Downtown Skokie circa 1975
You may have heard of this town.
It was made famous in 1978 when the Nazi Party wanted to hold a march there.
They wanted to march in Skokie because Skokie used to be populated by a lot of Jews.
It isn’t anymore, and the march didn’t happen.
But that’s not the point.
Skokie is where I was born and raised. I am a Jew. I should have felt at home there. But no one gave me permission to be proud of my heritage.
My parents are also Jewish and were raised with the traditions. But aside from visiting the grandparents or great aunts and uncles during Passover, or lighting candles on Hanukkah, or breaking the “fast” (not that anyone actually fasted) after Yom Kippur (the Day of Guilt), we never really talked about being Jewish.
My dad is a scientist and identified as an atheist. He didn’t want anything to do with the synagogue. Didn’t want to send his kids to Hebrew School, to get confirmed, have a bat mitzvah. My mom? She didn’t want to force her children to do the same stuff her parents made her do. (More on that in another post.)
My best friend was a Lutheran, and her mother was very involved in the church, played the organ there. I used to accompany my friend to her church on Wednesday afternoons because my mom was working and I needed a place to go after school.
I so wanted to be a Christian. I didn’t know what that actually meant, but I could feel the sense of community and belonging my friend felt when she was in that building. (I also wanted a Christmas tree, but what kid doesn’t?).
I used to imagine I was a little blond child with blue eyes. A Christian child. Her name was Suzanne. She was based on a real actress – an adorable, precocious, freckle-faced strawberry blond who appeared in TV movies and in the Sears Catalog.
Suzanne Davidson: Child Actress of the 80.
I even went so far as to deny my religion. I remember that a boy in my third grade class called me a kike. I wasn’t outraged at his remark. I didn’t express anger or call him out on his disgusting remark.
I simply insisted, “I’m not Jewish!”
I knew I was Jewish. But I didn’t know what that meant or if that was a good or a bad thing. It didn’t sound like a good thing to me. In my circle, it made me feel different…like an outsider.
I wasn’t made to feel proud. I wasn’t told about the history of the religion. The only history I got was the story of Anne Frank. That story made me want to be a Jew even less.
I tell this tale not because I believe that religion itself is important in a child’s upbringing. It could be. But it’s also true that many lives are ruined in the name and practice of religion.
However, being a Jew is, culturally, a crucial part of my identity. If you’re brought up a Catholic, and you decide later on you want to renounce Catholicism…that’s okay. You do so based on knowing what the religion is all about, a cumulative understanding of how you did or did not identify with it, and then deciding – based on what you know about the religion and about yourself – that it just doesn’t suit you.
Being a Jew, in and of itself, doesn’t define everything about me. Of course not. But it is a part of me – a part, apparently, which wasn’t important enough to be discussed in my house, like so many other topics which weren’t discussed. (Once again, a story for another post).
I’m 46 years old, and I still don’t know exactly who I am. Part of the reason I don’t is that I never really knew who I “was”. Nobody took the time to introduce me to myself all those years ago.