Thank you for applying with Taglit-Birthright Israel and Israel Outdoors, however we are unable to offer you a spot on a trip since you have been found ineligible for the gift. According to Taglit-Birthright Israel since you were not raised Jewish and do not have a parent who identifies as Jewish, we are unable to offer you a place on a trip. Please let us know if you have any additional questions. You can expect your deposit on your original method of payment within seven to ten business days.
Adam was the person I'd been contacted by for the Birthright trip (an all-expenses paid trip to Israel for 10 days for folks between the ages of 18-26, with one parent who is Jewish, never been to Israel, not a member of another religion). He'd done my final interview for the trip, where they pretty much ask questions about how Jewish I am.
My dad converted to Christianity before I was born -- unlike my older sister, I never went to Hebrew school or grew up within the Jewish community. I grew up in Platteville, where the closest temple is 30 minutes away and only meets once a month. I'm named after my Jewish grandmother, celebrate Hanukkah at my sister's annual Hanukkah party, and love latkes and challah (I knooow! not vegan). I went to one of my cousin's bat-mitzvah's (they all live SUPER far away) and fell in love with the concept of a cantor and pretty singing. That's about how Jewish I am.
I know I wasn't entitled to this trip. I know that I've never experienced anti-Semitism (besides all the Jew-jokes everyone decided they had to tell me when we were a little younger. Seriously? Not funny). I'm Jewish the same way I'm Puerto Rican. Invisibly. Barely. Silently. Curiously. Hungrily.
I grew up strange in a little midwest town where everyone's relatives live just down the road -- or a few hours away if they're off at college. Mostly they are of European descent -- German and Norwegian. Mostly, they're families have lived here for a long time.
Both of my grandmothers immigrated from elsewhere -- my dad's mom from Germany right before the holocaust, my mom's mom from Puerto Rico <3
I've been to Puerto Rico quite a few times. I'm in love with it. I understand more Spanish than I speak (my dad didn't want it being spoken in the house when I was little. He's way over that now). My favorite dish in the whole world is Arroz con Gandules. I could seriously eat it every day for a week, and be happy as the sunshine. But I'm still way disconnected from my mother's side of my family. They all live in Florida, California, Washington, Puerto Rico. Her dad (Mexican and Chiricahua Apache) died when she was 12. I don't know his family at all.
I know my dad's family even less. They all mostly live in Florida (or California). His mother never lived with us. And I have so many questions for her. About her brother that moved to Israel. Does he still live there? About her own journey here. About her strange, magnificent life. About everything.
I have questions about what it means to be Jewish. If it is only a religion, or a heritage. If its both. If it is neither. If it is a story of our ancestors, the story of my DNA. What that story means right now. Does it mean anything? Why should I want it to mean anything?
I wanted to go to Israel to reclaim my Jewish identity. To connect with Judaism. To sink into the Red Sea. To see the birth place of the Kabbalah. To touch the places that touched my ancestors.
Last Friday, Adam called me and told me that they needed a letter from a Rabbi. The letter would say I'm not a member of another religion. Adam didn't say why, but I think it was because they were concerned that I grew up Christian and wanted a member of the local Jewish community to vouch for me.
I tried to make plans to go to the Temple Beth El in Dubuque, but realized that they only meet once a month. I'd looked at it before, but had never had the courage to go to a temple or synagogue by myself. Going to Israel seemed less scary. Wild, right?
So I made plans to go to two places in Madison: Temple Beth El (in Madison) and Shaarei Shamayim
and reached out to the rabbis at each place.
On Tuesday, we checked in. I told Adam "Yes! I definitely believe I can get you that letter." He said, "Okay! Can you send it to us on Monday?" I said yes :-)
On Wednesday, I was talking back and forth with the Rabbi from Temple Beth El. And getting so excited about attending Shabbat services Friday night there (3rd Friday of the month is a completely musical service!) and then Shabbat services Saturday morning at Shaarei Shamayim (queer-friendly, inclusive, female rabbi, sweetness!)
Friday morning, I woke to that e-mail from Adam saying I can't go on the trip. I'm not sure what changed since Tuesday -- I'm guessing his bosses may have gotten antsy. They also got part of it wrong: my dad identifies as a Messianic Jew. But maybe that doesn't count because of the Messianic. Or because he attends a Christian church. I don't know. All I knew is that I really wished they'd just given me the opportunity to get them that letter on Monday.
I was pretty down and disappointed on Friday morning. But then I reminded myself that I'm not entitled to this trip. And then I thought about the person who'd get the opportunity to go on it, now that I wasn't able to. I thought about how they probably felt the moment they heard the news, and how indescribably happy they must have become. That grin welling up from the middle of your whole body, spilling out and un-containable. I hope this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip for them.
Because this wasn't a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to reclaim or discover my Jewish identity.
I still went to Madison this Friday night, because I'd made plans with other people.
I met up with Gabs, and Cierrena and Jake -- who I haven't seen in forever. We ate amazing Nepali (Nepalese?) food where half the menu was vegan. I went on a date with one of the cutest, most interesting girls I've ever met. I slept at Gab's awesome cooperate house perched on the semi-frozen lake. I slept in. Met up with my bestie Sierra who is currently living in Paris, but is back visiting her folks for Thanksgiving. Went home, caught a cold. Took it easy. Didn't go to Shabbat services. Wasn't ready for it.
My weekend was wonderful, even though it wasn't at all what I expected. And someday (soon!) I want to go to both the Synagogue and the Temple. And the one in Dubuque, that meets just once a month.
And I still want to go on holiday this winter. Maybe to New Mexico/Arizona for two weeks. Because there are so many pieces to my story. And this -- this is just one of them.