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I’ve been thinking about your question all week, and was surprised to find that it elicited remarkably strong feelings. Thing is, what exercised me was not so much whether you are still Jewish, as you put it, but whether or not you should seriously investigate your background.

I think you should. And only after should you ask yourself the question of whether you’re “still Jewish.”

I think that, so far as possible, a person should pursue the most unvarnished version of their personal and family stories. And though there are certainly exceptions that prove the rule, I think it is always better to know the truth of from whence we came.

The past is fragile. It is always getting swallowed up, elided, redefined, or twisted for some purpose or another. Especially for those of us whose pasts lie across an ocean, or were hastily left behind by a 1st or 2nd generation American looking to start fresh, I find those small fragments of truth to be exceptionally rare, and therefore quite valuable. On one side of my family, the answer to the question, “where did we come from,” was all of one word – “Lithuania” – before a cousin’s memoir opened up a lost world to us.

If you are a bit frustrated at my romanticizing of what, for you, must be a quite destabilizing question, I do apologize. What I’m presuming is that, after you figure out where you really come from, you will make a decision as to what to do about it. If your mom isn’t being quite honest, there will be a process of trying to understand why she made the choice she did. Depending on what you find, you’ll choose to go to a mikvah or not (I’m happy to help, either way).

And if such a choice seems like a major hurdle right now, I just don’t believe that, years afterward, it will feel so grave. This kind of exploration of the past will likely bear quite interesting fruit for the future. I think it’s worth going down the rabbit hole.

Rabbi Scott Perlo is a rabbi at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington D.C, a unique institution that reaches out to Jewish and “Jewish adjacent” young professionals of all denominations and backgrounds.

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