It’s Hard Out Here For A Cashew

Yesterday was apparently National Cashew Day.

Yay!!! Finally!

It’s great to finally get some respect and recognition. Everyone else gets a parade and a holiday, so why can’t the Cashews?!?

From the early 1990′s, I called myself a Cashew. While I didn’t make up the slang term (or at least I don’t think I did), it’s been around for a while. Check Urban Dictionary if you don’t believe me. If you’re still puzzled, here’s the fuzzy math:

Catholic + Jew = Cashew

I know it doesn’t totally flow, but it worked. And I always thought it was kind of cute.

There are a lot of Cashews out there and the numbers just keep growing. There are also a lot of Pizza Bagels (Italian Jews), Jewbans (Cuban Jews), and Jewanese (Jewish Japanese). I’ve met quite a few varieties over the years and, I have to admit, it was (and still is) always nice to meet another one. It’s like a special club of some sort  Unless you’re mentioned in an Adam Sandler song, it’s hard to know who is half-Jewish. I mean, did you know Gwyneth Paltrow, Goldie Hawn, Harrison Ford, or Paul Newman was half-Jewish? How about Lenny Kravitz? Uh, nevermind. I wonder how many people call him when they’re really looking for Lenny Kravitz, the kosher butcher.

I often get asked, so what’s it like being a Cashew? OK, not really. But in case you’re curious, I’ll tell you anyways.

It’s really not a whole lot different than being “half” of anything else. Growing up, it was hard to know where I fit in. Sometimes I felt ostracized from one side or the other. I spent 12 years in Catholic school, but I never really felt comfortable going to church and confessing my adolescent  “sins” a few times a year. Sure, I was always glad when the priest let me off with a few Hail Marys for pinching my sister and calling my brother a name. My mother, however, was never that forgiving.

Even though Jesus was a Jew, I never felt like he was my homeboy. I believed from an early age that my half-Jewish side was the dominant side and that being a “full” Jew was my calling. The problem was that Jewish people didn’t feel the same way about me. Not only was my mother NOT Jewish, but I did not go to Hebrew school or have a Bat Mitzvah. I was told to my face from people close to me that I was not Jewish. It’s a hard thing to hear from the community of people that you want very much to join. I was jealous of the half-Jews who had Jewish mothers. Their identity was never questioned. So why was it that even though I had the same amount of Jewish blood running through my veins, I was not accepted? It was very hard to be denied membership into a ethnic, cultural, and religious group of which I not only shared the same beliefs, but also the same blood.

In conservative and orthodox Judaic ideology, only someone born to a Jewish mother is really Jewish. The Torah doesn’t specifically state that, but it is vaguely implied in a few passages and universally accepted by the Jewish people. Paternity was irrelevant, simply because it could never be proven.  The identity of a Jew could only be proven by the birth mother. If only Maury Povich and drugstore DNA tests were around back in the day.

These days, we half-Jews have it much more easy. For those of us not born to a Jewish mother, we are still accepted in some Jewish circles as long as we embrace the Jewish faith. Reform Judaism, which is a more modern and liberal Judaic movement, considers children born to a non-Jewish mother and Jewish father as Jewish. I did not know that for a very long time until a Reform Rabbi informed me that I was, indeed, considered a Member of the Tribe.

After many years of struggling with my identity, I finally feel like I fit into the Jewish community.  I’m also OK with the fact that not every Jew accepts me.  I know who I am and what I believe. I married a Jewish man and was married by a Rabbi in a Reform Jewish wedding ceremony.  We are raising our child in the Jewish culture and faith. He will know and embrace his ethnicity. Unlike me, he will never feel the need to suppress his identity or beliefs. Unlike me, his identity will never be questioned or denied. Unlike me, there will be no amusing slang term to label him. My son is very fortunate in that there will be no confusion. I wish I could have had that same experience, but I didn’t. What I did get was a valuable lesson about the process of struggling with self-identity. I had to question, seek, and learn for myself what I am and what I truly believe, despite opposition. It was a challenging process. But one that made me feel that, despite what anyone else thinks, I know where I belong.