My seventh-grade teacher was young and Jewish, with curly brown hair that grew outward and a protruding pregnant belly. I was constantly trying to win her approval. In her classroom one morning, a friend asked me why Jews don’t eat bacon.
“Because Jewish people don’t eat pork,” I said, proud of any knowledge I had about Judaism. But my teacher looked at me as if I was a dirty slab of bacon.
“You can say ‘Jews,’ Megan,” she said. I didn’t know why she thought the way I said it was wrong. But I felt ashamed, and I made sure that all Star of David necklaces stayed hidden under my collar from there on out.
Although I continued to identify myself as a Jew into adulthood, I did so like a minor trying to buy alcohol — eager and sheepish. I fell in love with a Jewish man, and when he proposed, I worried that his Nonny wouldn’t believe that I was truly the nice Jewish girl he claimed me to be. We had a beautiful ceremony under a flower-adorned chuppah, and I was relieved that the rabbi readily believed me when I said I was Jewish, too.
A year after our wedding, I found myself 10 weeks pregnant and seated across from an OB/GYN going over my medical history.
“Any family history of heart disease?” No.
“High cholesterol?” My father.
“Are you Jewish?” Startled and embarrassingly elated that she guessed my secret, I smiled and nodded like a dashboard bobblehead. “Ashkenazi?” my doctor asked. My Jewish ego danced the hora more fervently.
“You’ll have to get the Ashkenazi blood panel test for genetic diseases,” she said.
I went into the test feeling confident — I’m a quarter-Irish, a diluted Jew. I couldn’t be carrying a Jewish genetic disease, right? I was suddenly clinging to those doubts that others had placed in my head for so many years.
After the doctor called to tell me that I was a carrier for Gaucher disease, I cried at the kitchen table. Even though it posed a risk to the baby only if my husband tested positive — and my doctor assured me that those chances were slim — I couldn’t let myself believe that luck would be on my side. “I’m tainted,” I cried to my husband.
I became angry. I had spent 33 years questioning my roots, questioning my ancestry, believing the ignorance of children and a few judgmental grown-ups, and here I was. My blood had been studied, broken down and decoded. I pictured a lab technician hunched over a microscope, zooming deeper and deeper into my blood sample — studying the algorithm of my building blocks. “You’re a Jew,” the test results proclaimed.
I should have known that all along. Even though my paternal grandmother was so uninterested in her Jewish ancestry that she named my father Christopher, she still made her borscht soup and muttered “oy vey iz mir.” Even though my maternal grandfather told me that religion is for idiots, he still insisted on being buried in a Jewish cemetery.
My husband’s test came back negative.
Relieved, we joked that even though he isn’t watered down with goyisha blood, I can now take the title of Real Jew.
I often imagine this tiny, malformed gene floating around my body — bouncing from my elbow down to my fingertips and back up toward my shoulder. I picture it bouncing around my Russian great-grandmother as she rode the Ivernia to Ellis Island. Years from now, if my daughter asks me whether she is a Jew, I can, without hesitation, tell her: “Yes, you are a Jew. It’s in your blood.”