Until she was a junior in high school, my maternal grandmother was unaware of the existence of Judaism.
It was not her fault– she had been raised in what she calls a “bubble:” a religious community in rural Michigan, where a rare sect of Christianity was observed. Her religious upbringing involved strictly Christian schools, until college. When she was a junior in high school, she met her first boyfriend. He just so happened to be Jewish. When he informed her of his Judaism, she said, “What is that?”
Their romantic relationship did not last long though, as after six months their parents forbade them from dating any further due to their religious differences.
In 1961, after two years of university, my grandmother flipped a coin and decided to move to Hollywood. As she was actively working as a model, she was able to live at the famous, historic Hollywood Studio Club. There, she was exposed to more and more Jewish individuals. By that time, my grandmother had stopped going to church.
On only her third day in Hollywood, at the age of 22, she met my beloved, late grandfather at a Young Democrat party. He was a practicing Jew. They quickly got married and in 1963, my mother was born.
It was around that time that my grandmother made the decision to convert to Judaism.
She gave it her all. It was a gruelling process of many long classes, under the supervision of a rabbi at Temple Israel in Hollywood. After months of dedication and hard work, with a blessing from the rabbi as well as a traditional toast, she was officially a converted Jew.
She was instantly disowned by most of her immediate family, including her parents. In fact, only one of her three older siblings still accepted her after she told them. This rejection tragically lasted years, during which she had two children, my mother and her brother. Despite the intense backlash from my grandmother’s family, my mother and uncle were raised Jewish. My grandmother hosted regular Shabbat dinners and they practiced the High Holidays every year.
My grandmother wished to raise her children in the Jewish faith because, in her words, Judaism is “an honest religion… it’s real.” However, she intended to prevent my mother and her brother from being raised into a religious bubble as she was. I asked my mother if she is pleased with her religious upbringing. Her response: “Absolutely.”
Throughout my life I have received a surprising amount of pushback from certain communities due to my historical convert status. At times, this results in an identity crisis. Am I really, technically Jewish? I sometimes wonder how my life would be different if I had a more Jewish lineage.
However, I cherish my heirlooms, even though they are only from the 1960’s. No matter what, I am proud of my grandmother for all of her hard work and commitment to Judaism. Regardless of what anyone’s thoughts are on my heritage, they can never take that away from me and I will never stop being a proud, steadfast Jew.