12/08/2013 11:20 EST | Updated 02/07/2014 05:59 EST

Growing Up Jew-ish

Growing up in a modern yet traditional Jewish household, I vividly remember "the speech" given by my parents to my brothers and I. Went something like "Relationships are difficult enough -- why make them more stressful"? Moral of the story: Marry Jewish.

If I had never left Thornhill, a suburb just north of Toronto where I was raised, I would have thought that 98 per cent of the world's population was Jewish. But with a synagogue on virtually every corner, an enormous Kosher style Sobeys down the street and the fact that the city essentially shuts down between Friday and Saturday eve for the Sabbath... could you really blame me?


It wasn't until I moved to Kitchener, Waterloo to begin my four-year degree that I came to understand firsthand the statistics are in fact, true. Not only do Jews make up less than 1 per cent of Earth's population, but there are people in the world who have never even met, spoken to, interacted with a Jewish person before! One of them happened to be my new roommate.

"You're Jew-ish?" She awkwardly inquired, examining me so closely I could have sworn she was looking for horns. "You're not"? I felt like saying. It was clear we had both grown up in completely diverse situations, practicing different religions in very dissimilar neighbourhoods. I quickly came to realize that I was now in fact the highly unwarranted representative of the entire Jewish population (which I learned isn't really that many people) but still it was a job I was unprepared to take on! "Do all Jews wear their pants like that? Do all Jews eat smoked salmon on their bagels? Why don't you like peanut butter? Is that a Jewish thing?"

I have to admit that my parents did a wonderful job leading my brothers and I down the path of Jewish kept tradition. We had Shabbat dinners every Friday, attended synagogue most Saturdays and I have fond memories of making Purim baskets with my mom, and decorating our Sukkah in the backyard every year.

Now that I'm engaged and have begun thinking about how I might raise my own family one day, reflecting on my childhood made me think I'm not the only one who grew up in a relaxed, modern Jewish home. This type of upbringing can sometimes seem confusing and in a sense, contradictory; keeping kosher in our home yet having family dinners at (insert name of un-kosher rib house). So here is my list of eight reasons that prove you've grown up in a modern, unconventional Jewish household, like me.

1. You keep "kosher" - Some of my more religious friends could never understand why we didn't mix milk and meat in our house but all was forgotten once we stepped through the front door. "To each their own" is what my mom used to tell me to say.

2. You had a Bar/Bat Mitzvah - If you're Jewish, chances are you read from the Torah and became an adult in the eyes of God when you were twelve (for girls) and 13 (for boys). It's probably one of the greater mitzvahs (good deed) we as Jews can perform and follows with a gigantic, over the top party your parents use most of their savings on.

3. Your family attends the Gay Pride Parade - If your family is somewhat Liberal, then I'm sure you've attended the pride parade at least once. Perhaps your father didn't go overboard like mine and distribute condoms that read "Israel...It's now safe to come." I don't want to talk about it.

4. You had "taco night" at home - This is not as exciting as it sounds. Taco night was always an interesting one. It usually turned into a guessing game; which was fake -- the cheese or the meat? I never really wanted to know the answer.

5. You've been on Birthright - For those of you who don't know, Birthright is a free trip for young Jewish adults to travel to Israel for 10 days -- all costs paid. Who wouldn't want a free trip to Israel? Most likely you travelled afterwards, ate lots of un-kosher food and probably slept with an Israeli soldier.

6. You eat bacon - Either you've tried the forbidden food and/or eat it quite regularly... but not in your parents house of course!

7. You are on Jdate or know at least two people who are - The stigma of online dating is slowing dissolving and since all the Jews you know are either dating your friends or you have photographic evidence with them at two years old naked in the tub, why not try and meet some others? It will at least make your parents happy, since they are probably the ones paying for your subscription anyways.

8. You love seafood - How can something that is so good be so wrong? When you tried lobster and king prawns for the first time, your life changed dramatically. It's a constant internal struggle between the food lover in you and the Jew in you. Usually, the foodie wins.

Even though Shabbat dinner may just be an excuse to eat supper once a week together as a family, I still have these fond memories of growing up with Jewish culture, tradition and most importantly, family. We interpreted Jewish law that best fits our lifestyle and who's to judge?

I've never tried eggnog and no I don't know what the feeling of waking up Christmas morning feels like. It doesn't really bother me that Santa passes over my house each year or that I've never properly decorated a Christmas tree. What is important to me are the moments I get to spend with close friends and family and enjoying massive feasts during the holidays. That's what they're all about, even if the restaurant we go to isn't blessed by a Rabbi! It's alright though, once Yom Kippur comes around I'll just ask God for forgiveness. Hopefully he understands how delicious scallops really are.


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