Is there such a thing as a Jewish race memory?
I have what seems to be an overwhelming identity with Jewishness, yet I was not born a Jew in any sense. My father was the son of a Jewish mother who married out. He never put over Jewish identity within the home apart from his knowledge that he was Jewish. Yet I feel strongly that I ought to convert, and one of my strongest personal ambitions is to celebrate Passover. If you have any personal experience to add to this, I would be grateful. Am I mad to feel such a strong attachment where logically there is none?
Your dilemma actually strikes a personal chord with me as I think I've had somewhat of a similar personal experience:
When I was getting religious I tried to get close with the Orthodox community at college but I felt snubbed. Among other issues, one thing that stood out for me was that I didn't get an aliayh (called to read from the Torah) almost ever. I honestly felt like I was entitled to get called up more frequently. Fast forward a few years and there came the question of whether I was a cohen or not because of my last name. I did some research, found my great-grandfather's tombstone, and while I found out I wasn't a Cohen, I did find out I was a Levi. I really was entitled to more aliyot. Since finding this out, I've gotten many more than I ever thought I would.
Your body and soul are intricately connected. Some of our authorities accept the body as being the container of the lowest level of the soul while some I've seen even suggest the body is the lowest level itself. So yes, your body knows intrinsically that you are zera yisrael (the seed of Israel). Your genes have received spiritual memory of being Jewish, in a sense. This doesn't make you Jewish, but at the same time it gives you a certain connectivity to the Jewish people other non-Jews don't have.
That doesn't mean you have to convert, or even necessarily need to explore the issue either. There are ways of exploring your Jewish side without taking on the responsibilities attached with actual conversion. There are many non-Jews even without your special link now who prefer to use Jewish prayerbooks, engage in certain Jewish rituals, and draw their spiritual strength from Torah at various levels. One such group are the Noahides, who are doing it in a more structured way with rabbinic guidance and have actual communities. They would be really good to speak to. Becoming a Jew is a major commitment. Before taking any drastic steps, do some more research to see what being Jewish is about, what's entailed, and how it may impact your life. Talking to a rabbi is always a good step to take as well.
First, let me say you are NOT mad for feeling such a strong attachment where logic does not dictate it. In fact there are many things in our lives which we feel attached to things, people and ideas based on no logic at all but instead based on a very real and simple desire from our heart and soul. It sounds in your situation like there are several things at work. First, you have a familial history with Judaism so I imagine you have heard stories, been told about histories and perhaps, even seen photographs of Jewish events or Jews from your extended family. It is not surprising that this idea that your grandmother was Jewish might have planted a seed in your heart and mind, a sense of connection to something having to do with Jewish community and Judaism. Second, the desire to convert is a beautiful one if it speaks to your heart, mind and soul! This commitment takes a great effort, time focused on study and practice and connection to community and rabbi. It is a wonderful, beautiful and challenging journey and if you are serious I would strongly urge you to contact a rabbi in your local community and share your story, seek advice and come up with a plan. In regard to Passover there is no reason you can't attend a Seder (the festive meals and discussions on the first two nights of the holiday), join a community for services and enjoy some of the food for Passover. Judaism is a religion, culture, ethnicity and community - it holds many wonderful gifts and interesting and unique challenges your pull toward it is a wonderful first step in a process of learning more and growing as an individual. Whether you decide to convert or not this process will be fulfilling not only of your dreams of celebrating passover but of connecting to a new and interesting faith, tradition and community.
I applaud your connection to what is very clearly a deep desire to connect and learn more about Judaism - embrace it, no matter where the end of your journey leads you! I hope this helps!
You have this special feeling exactly because Judaism is not a race. It is a religion with a history and community that offers identity and memory. You mention logic. Judaism is not only based on faith, but also upon logic. Moses Maimonides wrote that in his view, the Bible is a text of Aristotelian philosophy. To others it is the central text of God’s love. And to others, it is the history of the Jewish people and its relationship with God. We can instill knowledge, textual references, even accoutrements to wear or consume. But it is only when you “feel” Jewish, agreeing to become one of the Jewish people, knowing full well our history, especially that of the 20th Century in Europe, that the Jewish life can be one’s “strongest personal ambitions.” One does not “convert”; rather one chooses to become one of the faith of Israel, perhaps even discovering one’s true self. So I suggest that you learn, that you participate, that you join a congregation, or a minyan, or a chevra; take part in the Jewish world and your own search will be answered.
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