In third grade, I experienced bullying at my suburban neighborhood public grade school, so I transferred to an Episcopal school in downtown Indianapolis.
My new school required that I attend daily mass, pray at the beginning and the end of the day, and participate in catholic services, such as playing the hand bells in our annual "Lessons and Carols" production. We also performed religious plays like Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. Donny Osmund would not have been impressed with our strained tribute during one daily mass while accompanied by only a piano and still wearing our school uniforms.
Coming from an interfaith but non-religious background, I never expressed interest in learning about our family's religious background when I was younger. Religion was not a common discussion topic at home. I didn't go to a regular Sunday service or Sunday school -- like many of my peers had -- be it for my mother's Unitarian beliefs or my father's Jewish heritage.
My mother's parents drew their values from Congressionalist, Quaker, Unitarian, and Presbyterian teachings, but my father's religious history - that's slightly more complicated.
My father has always identified as a Jew, but it is more of a historical and sociological construct than liturgical or strictly religious one. He grew up in Cleveland in the Jewish secular movement. His father was raised by Jews with internalized cultural hatred and his mother was the product of an interfaith marriage (albeit her childhood had more Jewish tradition than my grandfather's). My grandparents and my father were raised in an era of intense assimilation into the Christian-American culture by European Jews. And in some ways this attitude of assimilation was effective; my father and both of his sisters all married outside of the Jewish faith. Only one of the siblings remains active in her Jewish community.
Neither of my parents had any viable religious traditions to pass on, except for ceremonial meals, so it was a big shift to enter a school where I was surrounded by a Catholic religion I knew nothing about. Seeing as I entered the school at such an impressionable age, people often assume that I adopted and became a part of the Episcopal Church, but I had quite the opposite reaction.
I knew my father was Jewish, but I did not understand what identifying as a Jew meant. Conveniently, my grade school had many religious resources, so instead of stomping out my family's history, I had the opportunity to explore my faith in my own context. I chose to research my Judaism.
At eighth grade graduation, while every student was given a certificate and a New Testament Bible, my certificate was accompanied by a Hebrew Old Testament Bible. My peers, although hesitant at first, were open to learning a culture different from their own right along with me. During my time in grade school I grew to appreciate not only my Catholic education and my Jewish cultural teachings, but also developed an inclusive attitude toward other faith expressions that I still possess today.
My experience in grade school prompted me to apply to a Jesuit high school and then enroll in Loyola University Chicago, a Jesuit university. Since attending high school, I actively identify as a Jew and continue to explore the diversity of religion while also fostering my own personal Jewish community and identity.
Although my experiences with various Catholic institutions have been collectively good, I still do feel like the "odd Jew out" in some respects. Although rare, I have faced some adversity when my heritage is revealed. But instead of stepping back, I've chosen to step up.
I am so proud to walk on my Catholic campus as a Jew, I would not want to be anywhere else. My personalized Jewish and Catholic education has given me the opportunity to teach the Jesuit community surrounding me as a peer advisor, Hillel representative, and mentor while also allowing me to learn from their lessons of leadership through service.