As someone who never felt like they “fit in” growing up, looking back on the moments in my life when I truly felt like I belonged, I realize how important that sense of connection is. We all seek it.
I’m thinking about this because of the pandemic this year, and the conscientious lack of social gatherings. Yet, there are many ways to be with family. And, Hanukkah began last Thursday night… although I’ve only recently discovered I’m part Jewish, it is encoded in my blood, and that knowledge has created a sense of peace. And a strong desire to cook latkes!
About two years ago my sisters and I joined Ancestry on a whim. We thought our maternal grandmother was half-Cherokee half-Irish, and that our Mom’s father was English.
We knew our Dad’s mother was Italian, through-and-through, (with stunning family names: Basile, DiNobile, and Sconamiglio!) And, our paternal grandfather was… well, he was missing, actually. A blank page in our book.
My Dad grew up without him, never even knew him, and like many people of that generation, it wasn’t a subject he was willing to talk about.
I may have been the one who instigated this whole quest, because from the first time I saw Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr’s “Finding Your Roots” on PBS I was hooked. And very, very curious about my roots. My sisters and I ordered our test kits, spit in a tube, and mailed them back.
Was I surprised to find out we had Jewish ancestry?
Yes… we all were. But as my youngest sister said, “Wow, this explains a lot!”
First, it explained something very important about our missing grandfather – he was 100% Jewish.
Who would ever have suspected that background with a name like O’Klock?
And our 100% Italian grandmother, she of the beautiful names, was way more Greek/Albanian, and way less Italian than she knew!
The second equally surprising thing was that our maternal grandmother had no Native American blood, not a single drop, and no Irish ancestors, either.
My Mom grew-up believing she was Cherokee and Irish, but it turns out Grandma was all Scottish. And my beloved “Grampie” was English, and German, and Swedish. He was the only grandparent I really knew. He loved me, and I adored him. He had exquisite handwriting, and he worked on the railroads and on his ramshackle little farm. I get my reverence for the land and for trains that cross it, from him. I happily lived in a cottage for thirteen years because it was just four houses away from the railroad tracks in South Austin.
“Hear that lonesome whippoorwill, he sounds too blue to fly. The midnight train is whining low, I’m so lonesome I could cry”Hank Williams
The more people explore their ancestry, the bigger the data base of DNA becomes and the more accurately results can be pinpointed. My map is an updated result for this year, and my Jewishness got “upgraded” three percent, which seemed somehow inevitable. I wanted to convert in high school – envious of my girlfriend’s Bat Mitzvahs (and nose-jobs) but my Father refused. And years later there was an almost-wedding and almost-conversion for Robby Cohen… who turned out not to be the “nice boy” I thought he was!
But mostly, that 29% explains the almost-religious experience I have every time I walk into a good Jewish deli. My blood knows!
Your Ancestry report is a bit like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, and when it’s finished, it’s you!
I could have easily put that picturetogether based solely on the foods I love the most: Greek food. Mediterranean food. Italian pastries. Scones, shortbread, and tea. Or, my all time favorite – an “everything” bagel with cream cheese, lox, red onion, tomato and capers with a wedge of lemon. And a cup of strong coffee.
But for tonight I think I’ll pick up some brisket and make another batch of potato pancakes with sour cream and applesauce. Hanukkah isn’t over yet!
Happy Hanukkah. Merry Christmas. Happy New Year! May this season be Merry and Bright, and may everything you eat be a delight!
May we be grateful for our good fortune, and help those who are less fortunate.
And let’s remember, we don’t need to be close…. to be close. Stay safe my loves!