“If you need to pass, you should,” my grandfather told me. We started having this conversation when I was around seven years old. It always went the same.

“No,” I would respond, “I wouldn’t ever want to do that.”

“No baby, you don’t understand,” he’d say. “If times return to how it was in the South when I was a boy, you might need to.”

Again I would protest but he’d persist. “If times turn to how they used to be and you see me on the street, you have to pretend you don’t know me and walk on by.”


(First, there are countless ways to spell Chanukah in English. I’ve chosen this one, but there is not a “correct” spelling unless you’re writing in Hebrew: חֲנוּכָּה)

The month of December is filled with holidays. Obviously, here in the U.S., Christmas comes to mind first. My family has celebrated the non-religious, hopefully less commercialized, version of Christmas. Even before my NPE discovery, I had backed away from the holiday. Christmas, when you get down to it, is supposed to be the celebration of the birth of Christ. I wasn’t comfortable with this since I’ve never believed Jesus was our savior.


Someone who’s been following my NPE journey and exploration of Judaism asked me what was so awe-inspiring about the Days of Awe? Hopefully, after reading my response, he’ll understand. You know the craziness many start to feel towards the end of November regardless of whether you’re a Christian or not? This starts for Jews in October with the Jewish High Holidays. Although, the holiday can sometimes fall in September since Judaism follows a lunar-based calendar (I wrote about that before: https://unexpectedlyjewish.com/understanding-the-jewish-calendar/), therefore holidays are not on a specific day of the Gregorian calendar each year. …


I first encountered this phrase, Welcome Home, when I dropped my son off at Camp Kalsman, a Jewish overnight camp. My son asked me why the camp counselors all greeted us in this way. I shrugged and said they were trying to be welcoming, to make him comfortable since he’d be staying with them for a couple of weeks. But then, when I visited Temple B’nai Torah in Bellevue, I was greeted with the same phrase. Is this a spiritual welcoming I wondered?

Rabbi Tzadok Hacohen of Lublin wrote in the 19th century, “the root of the soul of the…


You see, there’s really only one thing that I find completely bewildering about Judaism — the calendar. Growing up in the U.S. we’re steeped in the Gregorian calendar. It’s a stable thing for the most part. Every day the sunsets and a new day begins. Most of us are pretty much on the same page here. If I say fall starts on Monday, September 23 this year in 2019 we all know to which day I’m referring. The calendar seemed a simple thing until I after being introduced to the Jewish calendar.

First, let’s talk about the calendar we use…


Somehow you ended up taking an over-the-counter DNA test. Perhaps the commercial of lederhosen versus a kilt sucked you in. Or maybe you received the test as a gift for your birthday, Mother’s Day, or Christmas. Whatever brought you to the moment where you found yourself spitting into a little tube isn’t important. The only thing that matters is your little vial turned out to be Pandora’s box. And now that it’s open, you can’t go back.

When I took my DNA test I expected to find where in Africa my father’s ancestors hailed from. I was ready to visit…


During a break at one of our Intro to Judaism classes, my husband slid a brochure my way. My eyes scanned the title, “PNW Sisterhood Retreat.” Me? I thought. My husband must have read the expression on my face. He told me he thought it would be fun for me and a good way of meeting other Jewish women. “Besides, why not go?”

I wondered if the women would except me. Maybe I could “pass” like my black grandfather used to tell me I should do if the U.S. ever returned to an overt rampant racist state with separate spaces…


I’ve never attended a Passover meal before. In my non-religious upbringing, the word conjures up something to do for the dying. I see people sitting vigil for someone who’s about to pass. While the origin of the name of the holiday does have to do with death, Passover is a celebration of liberation and a reminder to never take for granted your freedom. I think of Passover as something like a cousin to Thanksgiving. Both holidays focus on food and family and are based on the idea of freedom from oppression. …


A bastard is a child born out of wedlock or from an adulterous affair. Under the common law, a bastard in England was considered “no one’s” child and therefore could not make any claim for support from their parents. While some were acknowledged by their biological father, this did not lessen the stigma of the label which followed the colonialists to America. “Illegitimate” children were taught they were inferior, lesser than their “legitimate” counterparts. Legal reforms in the UK in the early part of the twentieth-century ended this archaic and sexist practice. In the early 70s, a series of Supreme…


One of the oddest Jewish traditions I’ve encountered is the custom of placing a small rock on top of the headstone or somewhere close to a gravesite rather than flowers. I love the color, the reminder of life flowers offer the gravesite of a loved one. It’s comforting to see another living thing when you’re surrounded by so much death. I had to wonder why bring a cold, hard rock. What message does that send?

There is of course little consensus as to where and when this costume developed. I’m learning this is not uncommon. Ask two Jews a question…

Kara Rubinstein Deyerin

I was raised half black but had a DNA surprise. I’m an NPE (not parent expected), Jewish, mom, wife, writer, cook, knitter, and connoisseur of all things human.

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