Jewish after all!

jewish, the genome-reading company, let me know recently that one-tenth of one percent of my DNA was (maybe) of Ashkenazi Jewish origin.

Aha! I knew it!

I looked through my list of “relatives” (people with snippets of the same DNA) on, found a few who self-identified as Jewish, and wrote to them to see if they’d be willing to share DNA results. One, a guy my age in upstate New York, wrote back; he was skeptical, but promised me that he’d check.

Well, guess what? He and I share a snippet of DNA. And the same snippet of DNA is shared by almost all of his relations.

Aha! Aha!

What this means is that some ancestor of mine, at some point many generations ago, was Jewish.

I’m delighted. I know this is silly, but I can’t help it.

I grew up in a rural area of the Pacific Northwest. In my (very large) high school, in the early 1970s, there were exactly two Jewish students. (I remember a note in the school paper in my high-school years: “Merry Christmas to everyone, and Happy Hanukkah to Isaac and Rebekah Birnbaum.”)

As a result, I knew next to nothing of Judaism, until I read Leo Rosten’s “The Joys of Yiddish” in high school. I discovered a whole world that lay beyond the rural Pacific Northwest: urban, civilized, European, witty.

I kept reading: Rosten’s “Hyman Kaplan” stories, and Harry Golden’s essays from North Carolina, and everything Isaac Asimov ever wrote, including his Bible-commentary books.

I loved it all. I didn’t quite understand all of it, but I loved the feeling of it, and I wanted to share it.

Then, one evening, while helping my mother do the dishes (she washed, I dried), I said, “I wish I were Jewish.”

And, good Polish/Italian Catholic/nonobservant girl that she was, she blew her top at me.

Well, of course it was a stupid thing for me to say; you can’t be something that you’re not.

But it was interesting that my mother was really that furious at me. (The Poles, you know, are famous anti-Semites. Go read Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” for more information on this topic.)

And now – what do you know? I’m one-tenth of one percent Jewish after all!

And (assuming it came through my eastern European ancestry) so was my anti-Semitic mother!

To the world at large: Shabbat shalom!

And maybe also mazel tov!

About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

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