by Laura Seide, Development intern
A few months ago, I wrote about wanting to immerse in the mikveh to recognize my transition into secular adulthood. I expected to find renewal in the waters; what I did not expect to find was the self-acceptance I did not even know I needed.
I still remember the first time a Jewish peer told me that I wasn’t really Jewish because my Mother is Catholic. When an adult confirmed that, based on classical Jewish texts, I was not Jewish, I cried. That same week an elementary school classmate called me a “dirty Jew.” I was ten years old, and I felt rejected by the communities I loved. I was confused and hurt and felt powerless because others were assigning labels to me that I did not want.
Ever since, I have felt uncomfortable with myself, never knowing how to be a Jew with Catholic relatives. During the Prayer for Healing, I only prayed aloud for my Jewish relatives, uncertain how a name like Christian Jepsen, my maternal grandfather, would be received by my community. As a teenager, I dreaded Christmas; since I could not stop being Jewish and since Jews do not celebrate Christmas, it was easier to resent the most important holiday for my mother than resent myself. At my maternal grandmother’s funeral, I felt like I could not express my grief because I was too embarrassed to say kaddish in front of Catholic relatives, who would have no idea what the foreign ritual meant to me.
But, when I stepped into the water at Mayyim Hayyim for my birthday immersion, I was alone with God. There were no cruel kids, no fear of community reprobation, no one to be embarrassed in front of. For the first time in my life, I used the spoken-aloud names of my Catholic relatives in a Jewish ritual. For the first time in my life, I acknowledged that my Catholic mother and grandparents are just as much a part of the Jewish adult I am today as Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah are. I began to cry, and for me, they were tears of healing because I no longer felt ashamed of any part of my Jewish identity. I had taken possession of my own Judaism.
Laura Seide grew up in Franklin, MA at Temple Etz Chaim. After earning a BA in Classics at University of Rochester in Rochester, NY, where she was president of Hillel and a religious school teacher at Temple B’Rith Kodesh, she moved back to Boston in order to be closer to her parents. (They were quite happy.) Last year she worked at Kolbo, and this year she is the Development Intern at Mayyim Hayyim. She is currently applying to Rabbinical School for Fall 2013.