfaith has a lot more to do with what you do or don't believe between two or more religions (or who in my case). Interfaith is about questioning these differing cultures, questioning yourself as to what you are, and questioning the world you know with the worlds of others. However, one isn't required to be interfaith in order to think in such a way. Though I deny being interfaith gives a cultural advantage, there does seem to be a window, a conversation to enable with other Interfaiths as well as non-Interfaiths. Perhaps it's because I'm less afraid to talk about religion, being I'm so comfortable with my own standings, and even still, one does not need to be interfaith to open that book -- so to speak -- and dig in.
Living in a community of mostly upper/middle-class, white Christians in itself is a challenge, for the only way I've been exposed to outside, for the most part, has been through moving pictures on a screen and mounds of literature. In my class there are two Hindus, a Muslim, two Jews (including myself), and a handful of Atheists and Agnostics. On top of that, my high school is 95% White and/or Christian; there are two Black men apart of the faculty and one Columbian woman. My intermediate community isn't exactly the melting pot of America, let alone Kentucky. So even being in a culturally and economically lacking community of diversity makes religion all the more complicated. I'm not saying having more diversity will help or hurt the cause, especially now that information and travel are more accessible than they were even five years ago -- yet I do wonder if growing up in a more varied living space would've caused development of a different way of thinking, no matter to the extent of said difference.
Ignoring my status as upper/middle-class and white, I am, technically, a minority: you see, there are 14 million Jews worldwide, making Judaism the smallest of the five major religions, with Buddhism at 376 million, Hindus at 900 million, Islam at 1.5 billion and Christianity just over 2.1 billion. The United Sates houses the second largest population of Jews -- behind Israel, of course -- at 1.9 million, with approximately 12,000 of those Jews living in Kentucky.
More often than not, we associate the term minority with people of color, or gender, or non-heterosexuality; that in turn can (and does) cause uproar when someone like me raises their hand and says "Hey, I'm being discriminated against too." Lest we forget, after all, there is this dandy thing called anti- Semitism.
Besides being Jewish, I'm also a minority as an Interfaith. The cherry on atop the already messy cake is that I'm too demi-sexual (which is like the minority of sexual minorities; there's a strong chance you have no idea what that even is).
If anything, I'm a religious outcast. I fit no particular nor traditional mold; I'm not strictly agnostic, faithful or without faith; I believe systems, but I'm not singularly devoted to one, nor any. And these are the exact concepts, that are currently confusing you, that I've been analyzing and internalizing for years. I mean, religion alone can mess with brain, but by throwing this stuff in with the already bubbling cake batter, it's suddenly, like, WAH?!
Is it twisted I enjoy that idea? Perhaps.
Nevertheless, to actively explore, just my religious identity, but a whole slew, is something of personal passion and something of benefit, for it's not as two-dimensional as we tend to label. Religion is much more than a matter of belief, rather a matter of mindset. To look into other mindsets, to understand those mindsets, that is the ultimate goal.
Published by Kelsey N.Kline