So, I haven’t exactly been honest with my host family here in Tours. Not lying, exactly. But certainly not telling the truth either. I have nodded my head knowingly with mentions of Pâques (Easter in French) and bunnies, laughed at Christmas stories, and marveled at the flying buttresses of the churches that grace every city in France. The truth is, I don’t know Saint Nick from Saint Martin. I am, proudly, Jewish. I love bagels and schmear, think my family is meshugganah, and talk about my Birthright trip to Israel almost every chance I get. However, since being in France, my Judaism has been tucked away. I had heard too many awful stories about anti-Semites in France and have been fearful to express my true Jewish identity. With Passover fast approaching, I learned how to tell my host family I was Jewish to my host family in a mere five steps.
Step 1: Go To Normandy
Two weeks ago, we went to Normandy. Among the American tombs, I felt drawn to the one’s with pure white Jewish stars demarcating an honorable death. I felt angry as I went to the German Cemetery at the atrocities brought on by the Nazis. I bit my tongue to hold back tears as we walked through a museum detailing the gas chambers, mass shootings, and concentration camps that killed 6 million Jews in WWII. Yet, a rogue swastika sign in the park across from my house and a Hitler joke said in passing quieted my need to express this part of my identity.
Step 2: Have Your Family Come to France
My entire family came to visit my cousin and me in France. That means my mom, dad, two sisters, aunt, and her cousin. Needless to say, 10 days with my family was an amazing, touring Chateaus, freaking out in the Catacombs, going out to Place Plume with my sisters, visiting Monet’s water lilies, and walking among the Tuileries. Yes, while my dad conducting an entire restaurant IN singing the Marseillaise was slightly embarrassing, I had a great time. My favorite part was our tour of the Marais also known as the Jewish quarter in Paris. Filled with history, delis, and hasidic Jews, I felt at home roaming the cobblestone streets as the smells of falafel and challah wafted in and out of shops and Hebrew marked the synagogues that lined the path. It occurred to me that I hadn’t even known how much I missed these simple marks of Judaism that I take for granted in the U.S.
Step 3: Realize You Really Miss Your Judaism
As pictures of abroad seders started popping up on my Facebook newsfeed, e-mails about the afikomen hidden somewhere at Bucknell graced my inbox, and I came across recipes for matzah-everything, I started to truly miss that week of cardboard eating agony. For those that don’t know, Bucknell does a wonderful job at Passover. We are provided with our own kitchen complete with the best Passover meals from matzah pizza to the famous egg salad and the nicest chef on the planet to brighten up our day (as keeping Passover can, at times, make you quite moody). I missed the smell of matzo ball soup, the exchange of family recipes hidden in the mini fridges of dorm rooms, the coming together of all my Jewish friends at Bucknell and sharing my traditions with those non-Jewish friends (because let’s be honest, they love the food too!). I felt a discomfort at my lack of honesty stirring somewhere deep in my stomach, but I wasn’t ready yet.
Step 4: Let Recent Events Be Your Guide
In light of recent events in Toulouse, I have felt that my Judaism here, in France, is more important than ever. For those that don’t know, there was a school shooting that targeted Jewish children and a few people were killed. Shocking even myself, I said nothing of my matzo ball loving, dreidel spinning, kippah wearing roots as my host mother recounted the story making world news. Neither did I say a word when given a chocolate bunny and wished a happy Easter. Passover was fast approaching and I knew the stirring inside my stomach and my disappointment in myself for not telling my host parents meant their needed to be a change.
Step 5: Just Do It
The time had come. Last Sunday my host mom (as she always does), passed me the bread and was surprised as I got up the nerve to say no. My negative response was followed by a flood of questions: “Are you sick? Do you not like it? Were you out partying too late last night? Are you tired of my bread? What’s wrong?” “Nothing” I said…drawing in a deep breath. “It’s just that I’m Jewish.” There was no silence, I did not get banished from the house or called names. In fact, I think my host parents seemed somewhat relieved to realize what my religion was. Apparently, my act of knowing all about Christmas and Easter wasn’t as convincing as I had thought. “Oh, She’s Jewish!” my host mom exclaimed with delight. “A Jew, that’s great!” my host father echoed. “But why don’t you wear the long skirt if you’re orthodox?” my host sister chimed in (most of the Jews in France are either orthodox or nonpracticing).
As I began to explain what Passover was, searching for the words for “slave”, “plagues”, and “seder plate”, I began to feel at ease. My host family was genuinely interested in learning about my Judaism and each night my host mom has been sure to cook without any bread (though she didn’t seem to understand pasta counts…but she’s learning!). Coming out as a Jew to my host family has opened up an entirely new dialogue and made me feel more at home and comfortable to express who I am. My Judaism is something I am so proud of and don’t know why I was trying to hide. So with a week left of this France journey before I go on an incredible vacation and then home, I am trying to enjoy being myself here and embrace everything about Tours that I love so much. Rallies for Francois Holland, picnics by the Loire, trips to museums, and all my favorite foods. The best part? French cheese tastes almost just as good on pain azyme (matzah) as bread…at least for this week.