I recently had my genetic ancestry analyzed by a new company that seems to have better reputation than most. The results were spot on! The disposition to certain weakenesses and diseases they listed were right on target; their description of many aspects of my physical appearance were also on target! And then there was the ancestry analysis...
According to this genetic analysis, I am 83.3% Jewish; 13.8% Italian; 1.4% Spanish, and the rest a large number of very small percentages including Chinese Han, Peruvian, Russian, Senegalese and Scandinavian. So faced with the reality that my genetic make up has a number of "ad-ons" I could ask myself the question why I am a Jew? In reality, regardless of what the numbers say I define myself as 100% a Jew. And here is why...
I am a Jew because I remember my great grandmother (mother of my maternal grandfather) who was a strong presence in my life while growing up. She was born in Ukraine and lost her husband Moishe (my great grandfather) a few years after arriving in Argentina. She raised her five children on her own (including my grandfather). In spite of the harsh life she had, she made sure that her children were Jewishly educated; that they knew about the holidays and they understood Yiddish. I'll get to the case of my grandfather later on. At my Bar Mitzvah we took a photo of her surrounded by all of us, her great grandchildren -a photo I always cherished because it reminds me of her.
I am a Jew because my maternal grandfather showed me the value of being a fighter for Social Justice, and since he was a Yiddish Journalist and Linotypist he also taught me the love of Yiddish, and to appreciate it as a living language. He also taught me the value of living up to one's principles. The family lore goes that years before I was born, he got into trouble with the (first) Peron administration for believing that Argentina was a Democracy and for speaking out about it as a journalist.
I am a Jew because of the story of my maternal grandmother, who survived a pogrom at the age of 10 and, rescued by HIAS, was eventually sent to an orphanage in Buenos Aires, where she met my grandfather. The story of her survival was one I learned one piece at a time when she slipped and talk about it. Mostly she kept it to herself. But she was always willing to entertain all her grandchildren... and cook her famous "Varenikes" (Pierogies) every time we came together with my cousins at her house.
I am a Jew because of my Lithuanian paternal grandfather, who taught me the value of being openly proud of my identity. He also taught me to avoid a fight whenever I could, but never to back down when I couldn't. He taught me to face challenges head on and to persevere in the face of difficulties. He was (good) stubborn. He was also very principled... he refused to accept money as reparation for the assassination of his family by the Nazis because he considered it "blood money". He was also very charitable and he taught me the value of Tzedakah.
I am a Jew because of my paternal grandmother, who taught me the value of family and of memory. Not a memory of "I remember where I put my pen", but the kind of collective memory which makes the Jewish experience as vivid as if we ourselves were there every step of the way from Sinai on.
I am a Jew because of my parents, both Argentine-born, who brought together their Jewish identity and their life in Argentina. My father, while still in college, participated of a student rebellion against Peron and ended up for two weeks in jail, together with my older uncle. He also gave me my love of books and history. I am a Jew sbecause of my mother, who became active very young in the HaShomer HaTzair and was always passionate about Zionism (both of my parents were in fact) and who also later in life became active in Hadassah. I am a Jew because both my parents showed me with their personal commitment to community and their dedication to organized Jewish life that being a Jew was important.
I am a Jew because of my own life experience, both negative (as in being persecuted) and positive (as in standing up as a Jew for my rights and the rights of others). I remember when we organized, with the Youth Zionist movement Dror where I was active, a mass demonstration in support of Israel at the time of the Ma'alot Massacre; over the years there were also demonstrations for Soviet Jewry, against Antisemitism, in support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War. I also remember standing side-by-side with my fellow Jews as part of broader demonstrations against the military government and in support of Democracy. I tried to put into action what I learned from my family. I am a Jew because I could not be anything else. I embrace the values, the history, the experience and the hopes of my people. And I consider myself very lucky to be able to work as a Jew for my people and for Justice for all. I thank God every day for the opportunity I was given.
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