I was amazed to read Lekha’s struggle with her Jewish identity because I am in almost exactly the same situation: Both of my parents are Jewish, but my mother is a convert, originally from India (like Lekha’s mother). I grew up in New York and was raised Jewish. I went to Hebrew School, had a Bar Mitzvah, and had Jewish friends. For the most part no one questioned my Jewish identity until I was in my teens.
It’s not easy convincing people you’re Jewish when you look more like one would expect a Muslim to look like. It’s an ongoing battle within myself.
I also don’t agree with your Orthodox Jewish reader, Esther, when she said that someone who converts to Judaism but doesn’t follow Jewish practices will “naturally” be viewed as an “outsider.” I know plenty of Jews who don’t practice the religion or even believe in any of its tenets but who consider themselves and (more importantly) are considered by other Jews to be Jewish.
This standard doesn’t seem to apply to me because of my mixed ethnic background. When talking to other Jewish people, I’m often forced to explain that, yes, my mother converted before marrying my father. Although even this isn’t enough for some people; my grandmother still didn’t want my father to marry my mother because even they she had converted she would “never really be Jewish.”
Here’s an older reader, Irene, who talks about the tension she experienced growing up with Jewish identity in the 1950s:
If there was one subject I thought I wouldn’t have much to add to, it’s religion. But when the subject took a whole different turn, to “who is a Jew and who decides?,” I knew I could relate.