How should we move forward in a world that feels like it is ripping at the seams and actively seems to be working to stop us—and the Jewish community we are a part of—from being exactly who we are, Jewish. We mustn’t give in to hate, and we must continue to love each other, our neighbors and the world. Hate must not win.
Today, and every day, while I am always Nancy, I am most certainly also Binah, my Hebrew name. I am Jewish and I am unrelenting. While I am afraid, I will not let that fear change who I am.
By Nancy C. Snowden
I grew up with the last name of Schwartz, the distinctly Germanic, Jewish last name of my ancestors. I also grew up with very little understanding of what that name meant. That my father, when traveling abroad, would be denied handshakes because of this name, and called “rabbi” as an insult. That many others would identify me as Jewish, despite my total ignorance about the culture and religion of Judaism.
You see, I have known that this last name, and it’s meaning, was a distinct and engrained part of who I was, but I had no ability to articulate what it meant, or how it shaped my identity. Growing up in a predominantly Christian region, and having parents that didn’t choose a spiritual path for me (I was never baptized, confirmed, bat mitzvahed, etc.) I felt lost for a very long time. Though both my parents had Jewish roots, they had largely chosen not to identify with them, or intentionally acknowledge their relevance to our lives.
When I met my husband, all of that changed.
Alex is Jewish and has been his whole life. It is something that has shaped and molded him. I envied this deep connection he possessed and wanted to know more, wanted to learn what was behind this name that had always been a part of me. When we began talking seriously about our future, and were soon after engaged, I made the commitment to educate myself through weekly meetings with the rabbi at our local synagogue.
I spent a year, choosing to delve into the world of Judaism, immersing myself in learning and asking a lot of the hard questions I had struggled to comprehend for so much of my life. Unlike a lot of the times when I would attend a non-denominational church service with a friend, something resonated with me about this community, called me—activated me—to want to do more for the world. I had found my home.
A month before our wedding, I had the unique opportunity to undergo ritual immersion at a Mikveh, the Jewish ritual bath. To a lot of my gentile friends, I described this as a “Jewish baptism.” Prior to the actual ceremony, though, I appeared in front of a traditional Rabbinic Council, a Beit Din, to formally convert to Judaism. I met with my Rabbi and two others, and discussed my journey, what I had learned, and more importantly, why I wanted to seal myself into this faith.
One of the most poignant questions posed to me was: “Why you would want to identify outwardly with people that are so frequently used as a scapegoat, that have been the recipient of such hatred—so much so that some would rather extinguish them from the earth?” In short, why would I make this choice?
After the tragic events this weekend in Pittsburgh at the Tree of Life Synagogue where 11 men and women were senselessly murdered, simply because they were Jewish, I have been thinking hard about my response during my meeting with the Beit Din.
I recall relating to the rabbis in front of me that I recognized the struggle of life—to be Jewish is to struggle—but that it would be a disservice if we did not confront the world, and seek to live by the premise of Tikkun Olam. G-d calls us to embody the good in the world, despite evil and hate—and that I would be honored to be one of those chosen to do so.
After reflecting and attempting to gather my thoughts this weekend, I can’t help but feel even more passionately about this sentiment. Judaism is not just a choice, it is who I am. It is an identity that shapes me and my husband. It is our community, a deeply rooted part of our life. To separate who I am spiritually from the person I present to the world every day is inconceivable.
At the same time, the thought of being murdered, simply for being who I am, terrifies me. The thought of my children one day being targeted because of who they are, keeps me up at night. Over dinner, my husband and I talked about what we should do. How should we move forward in a world that feels like it is ripping at the seams and actively seems to be working to stop us—and the Jewish community we are a part of—from being exactly who we are, Jewish. The conclusion we reached was the same I had in my Beit Din—we mustn’t give in to hate, and we must continue to love each other, our neighbors and the world. Hate must not win.
Today, and every day, while I am always Nancy, I am most certainly also Binah, my Hebrew name, chosen on that day at the Mikveh. I am Jewish and I am unrelenting. While I am afraid, I will not let that fear change who I am.
We are absolutely heartbroken by the mass murder during a weekly Shabbat service at Tree of Life (L’Simcha) Congregation in Pittsburgh. The American values of diversity, strength, and inclusion are under attack. Sacred spaces – schools, churches, synagogues – have become targets of unspeakable violence. Read JWI’s full statement here.
Nancy C. Snowden is a writer, champion for equality, & wellness advocate. In her professional life, Nancy has worked in Higher Education for 5+ years and currently serves Zeta Beta Tau fraternity as the Director of Wellness and Harm Reduction. Personally, Nancy has a passion for research, cooking, women’s issues, and spending time with her husband Alex and two dogs, Bennett & Kai. Nancy can be reached at [email protected] and her blog, Bluntly Written can be found at https://bluntlywritten.wordpress.com/
Shared with permission from bluntlywritten.wordpress.com (October 2018).