Everyday I take the bus to and from the school I work at. I have a bus I take in the mornings which is suppose to come at 8:55, and going back home in the afternoon I take the 4:55 bus home. Over the past six months of riding the bus I have become friendly with a women who lives in my neighborhood. We have bonding over sitting at the bus stop together in the mornings for over 20 minutes because the bus is always late. Soon I started seeing her on my bus back from school, and together we would shove our way off the bus and walk home together. Through our many conversations together the topic of religion came up.
Now this is something I try and avoid often. I am not a religious person. When people ask me what religion I am I say “Jewish, with a emphasis on the -ish part.” I was raised Jewish, went to Sunday school my whole life, had a Bat Mitzvah, celebrated the major holidays, but that was about it. I never really thought that much about my Jewish identity. It never really defined me that much, and it never felt that important to me, but then I came to Brasil.
According to the Pew Research Center’s Demographic study, that was taken in 2013, 65% of Brazilians identify as Roman Catholic, making Roman Catholicism one of the most popular religions in Brasil. Following Roman Catholicism is Protestant’s with 22% of the country identifying. Currently there is a rise of evangelicalism within Brasil, and as seen in the past election evangelicalism is gaining political power. But why is does this matter to me? Well, to put it simply there aren’t that many Jewish people in Brasil. Which means for a lot of the people I talk to I’m the first Jew they have ever met.
There have been many odd comments made about Judaism to me. Most of them have to do with the fact that I’m the first jew they have ever met. One of the first things I learned about Floripa was that there is an estimated 400 Jews on the island. My temple at has more members the whole city of Floripa. For the first time in my life I didn’t have a Jewish community to lean on. When the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting happened there was no where for me to go and lean on other Jews. I sat alone in my room and processed the act. I started to realize how much I relied on my Jewish community at home, and how much I missed having other Jews around.
So when my bus friend and I started talking about religion it came up that I was Jewish. This time no emphasis on the -ish part, I was just Jewish. And her response was “wow I have never met a jew before.” Followed by this “I want you to know that I forgive you for the killing of Jesus, which was something the Jews did. I want you to know that I will pray for you to get into heaven. But just you because you seem like a good person for a Jew.” I was taken aback by this comment. She was so certain that I was a good person “for a Jew,” because I was another, something different. She saw me a less than because I was responsible for killing Jesus.
I don’t believe that she is anti-Semitic, and I don’t think she meant any harm by her words, but the lack of understanding is what got me. She was so set in her belief that she didn’t want to hear me out about anything. I tried to talk about my religion in the way I view Judaism, but she didn’t want to hear it. She kept saying “it’s okay, I forgive you, I forgive you. God will forgive you too.”
Religion matters to me now more than it did before I left. I fasted alone for Yom Kipper, I didn’t get to celebrate Hanukkah, and I’ve had to process The anti-Semitism that is growing around the world alone. I have been longing for a Temple to go to, people to speak to, and an understanding ear. I now own the fact that I am Jewish, and I am now proud to say it. I am Jewish, no more emphasis on the -ish, I am a Jewish.