Recently, my mom took the 23AndMe test to learn more about her ancestry and genetics. For those of you who don’t know, 23AndMe is a genetic testing service that can analyze ancestry and genetic predispositions through a saliva sample.
After taking this test, my mom discovered her blood is 99.9% Jewish Ashkenazi. I wondered what percentage of my blood was Jewish. She told me it didn’t really matter because based on the halachic law (Jewish law) of matrilineal descent. I was Jewish. This got me thinking: is it just our blood that makes us Jewish? Is it our values? Our customs and traditions? Or a mix of all these things?
Growing up in Toronto, I lived quite a sheltered life within the Jewish community. I went to a Jewish day school, Jewish high school, and Jewish camp. My volunteer hours were done at synagogue, and I always dressed in blue and white for Yom Ha’atzmaut. When Yom Kippur rolled around, I was able to fast without worrying about missing a test. I munched on my matzah pizza during Passover with my friends, and never questioned my Jewish identity. I lived, breathed, and acted Jewish, no matter what blood was running through my veins.
Then I came to Queen’s and things got a little tricky. I found myself unable to fast or go home for the holidays during midterms. One exam season, I nearly ordered a Domino’s pizza, forgetting it was Passover. I listened in class as one of my professors put down Israel and I didn’t say a word—it was a cold thing to do for a warm-blooded Jew.
I hadn’t forgotten I was Jewish, but I definitely felt disconnected. Aside from my blood, I really wasn’t acting very Jewish. Last year, my roommate, who was president of Queen’s Hillel at the time, asked me if I wanted to help out with set-up at a Shabbat dinner. I decided to tag along and help, not realizing a small act of kindness would help bring me back to my roots. I started helping out with Hillel events during my spare time and found that in addition to a great bagel brunch, I got to be around friends who share the same culture and values as me. This environment made me feel more at home.
University is a balance where we study and try to have a good time, but Judaism needs to be balanced too. Students can’t always eat kosher or keep Shabbat, but if we do absolutely nothing, it becomes more difficult to keep the connection alive. I believe being Jewish should be more than just a genetic trait. Joining Hillel helped me find that balance between living my secular life on campus but still having a place to explore my Jewish identity. Joining Hillel, or even just attending Hillel events, is an awesome way to stay connected to your Jewish roots and express your identity beyond your DNA makeup.