The Funeral

So, I’m possibly Jewish. And I’m super excited about possibly being a Jew. I have always felt Jewish, so I wasn’t at all surprised when I found out that I was possibly Jewish.

It was May 2, 2009. The whole family had gathered in Chilliwack, British Columbia for my uncle Carl’s funeral. Uncle Carl was my grandmother’s brother, and mother’s uncle. He was tall and thin, with white hair and a black pencil-thin moustache that made him look like an old Zorro.  Uncle Carl was 90 when he died of natural causes. He went to sleep and never woke up. I think that’s the way to do it, if you’re going to do it.

There are a few things I remember about the funeral service and post-service tea: the little finger sandwiches (tuna, chicken salad, ham), the gherkins (so crunchy), the music (Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1), and the revelation that I am possibly Jewish.

The funeral itself was fairly standard: Amazing Grace. A short sermon. A few words from a few people. Another song. Standing. Sitting. Praying. We all filed outside as the last song played.

We made our way to the church hall next door for the tea. The room was quiet. There were several long tables, covered with pink craft paper and white paper doilies. I took a few sandwich triangles, a few gerkins, and a Styrofoam cup of tea back to my seat. My mom, dad, sister and Grandpa came and sat by me. We ate our finger sandwiches in silence. My mom was the first to speak: “So we might be Jewish.”

I took a sip of my weak tea. “Sorry, what?”

“We might be Jewish.” She bit into her gherkin. She said it like it was no big deal, like the first 29 years of my life weren’t one big lie, and like I wasn’t possibly one of God’s “chosen people”.

“What? How?” I prompted her to explain, because you can’t just say something of that magnitude without saying a little bit more about it.

“I was just outside talking to cousin Bev and she said we might be Jewish.”

“I knew I might be Jewish!” I said, because I love lighting candles, I love horseradish, I love challah bread, I love the star of David, and I’m also big fan of the eight days of presents thing. Also: I hate shellfish.

Apparently Uncle Carl, as the oldest child, was the only one who knew about his mother’s lineage, and he didn’t think it was that big of a deal. Uncle Carl casually mentioned it to his wife Fern before passing, and aunt Fern casually mentioned it to my aunt Marion, who casually mentioned it to her daughter Bev, who casually mentioned it to my mom, who casually mentioned it to me before biting into her crunchy gherkin.

Turns out, my mother’s mother’s mother was possibly Jewish. According to matrilineal tradition, people born of a Jewish mother are themselves Jewish. So, my mother’s mother and my mother are possibly Jewish, and therefore I am possibly Jewish.

I pressed my mother for details but she had nothing. She suggested I talk to cousin Bev.

I found cousin Bev standing by the punch bowl. I asked her for the low-down on our lineage. She kept using words like “possibly” to describe our ethnicity. She said that we’ll never really know for sure, because uncle Carl was the only one who had the deets.

I went home from that funeral feeling like King Rehoboam of Judah: defeated, and depressed.

I decided to do a bit more research (Wikipedia) on being a Jew. A person is a Jew by birth, or through a formal religious conversion. Conversion requires the convert to find a rabbi, adopt the beliefs and practices of Judaism, immerse themselves in a ritual bath called a Mikveh, be familiar with the Talmud and Jewish law, make a sacrifice to the Temple, choose a new name, and in some cases, be circumcised.  I wanted to partake in Judaism and its traditions (especially Hanukkah), but I wanted it to be really easy.

So, for now… I’m possibly Jewish.


3 thoughts on “The Funeral

  1. kim beep says:

    Shalom! I have, a few times, been mistaken for Jewish because of my last name. One man told me “I’m a great fan of your people’s accomplishments”, and I was all like, ‘Who, exactly, do you think ARE my people?’ because I was pretty sure he didn’t mean Scottish-Canadians.

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