Putting the 'ish' in 'Jewish' 

Atlanta author Laurel Snyder

Atlanta author Laurel Snyder has a baby named Moses, the kind of name you'd expect from a parent who was all the way, 100 percent, Torah-touting Jewish. (Full disclosure: I have made goofy faces at baby Moses on several occasions.)

Snyder was actually born to a Jewish father and a Catholic mother, which, given the matrilineal traditions of Judaism, technically made her not Jewish at all until she officially "converted" at age 18. But she has always identified as (at least) half-Jewish. In the newly-published Half/Life: Jew-ish Tales from Interfaith Homes, Snyder has collected the personal stories of a diverse cross-section of half-Jewish writers. We talked about her perspectives on faith and identity.

Are there other axes along which you feel halved?

Oh, yeah. I grew up in Baltimore, which is very much a sort of half-town. If you ask somebody in the South, Baltimore's a Northeastern city. If you ask somebody in the North, it's a Southern city. My dad is a socialist; he's very political. And my mom, as soon as they divorced, she skedaddled out to a big house with a swimming pool. My mom very much wanted a lovely life, and my dad was very much committed to raising us frugal and politically aware.

What is the "dilemma of intermarriage" for the Jewish community?

If we intermarry, the fear is that we will further assimilate. ... I take issue with that. People have been lazy, and that's the issue. They want to be able to go to services twice a year and eat bagels with friends and have that be their identity. The world today is getting more complicated. Our children move away from the cities they grew up in; they're making friends all over the world because of the Internet. We're becoming more complicated, and I think that's great.

What does faith mean to you?

I think faith for me is a question, not an answer. I want so badly to believe firmly in God. I want [to] so badly -- I think we all do. Some days I can get there and some days I can't. But every day I think about it. I think that that process of hoping and pulling for God, I think that's faith for me.

Half/Life: Jew-ish Tales from Interfaith Homes, edited by Laurel Snyder. $14.95. Soft Skull Press. 192 pages.


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