According to Urbandictionary.com, I am a “cashew.” It’s a portmanteau that describes a person who is half-Catholic and half-Jewish. In short, a religious mutt. I am proud to call myself a “cashew.” December was always a bit of a strange and exciting month for me growing up as I got to celebrate eight nights of Chanukkah and Christmas (*”The Best of Both Worlds” plays in the distance*).
My dad is a reform Jew from Long Island, New York who emigrated to South Florida in the late 20th century. My mom was born in Havana, Cuba and attended a Catholic private school where she was often hit with rulers for talking back to the nuns. They married on Valentine’s Day of 1993. A year later, I popped out three weeks after Easter Sunday.
I attended a Jewish private school for the first 14 years of my life. I memorized all the prayers and songs, went to Shabbat every week, knew all the words to Fiddler on the Roof, owned The Prince of Egypt on VHS, etc. I could read and write in Hebrew and had made, like, a shitload of clay dreidels, shofars and menorahs in art class every year. I was in the running for Jew of the decade. One December, a friend from school came over my house and asked why I had a Christmas tree in my living room. I explained my “unique” situation and they responded with “wow, you’re SOOO lucky.” (My definition of “lucky” at 10 years old was that I was receiving comparatively more presents than the average, privileged Jewish child).1 My upbringing was mostly Jewish as my mom converted and basically everyone I knew was a Jew. But, on a few Christmas Eves I remember eating pork and rice with black beans with the Catholic side of my family. I distinctly remember feeling strange wearing this Star of David bracelet and sitting next to my cousin who was wearing a Cross around her neck. And I thought it was super weird how Latins opened their presents on Christmas Eve. I still don’t get that.
Then I entered middle school. The lavish parties I went to at the height of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah season of 2007/2008 were so ridiculously extravagant that they gave Gatsby a run for his money. There were caricature artists, nail art stations, photo booths, chocolate fountains, airbrush stands, celebrity look-a-likes, poker tables. Clubs and bars in South Beach were rented out as venues and there were themes like “Rebecca’s Winter Wonderland” or “Heshie’s Hall of Fame” (mine was Taylor’s Rockin’ Bat Mitzvah and I performed a rendition of The All-American Rejects “Move Along” at the Hard Rock Cafe but I digress). I once got a save-the-date invitation a year before the actual party. A year. WE WERE FUCKING TWELVE YEARS OLD. This was meant to be a religious, coming-of-age ritual. But if you didn’t give out sweatshirts as party favors that said “I had the time of my life at Rachel Cohen’s Bat Mitzvah”, everyone probably thought your religious, coming-of-age ritual sucked.
For high school, I started going to a public school with nearly 4,000 kids. It was a change of scenery to put it mildly, and I probably stared at this one girl wearing a hijab for like fifteen minutes my first week there. That drastic transition marked my first dose of reality. I thought I was one of the chosen people for so long that I was horrified that anyone thought otherwise. I was exposed to new ideas and new types of people, which prompted me to question my own beliefs. I began to distance myself from my Jewish identity.2My parents and I had stopped going to temple altogether, not even on the high holidays. I criticized the girls who’d atone for their sins by fasting on Yom Kippur when I knew they’d just go to South Beach that night, get shitfaced, and come to school hungover. I failed to understand why some of my friends were kosher, and my attempt of talking them out of it would just be me saying “but CHEESEBURGERS though.” Nothing about my religion made sense to me anymore.
I jokingly aligned myself with the beliefs of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster when I went on Reddit once for 30 seconds in tenth grade. Then for a bit I thought I identified as an atheist but came to realize that’s just as absurd and obnoxiously definitive as any organized religion. Then I figured it’d be fun to be a Satanist because Hot Topic had this massive sale on black metal band t-shirts. I was essentially Woody Allen in Hannah and her Sisters when he’s “trying out” different religions to no avail. (I never even bothered with Catholicism because have you SEEN the second season of American Horror Story? No thanks.)
So here I am, at 19, as disillusioned and apathetic as ever during the holidays. And that’s okay. It’s almost revelatory. Maybe I’ve reached my own kind of Nirvana because I’ve given up looking for my place in a religion and have stopped condemning those who think they have a place.3 I truly think my status as a “cashew” has rendered me a little more accepting of others’ beliefs this way. I’ve been to weddings with chuppahs, weddings without chuppahs, brit milahs, baptisms, bar mitzvahs, confirmations, shivas, mass. And because I’m a “cashew”, I think that despite all our differences, what bonds us is that when it comes to our weird traditions, we’re all a little nuts anyway.
1 What an asshole
2 I discovered Bill Maher’s Religulous around this time
3 I listened to Yeezus while writing this