When Half Leaves You Hungry

By Rebecca Lehrer

Is half ever enough?

At The Mash-Up Americans, we think a lot about being “enough” (and the related guilt) when you’re not wholly … well, wholly any of the things that make you a Mash-Up. Are you Korean enough? Jewish enough? Indian enough? Black enough?

We have long held this notion that you can be all! You are Korean AND Colombian AND American! But — can you? Are you? I just attended a summit where “Jewishly unconnected cultural creatives” explore Jewish identity and meaning, which was hosted by the incredible thinkers and leaders at Reboot. In the self-guided sessions there, one participant asked a profound question: “What does it mean to be half Jewish?”

I grew up in a community where there are two ways you say “Half Jewish.” One is positive. It’s when you want to claim someone as yours. Think Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah song. Did you know that Paul Newman is half Jewish!?!? Or, Chelsea Clinton’s child will be half Jewish!!!!

The other way to use the phrase is when you want to make it known that someone isn’t really Jewish. Example: Judgey Person 1: Rachel’s daughters aren’t going to be bat-mitzvahed. Judgey Person 2, With Disdain: Well, they’re only half Jewish.

The worst part is that I do it too. I’ve turned my nose up at those who are “half Jewish.” But, um, I married a non-Jew. “Half Jewish” is how many people will define my children, and if they say it with a sneer, I will cut them.

This concept of halfness is fluid across different types of identities, as it may be different to be half of a religious group than half of an ethnicity (of course, we can discuss where Jewishness falls along this spectrum).

We wonder: What does being half mean to you and your community?

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