Written By: Miriam Lustig
Hey, I’m Miriam, and I’m a Hillel regular, hummus lover, and occasional challah baker. But I’m not just another Jewish student, either: I’m a patrilineal Jew (my dad is Jewish, and my mom is not). You may not know from how we appear but being a patrilineal Jew means that I can integrate into both Jewish and non-Jewish spaces but don’t feel entirely at ease in either.
My interest in Judaism was rekindled in high school and flourished when I came to U of T, and I’ve been an active member of the Jewish community since. I’m a regular at Shabbat dinners, was part of the Jewish Learning Fellowship, and helped organize an Israeli dance event last year. Even so, when I tell people about my Jewish background, including other students at Hillel, I often hear “oh, so you’re not actually Jewish” in reply.
While everyone has a different view of what it means to be a Jew, for me being a Jew means being part of a larger culture and community that while rooted in tradition, is not afraid to adapt and innovate to survive into modernity. And I believe this means expanding narrow definitions of who is a Jew, especially as increasing numbers of interfaith marriages take place and other nontraditional family structures become more common. For a long time I felt only “Jew-ish”, not fully accepted by the community because of my mom’s religious identity. But I’ve grown to embrace my identity and not see myself as “half-Jewish,” but as a proud Jew with her own perspective to bring to the table, thanks largely to the many wonderfully supportive people I’ve met through Hillel.
Going forward, I’d like to encourage everyone to reflect on how we think and talk about who is a Jew, and how we can be an open and inclusive community to everyone who may identify as Jewish. Instead of questioning or making assumptions about others’ Jewish backgrounds, I would love to see earnest curiosity about how each of us arrived at this campus community.