People didn’t see my adopted mom as my ‘real’ mother, so they didn’t see me as a ‘real’ Jew.
“I was adopted from Texas, and raised in New Jersey. My adoptive parents are my only real parents. They’re the only parents I’ve ever had, and the only parents I’ve ever known. My mother is a German Jew, and my father is an Italian Catholic. Growing up, I would tell people that my mom was Jewish. Many of them would say, ‘But is your ‘real’ mother Jewish?’ They didn’t see my mom as my ‘real’ mother, so they didn’t see me as a ‘real’ Jew. And that deterred me from exploring my Judaism until I enrolled at Penn State. My mom suggested that I check out the Hillel. As I headed to Hillel for my first-ever Shabbat dinner, my childhood fears about not being ‘Jewish enough’ resurfaced. Was I expected to know certain Shabbat traditions? Was I expected to know certain Jewish prayers and songs? But that wasn’t the case at all. The students were warm and welcoming. They explained our traditions to me. There was no pressure — no expectations. No one told me how to be Jewish. No one told me I wasn’t Jewish. Hillel helped me overcome my fears and embrace my identity. Nowadays, I’m not scared to tell people that I’m adopted and Jewish anymore.” — Dani James, Pennsylvania State University