It all started with a “harmless” joke.
Andie, just beginning their conversion to Judaism, was simply trying to connect with their family at the movies. On any given day, Andie is generally guarded around their family, and with good cause. “A lot of members of my family of origin are pretty homophobic and say a lot of really insensitive or offensive things — before and after I came out.” Ready to endure and respond to this kind of behavior, they set off to hopefully make the best of an evening together.
But their cousin had other ideas. Andie was extremely close with this cousin and his sister, “they were basically two extra members of my family.” But “as we grew up, he really started saying and doing things that were not ok — being really sexist, being really homophobic.” And Andie tried to avoid him and stay in a space that made them feel safe, but he caught them off guard.
While waiting in line for popcorn, their cousin decided now was his moment. He said, “Why are the rabbis running down the street? They were chasing a penny.” Andie was stunned. They were ready to hear offensive comments, but not about their newly found religion. Andie’s safe space was torn apart.
No one thought there was anything wrong with Andie’s cousin’s casual antisemitism, not even their mother, who as a devout Christian that believes Christians are persecuted in American society, might be the one person to truly get it. But she simply dismissed Andie’s concern with, “Don’t pay attention to it.”
Andie’s family has a history of not understanding where they’re coming from. “I’m neurodivergent, I do and say weird things and I have a very funky sense of humor, and I kind of feel like that puts a target on me a little bit with my family.” And on top of that, they grew up in a far-right-leaning, religious household where they were told their whole lives that being gay was bad — “It’s sinful.”
They were taught that religion was not a welcoming place for all, until they discovered there was more out there than what their family believed. “When I explored more about other religions I was like, ‘Oh, so it’s not all bad, it can even be a really positive thing in somebody’s life.’”
They’ve since become more devoutly Jewish and find it healing, Shabbat in particular. “It’s an anticapitalistic practice that’s very important to me in my life, and also, as somebody with a lot of chronic illnesses, I need time where I am basically just doing nothing to heal my body and rest my neshama (soul) after a long week of working.”
Still, when they go to visit their family, they aren’t being respected or accepted, so they try and find ways to work around their family’s expectations, like dressing in ways that will be approved of — shorts and a t-shirt instead of long sleeves and a long skirt — or trying to keep kosher in their own quiet way even though their grandmother insists on offering them shrimp in a manner that feels to Andie like it’s a “power play.”
Fortunately, Andie has found their chosen family — people who make them feel seen — throughout their conversion to Judaism while at college and beyond into their new life. “I live 3,000 miles away now and I’ve cultivated a really good group of people who understand my quirks, and I feel very loved.”
And so, it didn’t all start with a joke, but maybe that’s where it all ends.