Commit themselves to their own, each other’s, and the group’s well-being.

Community is said to emerge when people engage in common practices, make decisions together, depend on one another, and commit themselves. I confess that it is this last word — themselves — that snags me most consistently in the definition. Perhaps a clue to my hang up with the word resides in the how I describe the action of my hesitance: I confess it.

Leora and Walter c 1933 bFor a big chunk of the last twenty-some years I have been seeking to find my Jewish roots. Since my mother’s birth name was Marx, from her father’s family, it has interested me that next to nothing was reported about being Jewish. While I never actually pestered my mother for more information, I did discuss my interest at least annually during that period. Then, just two weeks before she died, my mother acknowledged that her father’s family had indeed been Jewish, but had converted to Catholicism before she was born. She was not sure if the conversion happened in Wisconsin or in Germany in the late 19th century. I was less concerned about my father’s family also having Jewish heritage, because I had always assumed that was not so. Then, a few years ago some friends pointed out that it was unusual that I remember my grandfather periodically speaking Yiddish. I still have no confirmation about his family. But, to back up my mother’s confirmation of my heritage, I took a genetic test that shows some percentage of Ashkenazi lineage.

All of this background stands in sharp contrast to my Catholic upbringing. Like much of the Christianity practiced in the mid-20th century, the form of Catholicism that my family understood was solidly anti-Semitic. Our neighbors who were Jewish certainly didn’t acknowledge their faith or cultural heritage at that time. The Nazi propaganda about Jewish shop keepers and bankers had also clearly crossed the ocean before, during, and after WWII.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I recognized an affinity for Jewish culture, most particularly for its more conservative aspects. This affinity was likely born, however, not in Jewish education or practice but in Catholic mysticism, the Gospel of John, the Book of Revelations, and lives of Francis of Assisi and Theresa of Avila. What I found in each of these was the notion of being chosen to do God’s work, of being all in, of asking to be sent to take on the hard stuff. Now, even with no connection to religion or spiritual belief, I am left with these deep roots in personal commitment.

Gary young 1When I first took up this notion of being invested personally in something, my horizon for involvement was a week or a month or forty days. By the time I was in my twenties, I started to think of my commitments in terms of three years. Sometime in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s, I had a recognition that my time frame for investing myself fully into something had somehow morphed into five years. By 1995, it had increased to 10, and by 2015 it was 20. It may seem odd to many, but I actually recall thinking about these lengthening terms of commitment at those junctures in my life. Hell, I find it odd!

Now upon reflection, for more than 30 years, I had committed myself to my late husband.

It is not that I eschew committing myself to something or someone. It is that I recognize that committing myself could go on forever. It is a big deal to be all in.

4 thoughts on “Themselves

  1. How much Ashkenazic Jewish ancestry (by percentage) did you find for yourself? I was shocked – I had found one Irish ancestor by name in my work, and I had 2% of my DNA from Ireland. I had also 2% Ashkenazic blood, so I assume there was one person in there somewhere!

    What the secret, Gary, to being all in for the long haul. I find myself either all in or all out.


    • I am not sure if there is a secret, Tom. Like you I am either all in or all out. However, there are those times when I am mostly in (and feel bad about that) or mostly out (and feel bad about that, too). My own heritage is also a small percent Ashkenazi, but a had a surprising 20% southern European, most likely from Sardinia. Sardinia! WTF!


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