Ask A Rabbi: How Can I Honor My Jewish Heritage If I Wasn’t Raised Jewish?

“My father was Jewish and my mother was not; I wasn’t raised Jewish, nor do I intend to formally convert. As a child we celebrated Jewish holidays, but I’m not sure it would be right for me to do so now as a non-Jew. How can I honor and celebrate my Jewish heritage while also respecting those who are Jewish by a more traditional definition?”

In our modern world, there are a lot of different ways people can define themselves and understand often complex identities. While traditional Judaism does have a finite understanding of who is considered Jewish and who is not, your connection to Judaism and desire to honor that connection is valid and important.

I would recommend that before you think about the “how” you take some time to think about why you feel connected to Judaism and want to celebrate your Jewish heritage. What type of connection would be meaningful in your life? What do you remember about your family’s Jewish holiday celebrations? Why is it important in your life to honor your Jewish heritage? For now, rather than worrying about whether or not you might be accepted by others, start by taking the time to ask yourself what is drawing you to exploring your connection to Judaism. Perhaps you are seeking a connection to others; perhaps you would like to honor your parents and family; or perhaps you have fond memories of family celebrations and would like to connect to that part of your life once again. Whatever your reason, taking the time to look inward and think about it will help you in deciding how to proceed with your exploration.

There are several ways to honor your heritage, starting with taking some time to learn more about Judaism. You can attend one of many adult education opportunities throughout Greater Boston in a variety of spaces and with a variety of teachers, or, if you’re technologically inclined, you can look online for podcasts, webinars or learning communities that cover any number of Jewish topics. You can also visit your local bookstore to peruse the religion section for any number of books on any topic within Judaism. Judaism is a religion of learning, asking questions and seeking out answers, so this is a great way to connect if you’re interested in learning more.

Another way to connect is through your own family. Do you have Jewish family members from your father’s side with whom you can learn about Judaism, or even join in their celebrations? This could be a great way to not only explore your heritage but also to connect with family and have a community with which to discover and learn.

I commend you for wanting to know more about where you come from and your own family history. I hope this exploration will lead you to learn more about yourself and will help you feel a connection to your family past—and present.

Ask A Rabbi: How Can I Honor My Jewish Heritage If I Wasn’t Raised Jewish?Rabbi Jillian Cameron is the director of InterfaithFamily/Boston. Have a question for her? Use the Ask A Rabbi submission form.