When I was a little girl, I lived on Collins Avenue, in Miami Beach. Today, the neighborhood is the heart of glamorous South Beach. Back then, there would be people sitting out in the street in their beach chairs playing mahjong, and you were more likely to hear someone speaking Yiddish than the Spanish you would encounter today. You just assumed that everyone was Jewish because it was unusual to find someone who wasn’t Jewish. As far as I knew, I was Jewish too. Never mind that my family owned a Chinese restaurant or that we celebrated Christmas and Chanukah or even that we had statues of this fat man named Buddha surrounded by Happy Children. Oh yeah, and the fact that I am 100% Chinese never crossed my mind either.
My parents divorced when I was 2-years old and, shortly thereafter, my mother married a Jewish man. I didn’t know until I was around 13 that this man was not my biological father. (The fact that I looked nothing like him or his family meant nothing to me.) Many of my early childhood memories are those of a Jewish child in a Jewish household: Shabbats, holidays, stereotypical Jewish grandmother, stereotypical Jewish great-grandmother (who made the BEST gefilte fish and latkes!), etc.
Unfortunately, my mother and step-father’s marriage did not survive. Sometime after the divorce my mother became a born-again Christian. As is usually the case, you start in life by following the religion of your parents. So here I was in a new religion…no longer Jewish. My mother convinced me that if I did not accept Jesus Christ as my savior that I was going to Hell. So I spent the rest of my youth and into my college years trying to fit in as a Christian. I’ve been baptized more times than I care to count. I have attended services in churches of just about every denomination you can name. It just never felt right. It felt like I was just going through the motions – totally unconnected. In my heart, I just always felt Jewish, no matter how hard I tried to pretend that that part of me did not exist.
Now, fast forward a number of years to when I adopted my daughter from China. As a parent, I felt that it was important to teach my child about religion. I chose Judaism because, in my heart, I was Jewish. I read book after book on Judaism, I scoured the internet to learn as much as possible, I talked to anyone and everyone who was Jewish or knew anything about Judaism, and I visited several synagogues to find one where we felt comfortable. Since halakha does not consider adoption a blood relation, I knew that she would need to be converted. And so I went to talk to our Rabbi about it. In the process, we learned that my mother had never converted and that she had never converted me. So, not only did my daughter need to convert, I also needed to convert! I was initially angry; I felt like a part of my identity that I had always known was actually a falsehood. Fortunately, the anger was short lived. The process of studying our beloved Torah and meeting with our Rabbi taught me so much and gave me an even greater love for Judaism. And so, on the 6-year anniversary of the first day that I ever held my daughter in my arms, we did our tevillah and officially joined the people of Israel.
Our Judaism is, and will probably always be, a process. I started out as what I like to call a “Holiday Jew”; I was Jewish when it was Passover, Rosh Hashanah, and Chanukah. Then I began to go to Shul and to observe Shabbat. In time, we started keeping kosher. We continue to learn and grow, each and every day. Never has anything felt so “right”.