A Brief Story About Guilt

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The most important thing, when you're raised Jewish, is that you continue to be Jewish. Find a Jewish spouse, settle down in a house with a mezuzah on the door frame, and raise a bunch of Jewish children for your Jewish grandparents to spoil rotten. That's the story that you are told to act out. 

One April day, my father was taking me out to lunch. I had moved to the city about a year and a half ago and was happily living as an adult, free to make my own choices. And it just so happened that this particular April day fell within the seven days of Passover, where it is tradition that one eats no leavened bread to remind us of the hardships of slavery. Well, that year I had decided that the Passover fast didn't remind me of slavery at all, it only reminded me that I was Jewish, which are two very different things. So I wasn't fasting. I was eating as much bread as I wanted. And on that April day, I ordered a sandwich in front of my father, not even thinking about it. 

He gave me that look, the look that is the physical manifestation of guilt. You know it the moment that it's leveled at you. And we talked about why, and I confessed: I did not feel that I was Jewish. I didn't believe in God, I didn't believe in the Torah, the Talmud, none of it. And that's when he said those magic words: "You remember who you are named for."

My older sisters were named after a handful of different grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, great-aunts, and so on. And then, there was me. I was named after those who bore my name who died in the Holocaust without any children named after them. No pressure.

So I looked my father straight in the eye, and I said, "I know, but I also have to be true to myself."

Because no amount of generational guilt should make me live a life that isn't wholly mine. I have to be true to myself.

Created: Apr 15, 2012


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