by E.J. Greenawalt
Junior, Creative Nonfiction
Food, no lie, is one of my favorite things about Judaism. That’s not the only reason I see myself as Jewish, but I certainly do enjoy it. I eat matzo year-round—not the kosher-for-Passover matzo, but all the same. And the banana bread that the bakery near my house makes kosher for Passover is better than regular banana bread. But by far, my typical Jewish food is bagels. I would happily eat plain bagels with plain cream cheese for every meal if it were healthy.
Perhaps the idea that food is my favorite part of my religion might offend people. I grew up in a very Jewish neighborhood. During Passover, the high school sold matzo in the cafeteria, otherwise, no one would eat. When I went away to college for my first two years, I went to a Lutheran school (though not because it was Lutheran). Out of 2,500 people, there were probably about 10 Jews, one of them being the head of the theater department and my professor, Herschel. The good news was that there was an Einstein Bagels on campus—something superbly Jewish and we could use our swipes for meals there instead of the cafeteria. Unfortunately, even Einstein’s didn’t have matzo during Passover and I was forced to hoard some in my room.
It was then I realized, though I had always considered myself to be no religion in particular, I was Jewish. In high school, I had struggled with the idea of Christianity. I could not understand the concept of hell, nor the fact that everyone who did not believe was going there. Most of my friends then were homosexual and that did not make my struggle to find religion any easier. However, toward the end of high school, I learned from a friend that the reformed synagogue held events for gay youth. Still, I had been averse to religion for too long to decide on Judaism then.
I hate science, but I do believe in it. The idea of people coming from nothing just doesn’t click with me. But I also understand that this idea came about long before we truly understood what evolution was. Some of the more stubborn religions stand by it, but I know a lot of people who have no problem admitting that, though they are religious, they also believe in science.
Going away to college was like an eye-opener. I met people who had never seen a Jew before. I earned the nickname “Bagel” because of my fondness for them and because I was Jewish. Music recitals were sometimes in the chapel, where I found myself supremely uncomfortable in a way I had never been when in synagogues for friends’
I was raised neither Jewish nor Christian, as my mother was the former and my father the latter, but my mother’s relatives had been around more and I’d gone to Jewish preschool. I remember asking my mother if Jews were the majority in the world and being surprised when she said no, that Christians were. But I never truly realized that fact until I was away at college and I discovered how lonely I was. I had no one to say “Happy Pesach” to on Passover, and when I went to visit with friends, they did not have matzo at their house.
A friend who went to high school with me and ended up at college with me as well said, “I miss Jews and their food,” and I agreed. I realized later though that I did not just miss Jews. I missed being one. And that’s why I know I’m Jewish.