The Power of Words

Yesterday, Levi Fishman at the Jewish Outreach Institute gave The Shiksa Blog a generous “shout out.” The JOI’s mission, according to Mr. Fishman, is to “promote a more welcoming and inclusive North American Jewish community for intermarried families and unengaged Jews.”  Here’s the link to his article:

The JOI Weblog

As a writer, I have a great respect for the power of words.  In his post, Mr. Fishman brought up how the word “shiksa” can be controversial; it is seen as a loaded term by some within the Jewish community.  My blog today is dedicated to anybody who might feel annoyed, upset, or confused over my light-hearted and humorous use of the word shiksa.

To some Jews, the word shiksa is seen as an ethnic slur full of hate.  After all, it has an ugly historical context.  It’s a Yiddish term, and on a literal level it means “abomination,” or an “unclean thing.”  On a symbolic level, the word denotes otherness—not belonging—a stigma.  Many female converts to Judaism have described the feeling of never being able to shed the “shiksa image,” despite the fact that they have converted.  And yet, the early rabbis insisted that converts should be treated as if they had always been Jewish.

So why is it that certain segments of the Jewish population don’t openly welcome the idea of outsiders?  Some believe it’s because intermarriage weakens the Jewish people.  Others fear the possible consequences for a religion that is changing and evolving to fit our modern world.  Whatever the reason, within certain Jewish families a quiet prejudice exists against others (especially women) who were not born Jewish.  To those people, a converted woman may always carry with her a “shiksa stigma”.  It’s unfortunate.

Or is it?  After all, I personally have no shame that I was born a Gentile.  I am currently in the process of converting to Judaism.  But if I could go back and choose to be born Jewish, I wouldn’t.  Conversion was a conscious decision made after years of spiritual reflection and careful thought.  In fact, I would say that I take the Jewish faith a lot more seriously than some who were born into it.  So I suppose, in many ways, I’m proud of being a shiksa.  The word does not represent a stigma to me, and by writing this blog I am working to change any negative association that others might see in it.

While I’ve made the decision to convert, I also support those who choose not to convert.  I feel that interfaith marriage is something to be celebrated.  The idea of two people from different spiritual backgrounds uniting in love and mutual understanding is, I believe, a beautiful thing.  I am all for a more progressive and inclusive Jewish community, one that welcomes people from other faiths with open arms.  I believe that enlightened education and the open sharing of traditions will help keep the Jewish spirit strong in our constantly evolving world.

Words are powerful, but they are also ever-changing.  A word is endowed with as much meaning as you choose to give it.  In my world, the word shiksa has only ever been used with humor, love, and respect. I have Jewish friends and acquaintances from all over the globe, and I’ve never felt a hint of the “shiksa stigma” from anybody.  On the contrary, I feel that I’ve been warmly welcomed into a larger family and community.  Even though I’m a shiksa, I’ve received love and support from all the Jewish people in my life… and that’s the way it should be.

I look forward to the day when I step into the mikveh and officially join the tribe.  But even after I convert, I will proudly remain a shiksa in spirit.

Enough said.  Let’s get back to cooking, shall we?!  :)

My hubby and I will be celebrating Shabbat tonight with our dear friends, the Hadar family.  Etti Hadar and her mother, Bella, descend from a long line of Polish Ashkenazi Jews.  Etti, Bella and I will be cooking together from noon till sundown, in preparation for a traditional Ashkenazi feast.  I am excited to learn some new recipes, and will share my experience here on the blog next week.  Shabbat Shalom!

UPDATES

Here are the links to my Shabbat dinner with the Hadar Family:

Uncle Dov’s Memoir: Polish Ashkenazi Food and Traditions (Part 1)

The Levin Family—Polish Ashkenazi Food and Traditions (Part 2)

And here is a link to my conversion blog:

The Shiksa is Jewish!

 

Comments (16)Post a Comment

    1. Anyone who knows you understands that you are about the light and love of life. There is not enough acceptance between religions and races in the world. Hopefully your blog will cause people whose minds are closed to the inclusion of “outsiders” into their worlds to loosen up and realize that we can all learn from each other. Keep up the good work!

  1. I converted and my “boyfriend”, constantly refers to his friends wives, daughter in laws or girlfriends as Shiksas. I cringe everytime he uses this word. He uses it in the manner that is meant to be derogatory and hateful and it really gets on my nerves. He also calls non Jewish people and food, Goyim which is also meant to be derogatory and then eats food so non kosher that not even I would touch it. You are certainly a lucky person to be in the supportive environment you are in. Perhaps people like you will help people change their beliefs about those who choose to become a Jew.

  2. Hi Beverly, thank you for your comment and welcome to the site. I’m sorry your boyfriend feels that way; I hope blogs like mine can help to change the perspective of people like him.

  3. What a refreshing experience I just had stumbling on to your blog. I am a shiksa too! I have been with my (now) husband for almost 10 years and feel the “silent prejudice” constantly. Sometimes, it’s not so silent. In fact, the discrimination is precisely why I chose not to convert. It weighs heavily on my heart and I feel saddened my presence has not enlightened the family after all this time. I will continue to be myself and love my husband, but sometimes it feels like David vs. Goliath to make the family see me as as equal. After all, as you say, we aren’t that different! I have found that cooking Jewish food (tho I am not that good yet) is a great way for me to show interest in my husband’s heritage and have him feel represented in our home. Thank you for helping me do that. If you know of any other like-minded/interfaith communities online, I’d love to be a part.

