It seems to be an increasing phenomenon in our culture to be blindly proud of who and what you are at the moment. Now, this is not bad in and of itself, on the whole it is probably healthy. However this pride taken to the extreme is throughly detrimental to the individual and society at large.
In doing research on the children of intermarried couples I stumbled upon an online community that calls themselves “half-Jews.” These blogs and community messaging boards are set up as a place where the children and grandchildren of intermarried Jews can come together and discuss their lives and identities. I began looking through the different threads to see if there were people like me who were honestly trying to become Jewish while recognizing and respecting both sides of their family. Instead what I found was a place where people were settling.
Settling. Not growing or striving or struggling with who and what they are. Not facing the issues head on and trying to honestly approach life as a “half-Jew.” No, instead most of what was discussed was how to gain acceptance as a “half-Jew”; how to get the community at large (Orthodox and Conservative) to recognize those who are not “Halachichly” Jewish as full members of the Jewish community. They recognize work needs to be done, but they place the burden on others, not themselves.
It is true that the Jewish community is less than accepting of “Half-Jews,” at least Patrilineal (one whose father is Jewish but whose mother is not. According to Jewish law this person is not Jewish at all). Work does need to be done in this regard. Many Patrilineals feel a strong connection to Judaism and would consider conversion but for having been pushed harshly away when their identities became known. I cannot speak for Conservative Judaism, but I believe those in the Orthodox streams should be more aware of this growing phenomenon and recognize that many Patrilineals may choose to seek a life of Torah Judaism just like any other assimilated Jew if they are given the same warmth and encouragement.
But the Patrilineals need to change as well, even more so than current Jewish society. By arguing that we should be recognized as full members of the Jewish culture we are lying to ourselves and trying to undermine the very society we wish to join. So often people will look in the mirror, see their flaws, shortcomings or insecurities and latch onto them as a source of pride and identity. Instead of honestly working on themselves people will too often set as their highest source of pride and strongest identity those very parts of themselves that need the most improvement.
So is being a Half-Jew bad? Never! I am very proud of who I am as a Paternal Half-Jew. I am not ashamed or embarrassed to admit it, in fact I embrace this identity; it has made me the person I am today! But, that does not mean I should stop there. NEVER stop there. Just because I am proud of who I am and feel that it is an integral part of my identity does not mean that I should force Judaism to change in accordance to my personal feelings.
As a Half-Jew I feel Jewish. So what should I do? Change Judaism to accommodate me? Or should I recognize that since I feel a connection to Judaism I should explore its rich history and tradition and embrace it fully by embracing it correctly? Too often people want the easy way out; make others change to accept ME, heaven forbid I should have to change or actualize MYSELF at all.
Pride is a good thing, it keeps us going with good self-esteem. But it is what we take pride in that matters. Are we going to take ultimate pride in just settling; in simply being proud of the person we just are, the individual we just happen to be? Or are we going to be proud of who we are and where we came from but always with an eye towards growth? There is no reason I should not be proud of my family, ALL my family. At the same time I am also proud of being a Jew, and not a compromising shell of a Jew, but a Torah observant Jew in the proudest tradition of our forefathers. If I feel that something is lacking, that I am not complete as a Jew, I should not seek to undermine that part of who I am, but to actualize myself by finding pride in my lineage as well as in my fulfillment of Jewish Law through a kosher conversion: that is true pride.