    1. Emily, I’m so sorry to hear you haven’t been welcomed more openly into the faith. You should really check out these two communities, they are trying hard to reverse that prejudice you’re feeling and change things for the better:

      The Jewish Outreach Institute: link to joi.org

      Interfaith Family: link to interfaithfamily.com

      Hope your experience with Judaism improves, it’s a beautiful faith that has certainly changed my life for the better. Meanwhile, I’m very happy you found my blog– you are always welcome here! :)

  4. Dear Shiksa –

    Love your blog – I am glad that you are including foods from the Mediterranean and Middle East, and presume you have Claudia Roden’s master work on Jewish food?

    If you have ever seen the film Rosenstraße, about “shiksa” wives who bravely resist Nazi oppressors to defend their Jewish husbands, there is a subplot about a woman much later who is not happy about her daughter “marrying out” (but that part of the film ends well, obviously not everything can end well in the Nazi era)…

  5. Hi Tori,
    I love what you do and the warmth you are bringing to people, evidenced by so many positive responses. Your ability to call yourself a shiksa (or shiksie) shows a real sense of humour. Without a sense of humour we Jews would not have survived. Keep up your wondeful recipes, fress is such an integral part of being Jewish. If others don’t show tolerance try to show it yourself, this is an old faith some may change and some may not. Enjoy your own Jewish journey.
    Zei Gezunt and Mazeltov for last year

  6. Dear Miss Tori/Adina Avey: I have been a reader and a fan of your blog for a while. I have studied Judaism for two years now and plan to convert Modern-Orthodox. I was born Catholic but my family’s origins are from the conversos and crypto-Jews. Ever since I was 12, I have wanted to be a Jew.

    The sensitivity towards outsiders in Jewish circles has a long history.. the Edict of Constantine, the Crusades, the Inquisition, and centuries of aggressive Christian evangelization of Jews. Christian conversion to Judaism resulted in the death by burning alive of the Jewish convert and the converting rabbi. Jews becoming Christians resulted in the forceful conversion of entire Jewish families to Christianity, ex-Jews becoming persecutor anti-Semites, Jewish criminals being eaten alive by dogs, and Jewish children being kidnapped from their families.

    You’re an educated woman and you must know some of this. I’m not bringing this up to hate on interfaith families; after all, I hope to (re?)-embrace Judaism myself. But there is a past and I think Jews and Christians alike should be more aware of that collective past.

    This brings me to my questions for you. Do you still celebrate Christmas with your Christian birth family? I saw a pic of a Xmas tree in one of your photos. The reason I asked is that, even though I don’t wish to celebrate Xmas myself, I don’t want to cause pain to my Christian family by not attending their celebration. And my best friend “Lisette” is a non-Jew who is dating a nice New York Jewish boy. They plan to marry. Since Lisette was not raised in any religious belief and since the boyfriend’s family is Reform, she has agreed to raise the kids Jewish. According to Reform law the kids are/ will be Jews. However…

    I’d like to talk to Lisette about conversion to Judaism, the same path I am pursuing, not only because I think Judaism is “all that jazz!” but because I want Lisette and Lisette’s future children to be considered Jewish in all circles. The only reason she won’t convert is because she likes to celebrate Christmas, since Christmas is just about the only happy time she spends with her family. If you could explain to me how you balance your life, and direct me to some resources that I could give to her and read myself, that’d be fabulous. I kind of want to gently persuade her of Judaism’s awesomeness, not in a forceful or coercive way, but in a way where she sees it as viable, and positive, and not as a repudiation of her entire past. Does that make sense or do I just sound like an interfering busybody? You can say that I ought to raise 13 Orthodox Jewish children of my own if I’m so darn worried about Jewish continuity (I am and I will, haha) But I could use a little guidance here and, as a convert to Judaism and a wife to your Jewish husband, I think you are the ideal one to help! Much love and respect to the coolest Shiksa on the planet.

    1. Hi Mark! Mazel tov on your conversion studies. The subject you’ve brought up is different for every convert, and I can’t tell you what would be right in your particular situation (or Lisette’s). I can tell you that I do still celebrate Christmas with my birth family each year. I was not raised in any religion, so Christmas was always a very secular holiday for us growing up. That said, I would never hesitate to attend a family celebration if it’s open, positive, and inclusive. I won’t ever turn my back on my family or where I came from… it’s a part of me, just as Judaism now is. I am blessed with a birth family that is very open and giving with their traditions, and they have taught me well. Rather than rejecting something that has always been a happy experience for our family, I choose to instead focus on the positive. For me, this means including my birth family in my annual Jewish traditions like Passover, Rosh Hashanah, and Hanukkah. To attend a Christmas celebration doesn’t mean a rejection of my Judaism, just as a Christian wouldn’t reject his or her faith by attending my Rosh Hashanah celebration. That’s how I see it, anyway. Others might feel differently. The decision is a personal one, and is probably best discussed with your rabbi.

      As for your friend, Lisette, I wouldn’t push her to do anything she’s not comfortable with. Judaism (or any religion, for that matter) is a personal relationship between you and God. She should do what is best for her and her family. I do have a few websites that she might find interesting:

      link to joi.org

      link to themotherscircle.org

      link to interfaithfamily.com

      Hope that is helpful. Keep in mind, I am just a humble cook! These kinds of questions are really best answered by a trusted rabbi. Wishing you all the best in your spiritual journey.

  7. Bless you Tori, what a wonderful website and what an awesome person you are! You brought back so many memories of growing up in my interfaith family.

    Just wanted to share the following two quotes with you and everyone who reads your blog.

    The first is a comment made by the Dalai Lama. Although he is a Tibetan Buddhist, a lot of what he says is universal.

    Even if you don’t have a particular religion or faith, this is what is important -

    “This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”
    Dalai Lama, 1989 Nobel Peace Prize Winner

    People who battle to gain acceptance will find comfort in this second quote, which is from our beloved Nelson Mandela (in his book “Long Walk to Freedom”):

    “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
    :)

    Thanks again! Love your website!

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